published 2017, set in 1934
Earlier this week Clothes in Books was happy host to the blogtour for this latest Dandy Gilver book. If you look at the entry you can read the first chapter of this marvellous book… But obviously I couldn’t leave it at that, I had to do my own entry on the book, and try to give an idea of both the wonders of the book, and the lovely clothes therein.
[Dandy Gilver is discussing her latest case with her maid, Grant]
I stood to let her help me into my frock. Her successes as assistant detective are admittedly several, but Grant is a wonderful ladies’ maid. Despite its being June, she had correctly anticipated the temperature and humidity of a lowland castle and had packed a velvet evening dress with a high neck and long sleeves. My white fox fur lent a faint air of the music hall against the dark velvet and clashed a little with the cream lace in my headdress but my mother was dead and could not be shocked and I was almost cosy as I followed Grant, to be shown Mrs Bewer’s bedroom door…
Mrs Bewer… had been transformed from the bundle of shawls I had met downstairs into a grand old lady in satins and pearls. Her white hair would not have disgraced the court of of the Sun King, for Grant had teased it into an enormous ball and studded it with jewelled pins like an orange stuck with cloves.
commentary: There are two current crime series that I love beyond reason; Dandy Gilver is the historical one. (The contemporary choice is Elly Griffiths and her Ruth Galloway books). Dandy is a posh lady sleuth living on an estate in Scotland with her husband and sons. She has a detective partnership with a young man called Alec. They wander round Scotland solving cases, usually in another posh house or estate; but they are far from being as twee or as cozy as that makes them sound. McPherson’s characters dance off the page, they are real and funny and very much of their time: the big difference between this series and so many others is that she does NOT give her characters modern-day attitudes to make them more likeable. So few authors of historicals can resist the temptation: all those sleuths who are feminist, pro-gay, and very understanding about mental health issues. Pure fantasyland. Dandy is very individual, and very likeable indeed, but she doesn’t go about telling us how understanding she is about 21st centuy issues, and that alone would make her very unusual.
But also – the books are beautifully plotted, with proper clues spread around, there are always wonderful social setpieces, and of course wonderful clothes. They are also very very funny, and the characters grow and get more appealing through the series. The maid Grant is a scene-stealer of a high order (reflecting her theatrical background perhaps) and if this were a TV series she would have her own spin-off show by now. Which brings me to the complete mystery of why these books haven’t yet been made into films or TV shows – they would be wonderful, surely someone is considering them?
This one is particularly visual: Dandy, Alec and Grant are helping old friends who live in a ramshackle Scottish castle. There is an old mystery to be solved, a valuable necklace to be found and – oh bliss – a performance of Macbeth to bring in the paying tourists. NOTHING could be better suited to showing off the talents of Dandy, of Grant, and of author Catriona. The residents, the actors and the paying guests divide into two camps: those who are longing for ever-bigger roles in the play, and those who are running a mile. Alec and Grant cannot be prised away from the actors, and Grant is making costumes as fast as she can – this generosity somewhat diluted by the fact that she is getting the best clothes and ever bigger and more parts.
On top of all this, there is jewellery detection: the indispensable Grant can date a piece of jewellery because the design is copied from a more famous piece, and the necklace pre-dated the double safety clasp. Other items cannot have belonged to the bride who died young: ‘these rings were worn for years. Look at them.’
And just two more clothes items:
Lady Annandale was coolly dressed in angora the same shade as her corridor walls.Plenty more Dandy entries on the blog. And McPherson also writes standalones, several of which have featured here.
Hamlet, Revenge! by Michael Innes – on the blog earlier this year – featured another Shakespeare performance in a stately home.
Variety of 1930s fashions from NYPL, Kristine’s photostream, and the athenaeum website.
The second picture is The Right Honourable Mabell Ogilvy, Dowager Countess of Airlie, by Philip Alexius de Laszlo – she was a key figure of the 30s, the kind of person mentioned by the Mitfords.
The third one down is a rather splendid 19th century Lady Macbeth by Thomas Francis Dicksee.
The green dress is by Boris Grigoriev.