Dandy Gilver & A Spot of Toil & Trouble by Catriona McPherson – The Scottish Play in a Castle

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Dandy Gilver is a character familiar to readers of this book blog. Inasmuch as she always narrates the books which she appears in, her character is self evident as quite a thoughtful person who rebels in an organised way against her class and expectations. Her role, established over the last eleven books, is as an amateur detective with her trusty sidekick Alec. They do not always get on, they infuriate each other with their habits when detecting, they are as predictable to each other as any married couple. They basically respect each other’s processes while working through the mysteries they unearth in each novel, and in contrast with Dandy’s relationship with her usually absent husband they enjoy the joking of a sibling like relationship. As in the previous novels they rarely stick to the mystery they have been hired to solve, discovering the underlying truth of what happens when they start to pursue the “wisps” of clues. The setting of the interwar period is beyond the post First World War aftermath, but here is the first stirrings of concern that there may be another war on the way.

On this occasion Dandy is summoned to a thread bare Scottish castle by the couple who own it for the moment. Minnie and Bluey know that they are in big financial trouble, and are grasping at the idea of putting on Shakespeare play staged by their daughter’s fiancé, Leonard, in order to attract rich visitors. Bluey’s mother Ottoline is still in residence, full of memories of her husband Richard who left many years previously possibly with a famous but apparently cursed necklace. Dandy and Alec are hired to find the necklace, or at least establish what happened to it. In looking for it they disturb many family secrets as well as the fabric of an old solid building. It soon emerges that the play planned is in fact Macbeth, and casting issues mean that everyone gets dragged onstage. There is thus the opportunity for many theatrical jokes, especially the Porter’s speech. The denouement is complicated, and demands much concentration, but is ultimately satisfying in way of these novels.

These books are enjoyable to read, with strong characters and some very funny moments. The in jokes on this occasion relate to Macbeth, and actors who frequently take themselves very seriously. The plot wanders a little, and there are loose ends and red herrings aplenty. This is a relaxed book compared to the earnest series set in the same period, Maisie Dobbs by Jaqueline Winspear, as McPherson takes a far lighter view of the characters and their motivations. This book fits the bill for a casual read, even if the reader does have to work a little harder at the end to understand what has been happening. It is an historical mystery series that is worth following, though I feel it could also be read as a standalone novel, and the series as a whole probably does not have to be read in strict order. The “Scottish Play” was never quite performed like this!

So, a jolly book for a hot Bank Holiday, and a new bookshop discovered! Northernvicar tracked down Astley Book Farm in the Midlands (see http://www.astleybookfarm.com/index.html) for more details. I found the beautifully shelved fiction section while he enjoyed tea and scones. Money was spent…and a first edition “Love Among the Ruins” by Angela Thirkell found!

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2 thoughts on “Dandy Gilver & A Spot of Toil & Trouble by Catriona McPherson – The Scottish Play in a Castle

  1. I’ve really enjoyed all of the books in this series. I know that some people object to Dandy’s behaviour towards her husband but I think it’s so realistic and they are really close, they’ve just been together for a very long time.

  2. I agree; I think Dandy is really clear headed about people and relationship with her husband is realistic. He is content to care about his estate, she wants adventures. Apart from anything else, it is a bit of a literary convention for the parents to be absent in children’s books (Harry Potter etc etc), and most of fictional detectives are not joined at the hip to their partners…

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