Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: Dandy Gliver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains by Catriona McPherson

I was introduced to Catriona McPherson’s novels last month when preparing for Bouchercon. Molly Weston, owner of Meritorious Mysteries, and moderator of the panel I was on, suggested that each panelist read one of the works by the others. Consider this your disclaimer. Now that I have met Catriona in person, I am delighted to number her among my friends. That said, let’s talk about her book.

McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series falls into the “cozy” mystery category on book store shelves. Judging by Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, the book is not an entirely comfortable fit in the cozy category.

The series is set in the 1920’s and mirrors the style of mystery’s golden age. Dandy is McPherson’s genteel lady sleuth. I have not read the other books in the series, but in this book her amateur detective goes under cover as a ladies’ maid to assist an acquaintance who fears her husband is planning to murder her. The plot becomes more complicated when the husband is murdered and Dandy must confront the possibility that her client, Mrs. Balfour, has brought her into the household as her alibi for the crime.

The book is a well plotted and well written puzzle mystery handled with a humorous hand. However, there are deeper layers to the story. Below stairs, Dandy is drawn into the world of the serving classes. She must watch the political upheaval of general strike that made her own class fear a European revolution similar to the one that had just occurred in Russia. Though the book does not bash us over the head with politics, the political climate of the time is too important to allow us to take the subject lightly. McPherson does an excellent job of balancing the details of a socially tense time with tongue in cheek humor and irrepressible wit.

What I found most interesting in this book was the fact that the more Dandy learns about the working class, the more she must examine her own values. I doubt that Mrs. Gilver will emerge from her encounter with the serving class unchanged. I look forward to seeing what sort of character growth shows up in the next book.

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