Regular readers will know I am a staunch fan of Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series – I have been reading them since the beginning, and have loved every one of them beyond reason. So I was deeply honoured to be invited to take part in a blog tour for the latest one. Here are the details:
The new book has our sleuths, Dandy and Alec, going to a rather ramshackle Scottish castle for their latest case. There are missing husbands, missing jewels, a treasure hunt, and a performance of Macbeth. It is absolutely glorious.
Catriona McPherson, and the cover of the new book
Author photo by Rod Wheelans
So here is the first chapter of the new book:
Donald sank a little lower in his chair and inspected the dry inside page of the Scotsman as though it were the key to all mythologies. Or rather, since this was Donald, as though it showed a new picture of Claudette Colbert in her nightie.
My poor boy. He had come unstuck over the matter of some cattle during the winter. An unscrupulous breeder had beguiled him, against Hugh’s advising, into the purchase of two truly enormous bulls, which were to strengthen and transform his herd.
I daresay had they been bought by a farmer in the gentle south or the temperate midlands, even by a north countryman with a breath of sea air across his acres, their pedigree would have counted and their promise been fulfilled. As it was, one Perthshire winter did for them both. They barely saw out autumn in the fields with their harem, but instead retired into strawed quarters, like Miss Havisham on her wedding day. After that, no amount of plugging draughts with bales or buying in expensive cake stopped their vertiginous descent from lusty health in late summer to puny trembling by Christmas.
Donald and his factor tied sacks over the two sets of shivering ribs and packed them on to a train headed for Devon and a rosier future. Even that found disfavour with Hugh. A few pounds for their dead weight from the Pitlochry knackerman was sound business sense, he barked at Donald when the scheme came to light. Paying carriage for a trip to the seaside was . . . Words failed him and I was glad, since I had a strong suspicion that the particular words failing him were not often spoken in my drawing room.
It did not help that Teddy was home for the Christmas vac at the time and that, despite seeing the inside of more nightclubs than lecture halls during the Michaelmas term, he had reeled away from college with a respectable set of marks in his long essays and an indulgent set of comments from his fond tutors. It would be so much easier all round if my elder son sparkled and my younger was the . . . I did not finish the thought, for I love them both dearly.
Anyway, this morning’s idea of middling stupidity was related by an old friend I had scarcely seen since we returned well-finished, from Paris. I had pounced on her letter to me, eager to hear her news, for she had always been the most tremendous fun. She had been, in fact, the great ‘hit’ of 1904, landing in the middle of the season with a splash and carrying off her beau before the ink was dry on the first round of invitations.
Minerva Roll. A lesser girl would have buckled under such a name, but Minnie made it seem part of her own cleverness to have been dubbed with something so extraordinary. All around, Annes and Marys began to hint that they were really Titianas and Mirabelles.
And it seemed she was as clever now as ever. She mentioned the wolf at the door, holes in the roof and the spectre of death duties; a familiar litany. She also mentioned, however, a novel plan to outwit the wolf, the rain and His Majesty’s exchequer too.
. . . we are turning Castle Bewer into a theatre – open air, summers only – and putting on plays! As you can imagine, dear Dandy, we are a little trepidatious (is that a word?), about the hordes descending. Not just the paying public, although certainly them too, but the actors themselves and, of course, actresses. Can you imagine what our mothers would say? And stagehands, I daresay. At any rate, I would be much happier with a pal on the spot who could loom threateningly if someone starts looking with covetous eyes at any of our treasures.
Are you laughing at the thought of our possessing treasures, Dandy dear? We do, you know. Or at least we did. And we still might. It’s all rather complicated and we have not quite decided what to do about it, my mother-in-law, my husband, and me. I promise to have the whole plan hammered out once and for all before you arrive. For now, think ‘Treasure Hunt’ and you will be in the right general area. Possibly. Or not.
‘Quite a good spot for it,’ said Hugh. ‘I’ll give them that much. But they’ll never turn a profit if they’re going to employ battalions of ancillary staff. Where do you come in, Dandy?’
‘I’m to loom, I think,’ I said. ‘And perhaps hunt treasure too? Minnie’s style was always more flowery than fluent. Anyway, I shan’t charge her much. She’s a pal.’
‘Typical,’ said Hugh, executing a swift volte-face. ‘Roping in chums and doing it on the cheap.’
‘I shall only be going at all if Alec fancies it,’ I said, hoping to placate him. ‘It’s not really a case of detection, after all. And we are usually billed as detectives, aren’t we?’
‘You can’t keep turning down paying jobs,’ said Hugh.
How he managed to keep revolving like that without getting dizzy was beyond me.
I stood, dropped my napkin and clicked my tongue. Bunty, my puppy, still just about a puppy anyway, crawled out from under the table, shook herself thoroughly and sat at my heels gazing up at me, awaiting instruction. Hugh gave me a look with a long history and a longer list of ingredient emotions.
He had enjoyed despising me for the atrocious conduct of Bunty the First, throughout her happy life. Now here I was with Bunty the Second, brought up on the same indulgent principles and yet, miraculously, better behaved not only than the original Bunty but also than any hound or terrier Hugh had ever trained under his regime of shouts and thwacks. He ought to love her. He did not. We both pretended none of it was happening.
Donald spoiled the atmosphere of dignified face-saving a little with a tremendous snort as he watched Bunty and me leave the room, but Hugh had returned to the European news by then and even his wife had no power to annoy him.
‘I’m coming over,’ I said to Alec from the telephone in my sitting room. ‘There’s a sniff of a case. Well, a job anyway.’
‘What’s the difference?’ Alec said.
‘Anything your end?’
‘Nothing you’d countenance.’
‘But it’s a lovely time of year for a trip to the coast.’
I groaned. We had decided at the outset of Gilver and Osborne twelve years before that we would not sully ourselves with divorce work. Not for us the quiet hours in a corner of a seaside hotel lounge watching for some Mr and Miss, masquerading as Mr and Mrs, to mount the stairs.
It was becoming untenable. Even I conceded it. For one thing, there seemed to be a perfect epidemic of divorce taking hold. The lower classes were just about managing to make a vow before God and stick to it, whether too tired from their labours to be getting up to mischief in the evenings or perhaps unable to foot the bill for all the resulting upheaval, but amongst our own set every Tatler brought news of another cabinet reshuffle and it was creeping down among the doctors, lawyers and even the odd schoolmaster. It was unseemly and extraordinary and lesser detective firms were making a nice living out of it, or so Alec never tired of saying.
‘The difference between a case and a job,’ I told him, answering his question, ‘is that nothing has actually happened and we’re to make sure nothing does. There’s guaranteed entertainment too. I’ll see you in half an hour.’
Alec lived just across the valley, his pretty little estate the next neighbour but one to mine. He inherited it from the grateful but grieving father of his late fiancée, after the solving of her murder, which was our first case. There he had lived for twelve years, looked after by an austere valet-cum-butler by the name of Barrow and a cook as devoted as my own Mrs Tilling. Every so often he murmured about a wife, the way Hugh murmured about coppicing the top plantation, or I murmured about turning out the attics one day.
This morning, I found him strolling down the drive to meet me, hands in pockets, pipe in teeth, with Millie his spaniel waddling along at his side. Bunty gave a single polite yip when she saw them and then wagged her whole body from just behind her ears to the tip of her tail. I slowed and leaned over to let her out of the motorcar. Millie was as blind as a beggar these days and the drive, where she could feel the hard ash under her paws, was about the only walk she could rise to on her own. With Bunty at her side, though, she was free to rush about as joyously as ever, trusting her friend to wheel back and collect her. As Alec climbed in, we watched them dash off in between two bedraggled rhododendron bushes to go adventuring in the woods.
‘You should get a puppy of your own,’ I said. ‘As her companion.’
‘If I thought I could use it during the day and let it sleep in the kitchen, I would,’ said Alec, turning to me as the undergrowth closed and stilled behind the dogs. ‘But I know myself too well. It would be nipping in front of her at suppertime and climbing into her bed at night to chew her ears.’ He sat back and grinned at me. ‘What’s this entertaining job then, Dandy? Where are we off to?’
‘We’re to guard the treasures of Castle Bewer,’ I said, giving it a bit of swagger.
‘Against whom?’ said Alec. ‘The taxman’s the only one laying siege to castles these days, isn’t he? And what can we do about him?’
‘The taxman has a minor role, it’s true,’ I said. ‘But we needn’t concern ourselves with anything so dull. It’s faeries, dukes and queens for us!’
‘Awake the nimble spirit of mirth!’ I added.
‘Shakespeare, darling. Actors. Actresses too.’
‘And you scoff at lurking in a boarding-house lounge watching for adulterers!’ Alec said.
We could not imagine then what we were shortly to know. A man and his mistress, off for a seaside liaison, would have been wholesome refreshment compared with what the castle had in store.
Now read on! The book is out now, and I can highly recommend it – I’ll be doing my own blogpost on it soon. Thanks to Catriona and the publishers for letting me be part of the blog tour.