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.