Day 1123: The Reek of Red Herrings

Cover for The Reek of Red HerringsAlthough I’ve come to prefer Catriona McPherson’s contemporary thrillers, for lighter fare, her Dandy Gilver mysteries are lots of fun. Dandy began her career in 1918 with After the Armistice Ball. Twelve years later, she and her partner Alec Osbourne are more sedate, but not much more.

Dandy and Alec’s newest client wants them to skip the family Christmas to investigate a confidential problem. He is a herring exporter, and several barrels of his herring have been returned containing foreign objects, that is, the pieces of someone’s body. Mr. Birchfield does not want to notify the police, because knowledge of this problem will ruin his business. He wants Dandy and Alec to find out who is missing and what happened.

Because the herring fishermen and the “quines,” the girls who gut the fish, only return home a couple of months a year, they must travel to the fishing village of Gamrie, on the Banffshire coast, over Christmas. Dandy is all too happy to escape a dreary house party.

In Gamrie, the two pose as philologists, supposedly recording the local dialect. The village is an uncomfortable one, with freezing weather and a stark hotel as the only accomodation. The villagers themselves are caught up in the preparations for five marriages. All the brides are pregnant, for the custom is to be handfasted and only marry if the handfasting “takes,” that is, the bride gets pregnant.

There is some concern in the village about the marriages of two of the Mason girls. They are marrying two of the Gow boys, who fished in the same boat with John Gow, their older brother. John Gow went overboard last year, and it is considered unlucky for anyone to marry his shipmates unless they take to different boats. But the Gow brothers are keeping their brother’s boat and marrying the two Mason girls, whose older sister was handfasted to John Gow and who disappeared after his death. This news has Dandy checking with Mr. Birchfield that the corpse is indeed male, but it is.

Dandy and Alec also have the dubious pleasure, suggested by Dandy’s husband Hugh, of going to visit Searle’s Realm of Bounteous Wonder. This display is a series of rooms depicting various scenes made up entirely of stuffed animals, a wonder of taxidermy. The two brothers, Warwick and Durban, are very odd, and the exhibits are appalling.

Dandy and Alec’s investigations turn up no unaccounted for villagers except Nancy Mason, but they eventually hear about several missing strange men, people who came to town but never were seen again. Some of the men were derelicts and one was an artists’ model. At least two claimed to have work. So, Dandy and Alec go from having no potential victims to several. All the while, a terrific storm is threatening.

This novel was interesting, from the perspective of the villagers’ wedding traditions and beliefs. Although I figured out fairly soon something about the missing men, I did not figure out the overall scope, nor the identity of Mr. Pickle, as Alec calls the body. This was a fun, if a bit ghoulish, mystery.

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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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