Day 881: Quiet Neighbors

Cover for Quiet NeighborsBest Book of the Week!
Jude is in trouble, thinking of fleeing the country. But when she gets to the train station, she remembers a kind face, so on an impulse she takes a train to Glasgow. In a nearby village, she walks into Lowland Glen Books. There she is taken under the wing of the owner, Lowell Glen, and sent to his house for an exhausted rest.

Jude’s trouble involves her ex-husband Max, but we don’t learn what it is for a while. She is afraid to read the online articles about whatever happened but just sees that they have thousands of hits. Then she destroys her phone.

Jude is a library cataloger with a bit of a phobia about disorder. She finds the squalor of Lowell’s home disturbing but is pleased when he offers her the attic apartment to live in and a job helping him catalog the books in his store. She is just settling in when another orphan of the storm arrives, a pregnant Irish teenager who announces that she is Lowell’s daughter, a person Lowell didn’t know existed.

Lowell immediately accepts Eddy, but Jude is skeptical. Eddy claims that her mother, Miranda, only told her about Lowell on her death bed, but Jude thinks she is lying about something. She is also upset when Lowell lets her know that Eddy would like her apartment. Lowell has a place for Jude, though, a cottage he owns next to a graveyard.

The cottage is so isolated that Jude is happy to accept it, figuring that no one will find her there. She is also enchanted to find that the cottage once belonged to T. Jolly, someone whose brief reviews in the backs of some of the books in Lowell’s store have delighted her. She starts making a collection of his books, but the notes in the later books in his collection take on a different, more ominous tone.

With Quiet Neighbors, Catriona McPherson moves away from contemporary thrillers back toward the mystery genre. Aside from the question of why Jude is hiding, there is a mystery connected with Lowell’s “summer of love” back in the 80’s that engendered Eddy, a mystery of what Eddy’s mother Miranda told her versus the facts they can determine about the time. And then there is the mystery of T. Jolly’s notes.

link to NetgalleyThere does turn out to be a murderer, and to me that person’s identity was obvious as soon as murder was suspected. But this did not interfere with my enjoyment of the novel. I loved most of the characters and the warm, unusual household that Lowell, Eddy, and Jude begin to build. I loved what McPherson does with two apparently menacing characters. I absolutely loved this novel.

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Day 800: The Day She Died

Cover for The Day She DiedI recently discovered that Catriona McPherson, the author of the Dandy Gilver historical mysteries, also writes much darker contemporary thrillers. A while back I reviewed The Child Garden, which came out in September. The Day She Died was published last year.

The reason I mention The Child Garden is that when I began reading The Day She Died, some of its elements seemed familiar—a lonely cottage in Scotland, a distraught man, a damaged heroine. But this novel is a different story altogether.

Jessie Constable has spotted Gus King several times in town and even met him once, an encounter that thoroughly embarrassed her, but he doesn’t seem to recognize her when she finds him distraught in the grocery store with his young daughter. He has been talking loudly on the phone, and he explains to her that his wife Becky has just informed him she is leaving him and the children.

Jessie decides he shouldn’t be driving, so she offers to drive him home, even though she will have to take a cab back. Once she arrives at his remote cottage on the seaside, though, she finds herself drawn further into his problems. Almost immediately after they get to the cottage, the police arrive to inform Gus that his wife has been found dead in a car accident, an apparent suicide.

Gus begs her to stay, and soon she finds herself living with him and his two small children. Their relationship quickly turns physical. Still, Jessie keeps wondering about little things that don’t make sense. Where is Ros, Becky’s best friend, who looks so much like her? Who is the man who keeps trying to get her attention but can barely speak English?

Chillingly, the book begins with a woman imprisoned in a small space. We don’t know who she is or what the time frame is, but we know that at some point Jessie’s romantic adventure will turn dark.

I figured out some of the mysteries of this novel well in advance but not all of them. Jessie’s story is gripping and the situation much more complex than it seems. This book is a great psychological thriller.

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Day 781: Dandy Gilver and A Deadly Measure of Brimstone

Cover for A Deadly Measure of BrimstoneThings have been fairly stressful in the Gilver household. Dandy’s husband Hugh and both boys, Donald and Teddy, are recovering from a serious illness. Just as they begin to improve, Pallister, the butler, and Mrs. Tilling, the cook, are also felled. Dandy and her partner, Alec Osborne, haven’t had a case in months, and when Alec announces it’s time he looked for a wife, Dandy is afraid their detecting days will soon be over. Then, she has a letter from Mr. Addie and Mrs. Bowie, asking them to make an inquiry.

The job turns out to be helpful for all parties. Mr. Addie and Mrs. Bowie are upset about their mother, who died recently on a visit to a spa in Moffat. She reportedly died of a heart attack, but her children insist she had no heart trouble. Dandy thinks everyone will be served by renting a house in Moffat and enrolling the invalids at the spa. Alec goes early, pretending to have a bad back.

Once they begin investigating Mrs. Addie’s death, something seems suspicious. The police sergeant says she was scared by a ghost. He also says that although Dr. Laidlaw was there at the spa, they called in Dr. Ramsay from the village to sign the death certificate. That Dr. Laidlaw apparently refused to sign the death certificate seems suspicious to Dandy, and when she questions Dr. Ramsay, he proves to be an idiot who says that everyone dies of a heart attack. Dr. Laidlaw herself has a violent reaction to mentions of Mrs. Addie.

On her investigations of the spa, Dandy finds the attendant who prepared Mrs. Addie for burial. She says that Mrs. Addie was dirty, even under her fingernails, so Dandy begins to think she may have died outside. In the meantime Alec determines that Mrs. Addie did not believe in ghosts so would be unlikely to have been scared to death by one. Mr. Laidlaw, Dr. Laidlaw’s brother, also seems a shifty sort of person. Dandy is a little worried, because Alec seems protective of Dr. Laidlaw, a scattered young woman.

Dandy and Alec soon believe something odd is going on at the spa. For one thing, Hugh has stopped being grumpy! The arrival of a bunch of mediums makes everything even stranger.

Dandy Gilver mysteries, set in post-World War I Scotland, are light-hearted, funny, and entertaining. I am always happy to see another one coming out.

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Day 769: Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses

Cover for Dandy GilverDandy 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.

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Day 744: The Child Garden

Cover for The Child GardenI have long been a fan of Catriona McPherson’s light-hearted historical mysteries featuring Dandy Gilver, but I wasn’t aware that she had written some darker contemporary mysteries. For me, dark is always good.

At 40, Gloria is in a somewhat dowdy middle age, her life completely taken up by work and care for her severely handicapped son Nicky. Nicky will die soon, she knows, and her greatest fear is that her friend old Miss Drumm will die before he does, so that Gloria will lose her home in Miss Drumm’s cottage and have to move Nicky to care in a less expensive facility.

Gloria is driving home one stormy night from visiting Miss Drumm and Nicky in the care home when another car almost runs into her on the deserted roads near her remote cottage. She has just arrived home when the driver comes to the door and she finds he is an old friend from primary school, Stieg Tarrant.

Stieg  has a favor to ask. He says he has been stalked by a woman from his school days, April Cowan. Long ago, when he and April were in the school named Eden nearby in what is now the care facility, a boy died on an overnight camping trip on school grounds. Hinting that she knows something about the death, April has demanded Stieg meet her in a small building on the grounds, and Stieg wants Gloria to go with him. When they arrive there in the pouring rain, they find April’s dead body. Their first instinct is to tell the police, but Gloria panics, worried that a body in the grounds would result in the care facility being closed, just as Eden closed after Moped Best fell off the bridge years ago.

They go back to Gloria’s cottage, where Stieg admits that he had already found the body before he fetched Gloria. After some discussion of the circumstances of April’s death, Gloria thinks April for some reason tried to frame Stieg for her own suicide, so she has Stieg stay at her cottage while she goes back to the body. The body is gone.

When Gloria tracks down April’s address and goes to her house, she finds the police already there. Soon, it becomes clear that someone is trying to frame Stieg for April’s murder. Gloria can’t help but think there must be some connection to Moped’s death. Sure enough, when she begins trying to track down the other 11 people who were children on the camp-out, most of them have died.

link to NetgalleySet in the atmospheric countryside of Scotland, this novel is a real page-turner. As Gloria and Stieg investigate, the secrets start to come out, and Gloria even finds herself discovering the truth about her own marriage and ex-husband, who also attended the camp-out. I see there are some more McPherson books I haven’t read yet, and I’ll be looking for them.

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