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Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona Macpherson

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Manda Scott
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Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona Macpherson

Post by Manda Scott » Tue July 2nd, 2013, 11:07 am

One of the great joys of attending festivals is being scheduled on panels with people whose work I don't know yet. So I'll be at the Theakston's Old Peculier (sic) Harrogate Crime Fest in the middle of this month shadowing Val McDermid who is reprising her role as Chair 10 years after the first one (heck, is it 10 years? It feels like yesterday) so that I know how to run the Historical Festival in October (25th - 27th - put it in your diary). But I'll also be on a panel on Sunday 21st entitled Slaughtering the Sacred Cows.

With me will be Stuart MacBride, Cathi Unsworth and Catriona MacPherson - all of us are apparently iconoclastic in one form or another. As you do before these events, I've just started reading their books - and have just finished Catriona Macpherson's Dandy Gilver novel.

This is the seventh in the series and I can't think why it's taken so long to get around to something so richly, gloriously, wonderfully off the wall. The premise is simple: Mrs Dandy (Dandelion) Gilver is a country house lady living in a grand house in hte Perthshire wilderness, wife to Hugh, mother to two teenaged sons, Teddy and Donald, mistress to a variety of lady's maids, butlers, factors and general factotums - and she's bored. Or I guess she was bored at the start of the series when she joined forces with her neighbour, Alec Osborne for the purposes of solving crimes.

They make a formidable team: not quite Sherlock and Holmes, because neither of them is dim, but they balance each other nicely and in this book's theme of country house spas and mediums, ghosts and murder, they manage between them to run rings round the opposition without ever feeling as if they are either superheroes or implausibly well informed.

It's all told in a first person voice that feels absolutely of its time and its this, the voice, that really hooked me. Dandy Gilver reminds me of the various competent women who run hawking displays at gamefairs. She's completely at home in her rural estate, but can don furs and march about town if she has to. She's not squeamish, but she's not gung ho either. Coupled to this is a sense of time that is absolutely perfect. The setting is 1929, and everyone carries scars from the first world war (Alec, reminiscing at one point with a fellow serviceman, says that 'it was not so bad once the rations started up again', which carries within it such a wealth of unspoken horrors that it could have made a whole portion of the novel itself: it doesn't, it's there as part of the texture, the warp and weft of a time about which I know very little, but in which the author is obviously an expert. Like the best historical novels, this is one from which I learned a lot about a time and a social class without ever feeling I was being taught - this is learned, but it wears its learning lightly.

This is set, I realise, in the era of Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs. It knocks both of these out of the water - so, so, so much better. I expect there'll be a television series, soon...

So all in all, I'm immensely glad I came across this, and am looking forward to delving further into the Dandy Gilver series. And I'll see you at Harrogate if you can make it.
*******************************

Bestselling author of
Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.

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