Dandy Gilver has only the fondest memories of a summer spent with the Lipscotts when she was a girl, especially of the winsome, creative youngest, whom they all called Darling Fleur. Dandy only met Fleur once as an adult and she had changed. She was then a flirty, noisy, but beautiful flapper.
Dandy is surprised to be contacted by Pearl Lipscott, asking her for help with Fleur. Pearl says Fleur has been teaching at a girls’ school and she’s afraid all is not well. She hints at breakdowns in the past and tells Dandy that she and her sister Aurora are not welcome at the school. She wants Dandy and her partner Alec Osborne to go to the school to see if Fleur is all right.
Alec isn’t pleased to be visiting a girls’ school as it limits his own participation in the investigation, but almost as soon as they arrive in Portpatrick, he finds himself another client, an Italian fish and chips shop owner named Joe Aldo. His wife has left with a lover, and he wants to find her and make sure she’s okay.
When Dandy arrives at St. Columba’s, she is mistaken for the replacement for the French teacher, who has left without notice. Dandy goes along, feeling she can learn more from inside the school. But when she sees Fleur, she is shocked. The beautiful, vibrant girl has been replaced by a pale, beige woman. Moreover, when Fleur recognizes Dandy, she flees. Dandy is only able to get her to say that she’s killed four people before she runs away.
The next day the police arrive because a woman’s body was found on the beach and they want someone to see if it is Jean Beauclerc, the French teacher. Fleur volunteers to go but only if Dandy comes with her. At the dreadful sight of the drowned body, Fleur says it is not Miss Beauclerc but then utters the word “five” and runs away again.
Dandy soon realizes Fleur is missing but also that something odd is going on at the school. Even after Dandy is shown up as a fraud by the arrival of the actual French teacher, the headmistress Miss Shank takes her on as an English mistress. In fact, it turns out that Miss Shank was the housekeeper before she took over as headmistress upon the original headmistress’s death, a situation that is odd in itself. The girls seem to spend a lot of time lolling around, with short school hours and little work, while the teachers work feverishly. Five teachers have either died or left the school, and Dandy wonders if these are the five Fleur mentioned.
Joe has been to see the body and says it is not his wife. A witness saw his wife with a man on a cliff the night she disappeared. So, Dandy and Alec are left with three missing women, a mention of five murders, and some kind of wrong-doing at the school.
The Dandy Gilver series set in post-World War I Scotland is always fun. The dialogue is lively, and Dandy is always ready to leave her dull husband and farm to detect with Alec. In this case I thought it takes Dandy and Alec far too long to figure out what Fleur’s comment means, but there is still plenty I didn’t figure out.