If Miss Marple was to meet Dandy Gilver, I fear that they would not get on. Miss Marple doesn’t suffer fools gladly. And Dandy, I can’t help feeling, tends towards the fool. That said, Catriona McPherson’s impeccably-researched recreation of the 1930s milieu of the original Queen of Crime will no doubt delight her many fans once more with her latest novel.
Midsummer at the fictional Castle Bewer, where the residents are attempting to open the doors of their crumbling pile to rich Americans in a bid to raise some cash, it is the perfect setting for a traditional whodunnit.
In style, there is more than a hint of Alexander McCall Smith about this novel: it is chatty, intimate and altogether firmly rooted in aristocratic society – a nice escape from the day-to-day. Yet somehow, despite having recently consumed most of Christie’s back catalogue in one delicious, month-long bite and occasionally enjoyed the cosy prose of McCall Smith, this modern attempt at the upstairs-downstairs mystery didn’t do a lot for me.
I have to admit, I have not read any of the previous 11 books in the Dandy Gilver series, which probably puts me at something of a disadvantage.
But I found the number of different characters introduced in the first chapter alone hugely confusing: Alec, Bunty, Hugh, Minnie, Donald… Not to mention the heroine, herself, Dandy, or Dandelion, to go by her unlikely Sunday name, which immediately sends the novel hovering somewhere around the farce category.
The plot sees private detective Dandy embroiled in the performance of a play – Macbeth, natch – as she is summoned to Bewer to attempt to solve the mystery of a missing necklace. So far so Christie. The plot thickens when she begins to investigate a family feud and a mysterious death. Yet the characters don’t engage me, the plot doesn’t grip me. Even the cover is a bit of a turn-off, reminding me of one of those slightly run-down B&Bs you find in the Highlands, decked out in what was once expensive but now clarty-looking tartan fabric.
Admittedly, there are a lot of appealing references for natives of southern Scotland. Queensferry’s Hopetoun House – McPherson grew up just a stone’s throw away – is mentioned in the same breath as Chatsworth House, which will presumably be a puzzle to readers south of the border, bar any hard-core stately home buffs.
Longstanding fans of Dandy Gilver will devour this latest instalment. I’m just not sure it is going to win her any new admirers.
*Dandy Gilver And A Spot Of Toil And Trouble, by Catriona McPherson, Hodder & Stoughton, £19.99