Dandy Gilver &the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom – Catriona McPherson

Another day, another series depicting a woman detective in the late 1920s, early 1930s in Britain. Definitely Britain because this series of ten books about the cases of Dandy (Dandelion!) Gilver  often take place in Scotland. This book is the latest in the series in which a fairly bored aristocratic (if with an unusual upbringing ) becomes a private detective with her friend Alec.

The earlier nine books are about how Dandy almost accidentally becomes an investigator into the matters of scandal and often murder which seem to afflict the minor aristocracy and gentry in those exciting days. There are the usual panics about money and position, and the details about dress and manners which are familiar from the Maisie Dobbs books, though not so deeply significant and meaningful as in some purple passages in those books.  These are far more realistic than the Daisy Darymple books, as the characters seem more realistic though equally obsessed with food and hunger for same. Dandy’s husband, Hugh, is not the romantic lead of a woman’s dreams; he is quite fed up with Dandy’s activities when he first discovers them but is more than reconciled to them when the money she earns subsidises his estate and provides for the sons, whom Dandy seems more than happy to leave.


This is an uneven series in my mind, whether read at yearly intervals or as a catch up when they suddenly appear in the library. The second book, The Burry Man’s Day , is set in Queensferry, and deals with local customs with a clever if unlikely ending. The eight book, Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone is a very good read about mysterious goings on in a Scottish Spa. Some books in this series are better than others; McPherson is better in enclosed worlds, but not as in Agatha Christie. Her research seems excellent and nothing really jars, unless it is the heroine’s impatience with the lot of women. These are not fast moving narratives like Miss Fisher, and Dandy rarely faces danger or temptation. These books are more thoughtful, clues, motives and characters are more carefully worked through. They do not need to be read in strict order, as the stories do not really run into one another, but the supporting cast does develop and change.

This particular adventure begins with Dandy and Alec being retained by a family in Glasgow. There is a lot about ballroom dancing but nothing very taxing for the reader, and costume sewing is also important. It becomes a tangled web of motive and characters, and I enjoyed its unpredictability. Dandy and Alec have to eat, drink and even attempt dancing, but happily Grant is on hand…

These books are light reading in many ways, and are not as deep and meaningful as Maisie Dobbs! They are funny and involving, and can be informative about each community Dandy gets embroiled in with Alec’s assistance. As good summer reads I would recommend them, especially if you can borrow or get them cheaply, as frankly they are not great literature. Any more Women detectives of the interwar period out there?


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