Review: Catriona McPherson – Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses

It’s good when you read a book without any preconceptions at all. Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses looked like a light-CMcPhearted fun read, based only on the book cover and the accompanying blurb. It turned out to be much more than that, a well written and witty story and it’s great that I’ve found a new series to catch up with.

Dandy Gilver once spent an idyllic summer with the Lipscott family in Pereford. With no men in sight, Mrs Lipscott and her three daughters lived in a comfortable bubble and Dandy forecast a glamorous future for the three girls. But the youngest, Fleur, gave up her charmed life and disappeared to teach English in a remote Scottish girls school. One her sisters calls Dandy and asks her to go to the school and discover what is wrong with Fleur. With her business partner Alec, Dandy travels to St Columba school in Perthshire and discovers an odd timetable, disaffected students and school mistresses with secrets to hide.

Light-hearted crime novels don’t usually do it for me, but this book’s greatest strength is the quality of the writing. You get the witty dialogue and 1930s flavour that readers expect but the writing is intelligent and thought provoking. McPherson provides a wealth of detail that gives the book a period feel but also elevate it above the usual historical mystery. So we get the entertaining pronouncements from the irreverent Dandy Gilver but we also get a subtlety of characterisation. The tension between her feelings for her stick-in-the-mud husband and the charming Alec for example is finely portrayed and adds depth to all the characters.

The book is full of surprises. You are lulled into a ‘cosy’ feel, with the enclosed girls school and eccentric characters, but the motive behind the crimes is quite brutal. There is also an edge to the writing. Dandy’s kind heart is taken advantage of and exposes weaknesses in the people that she trusts.

Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses was a different sort of crime novel to ones I normally read but it’s a lesson in how I need to keep an open mind when trying new fiction. It turned out to be a very enjoyable and relaxing book written for a an intelligent reader. This is always appealing.

Thanks to Hodder for my review copy.

16 thoughts on “Review: Catriona McPherson – Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses

  1. I am glad you liked this book. I have been wanting to try this series, mainly because of the time period. I have read a couple of reviews of other books in the series that were also encouraging. I also am leery of light-hearted mysteries, as you put it, but sometimes they can be well worth the read.


  2. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – An excellent review as ever, and thank you for reminding us all of this great series. And I like the way you highlight the fact that McPherson has a light touch in some ways, but not a ‘cosy’ touch if I can put it that way. There is as you say an edge to the stories and they go deeper than one thinks at first.


  3. So glad you enjoyed this Sarah – this is one of my very favourite series, and I was only saying to Margot that Catriona McP is one of those very few authors whose books I will buy automatically, sight unseen. I love Dandy! I envy you that you can catch up on the whole series now! I have done a couple of blog posts on her that you might be intersted in.


    1. Really? And I was talking to a Scottish friend the other day and she said very much the same thing. And I had never even heard of the series. I’m going to go and look at your blog posts now!


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  5. Anwen

    Thanks for reminding me about this series Sarah! I have read one or two of these books before and really enjoyed them but what with one thing and another had rather forgotten about them. Your review reminded me of how much I enjoyed them. Will have to dig a few out on my Kindle after I finish reaquainting myself with Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels – another forgotten love of mine…


  6. kathy d.

    It’s just amazing how many crime fiction series are out there to savor. And it is equally interesting what are the preferences of individual readers.
    I just love reading the reviews and comments. However, right now I can’t take on more series.


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