The Corpse at the Crystal Palace by Carola Dunn – Daisy D strikes again in London of 1928!

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The title reveals something of this cosy crime book, one of a series set in the interwar period, featuring the wonderfully named Daisy Dalrymple. Now Mrs Fletcher, unofficial sleuth, writer of articles and mother of twins, runs true to form in accidentally finding a recently dead body in the historic ladies conveniences in Crystal Palace, London, at the time a shabby but still immense attraction in London. Dealing with Nannies (plural) several children, good friends and eccentric characters all over London, helping to crack the case despite her husband’s misgivings, and discovering memorable characters en route make this an enjoyable, sometimes funny and clever read. There is enough information to enjoy this novel even if you have not read its twenty two predecessors, but you could become addicted to the undoubted charms of this series. Daisy is a great character, and while her husband tries to dissuade her from actual danger, her aristocratic connections and her quick thinking are often necessary to get her and her associates out of some tricky situations. As each character is carefully and consistently introduced, familiar landmarks of London visited and the pace maintained, this is a not always serious tale of well plotted murder and mayhem in London, 1928.


As the book opens, Daisy is visiting her long term friend Lucy who is in a delicate condition, but still as forthright as ever. This is a world of servants with dedication, and nannies of terrifying aspect, which is why the sight of several nannies behaving oddly during a planned visit to Crystal Palace attracts the attention of Belinda, Daisy’s stepdaughter and two boys who Daisy is temporarily in charge of, and sends them scurrying around in pursuit. A body turns up and another nanny is found in a desperate state, leaving Daisy, her friend Sakari and a retired policeman, Tom Tring, to secure the site and make sure all the children are safely returned home. When Alec eventually becomes involved and Scotland Yard swings into action, there are many leads to follow as the career of a deeply unlikable character is revealed. As usual, Daisy accidentally on purpose finds the pieces of information that Alec needs as he tries to find the murderer among a mass of multiple motives, and there is the usual quota of high speed journeys and last minute discoveries.


This is an assured novel with much to interest the reader with an interest in the era of amateur yet effective detectives, set in a Britain where women still changed for tea and at least one servant knew what was really going on. Dunn has made every effort to include a wide range of characters and reflect what was going on in the background for people from various countries in the early part of the twentieth century. London is still a place of private cars being something of note, when people left messages with real people when calling on the telephone, and policing used very few scientific options apart from fingerprints. Not terribly literary, but an excellent mystery with many red herrings (and a few dogs) and insights into life in a different era, this is an enjoyable and relaxing read in an addictive series.   


Happily I have managed to finish a readable draft of my essay / presentation for Wednesday on Eva Peron and Evita. Who knew that knowing all the words of a concept album and musical would come in handy? I hope that it will be suitable! Now to find many images of the lady, the musical and film so even if my text is boring there will be something to look at! At least this book was a welcome distraction…  

The birth of a book, Slightly foxed, Dunn and book reviews

If you are a complete book person like what I am…

This should lead you to a lovely film about the making of a limited edition book, largely by hand. Even if you are unable to see the film, there is a fascinating article about The Slightly Foxed people, their quarterly Magazine and their beautiful little books. I actually opened my copy of this book which had just arrived; not cheap but it seems a potential investment!

I have posted before about how much I enjoy the review quarterly, if only because it is not all about new books that I must read, but about old favourites and those books that you may have heard of, but never actually got round to reading. Some books are frustratingly out of print, but often the  articles feature the sort of authors that have a few books still in print at the very least. This is one of the few literary endeavors where a long term addiction to the likes of Georgette Heyer is tolerated, if not openly encouraged.  There are also quirky pieces about books that you will never read, such as the instruction guide for a powerboat (!) but the article is so well written that it stands alone. This film is well worth watching; for all those for whom the ancient art of bookbinding is still interesting and those who just love real books. (Much as I like my kindle…)

And the Carola Dunn readathon goes on! I have just finished The Mourning Wedding

which is in the tradition of the country house mystery. A large family gathers for the wedding of Lucy, Daisy’s best friend, when the murder of a senior member of the guest list rather stops everything in its tracks. Daisy is again plunged into difficulty and danger when there is only a certain number of suspects for her husband Alec to investigate. Exactly who is to blame is kept well concealed until the end in the best tradition, and this is a restful read after doing battle with more challenging topics and authors. Not a great literary effort but interesting nonetheless. I must be halfway through the Dunn twenty by now, at least, and some are better than others, but I enjoy them anyway.

I am also watching the series My life in books on iplayer. A fascinating assortment of guests here, with some unusual books to say the least. I’m still not sure about Ann Robinson as the host, but I suppose she cannot be accused of any book bias as she seems far more interested in winding up some of the guests.  If it’s just a series of suggestions of people’s meaningful books you are interested in, and if you want to be certain that they have all been actually read by their proposer, try as a similar series is running there. I suppose it is an easier sell for tv to have celebrity book reviews, but sometimes I just wish there was a more “serious”programme available apart from the odd flash of brilliance on BBC4… Oh well, I can always watch a bit of bookbinding…

Carola Dunn – an American view of the 1920s way of murder

Agatha, Dorothy, Josephine, Gladys, – the list of Golden Age Detective writers who actually wrote during the 20s and 30s is impressively long. Indeed, there are those, like the super blogging Bibliomouse who have made quite a study of them. I’ve read a few, seen a lot on tv, and admit to being very fond of the big house mystery. While I’ve enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes revival in all its variants, there’s something about the whole 1920s scene which is fascinating. There are many modern attempts to capture that period of murder writing, and my current wallow is in the less than literary but still good fun, Carola Dunn series of “Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries”.

There are many copies of these books in libraries and cheaper book shops. No, they are not taut, literary efforts which require careful study, and there are some bits which make me wince stylistically, but when you want an easy, quick read they are good value.

I recently picked up five in the series at the library.

To Davy Jones Below is just a very readable mystery. Daisy and her new husband Alec  are on a cruise ship which hits stormy weather and murder. There is a limit to how many possible murderers there are, and there is much debate as to possible motives. I enjoyed Dunn’s playing with the Yorkshire accent, and her observations on those who are seasick are very funny. The body count is pretty high, and one death is a little drawn out, but still quite clever. There are some good characterisations and onboard moments, including the grumpy captain. A friend of mind wasn’t going to finish it before she went home, so I had to tell her what happened. It sort of made sense when I explained it, so was not too convoluted. Not quite in the class of last week’s  Susanna Gregory, but enjoyable nonetheless.

Mistletoe and Murder 

is set in an obscure bit of Cornwall (?) which is cut off by distance from most other possible suspects when there is a murder at Christmas. This book features a confusing family, which includes so interesting characters, to say the least. There are references to some obscure bits of historical artifacts, and the children are a bit unrealistic, but overall an interesting read even if it’s not quite the season.

Unlike the Gregory which I mentioned recently, this book is not an undertaking to read, but an interesting diversion for an evening. There are twenty books in the series so far, and Ms Dunn seems to be producing them very fast. I don’t  think that it matters if you read them out of order, so if you see one in a library or sale, it’s worth giving it a try.  They are not quite in the same league as the Golden age greats, and there are times when it is obvious that they are written by someone who has done the research rather than lived in the period, but as modern pastiches go, this is a consistent series with well established characters.


Two series – both probably acquired tastes

Another day, another post – delayed (sorry) by Son Two running the Great North Run in under two hours…and Son One doing the Support Vehicle and the roast dinner!  Like Son One I am staring a  new course (Open University) so reading priorities are  changing. British History for Dummies anyone? At least it provides a useful reminder of the batting order of monarchs and the difference between spinning jennies and mules (don’t ask)

Anyway, two books that are part of series. Lucia’s Progress by E.F. Benson

Lucia's Progress (Black Swan)

is the second in the Mapp and Lucia series. Set in the 1920s, it features two women of a certain age playing one – up womanship in the small town of Tilling. It is subtle piece of writing in which nothing much happens, but it features some outrageous acts of small defiance. Each woman, whether by marrying, investing in strange shares, house buying and selling or aggressive bridge playing, tries to outdo the other. It is a strange sort of humour, in many respects an acquired taste, but involving some memorable characters, not least Major Benjy and Georgie, the hapless men who get dragged into the schemes. I enjoy these books in small doses, and they are not the easiest to describe, but if you enjoy the characters in Pym, Delafield and even (if I dare to say it) Austen, you may well find this series worth tracking down. They can be bought new quite cheaply, though I have yet to buy the dvd versions which are apparently available.

Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn is the latest that I have read in the Daisy Dalrymple series of murder mysteries. Like the others, it is a very easy read, though this particular episode requires a little knowledge of rowing and messing about in boats, as it is set in a 1920s regetta featuring races between colleges and other teams. As always, there is a death early on, and the bulk of the novel is spent sorting it out. En route there is injury, suspicion and death as Daisy and her fiance Alex deal with servants, aristocracy and grand houses against the background of recovering from the First World War. It is a good read if your taste is towards people who wherever they go seem to encounter murder, and the characters are a little better in this book than in some in the series. The plotting is a little weaker, though, despite the details of rowing and hangovers. If you like this series of books, it is a good addition, but not as good as some of the others, especially Murder on the Flying Scotsman, which must win out for the title alone. Another acquired taste, probably…