new book by Catriona Mcpherson, with different names in the UK and the USA
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
[Ali, a beauty therapist, has applied for a new job at a residential facility, and is meeting various people…]
There was someone in that gazebo. I didn’t stare, but I could tell even from the corner of my eye that they were dressed in night clothes. No one wore pale pink trousers and a pink fluffy mackintosh. Those were pyjamas and a dressing gown, so that was a patient, one of the special needs clients of my so-called wide experience. As I slid the car into a free space between two BMWs, I saw the figure start to move…”Help me!” she yelled. “Get me out of here. You’ve got to help me!”…
The door was already opening when I approached and [a] woman came to greet me..
“Ms McGovern?” she said. “Alison? I’m Dr Ferris.”
She was definitely a doctor. She wasn’t wearing a white coat or anything, but there was no doubt. She had a soft green jumper on, cashmere probably, and dark green trousers. Not jeans or cords: proper slacks with pressed creases. They hung a perfect quarter inch off the ground, just skimming the toes of brown high-heeled court shoes. She probably wore them all day and claimed they were comfy.
commentary: Catriona McPherson is incredibly productive. Once a year for the past ten years or so she has produced a Dandy Gilver book – each of them beautifully-written and (as they are the best historical crime novels around) I’m guessing requiring a lot of research, especially as McPherson now lives in California. In between times, she polishes off standalone crime thrillers of a very high standard. We don’t know how she does it. But we can still enjoy the results.
I am second to none in my love for Dandy (most recently here), but I very much like the standalones too – The Child Garden was on the blog earlier this year. They are usually set in modern-day Scotland, and in milieux quite different from that of the upmarket Dandy. In this case, Alison and her husband have had serious financial troubles, lost two businesses, and ended up moving to a much smaller house. They are in dire straits, so when Ali is offered the job at a Howell Hall she has to take it - even though her CV has been massaged, and she is not really qualified. She quickly realizes that all is not as it should be at the hall, staff and patients all seem rather strange. Meanwhile, at home she is worried about her son and her husband. And then a body is discovered very close to her house…
The thing is, all those tropes are very familiar from many many books. Who ever goes to work at a medical facility in a big old house and DOESN’T start worrying? But somehow McPherson always has the ability to turn a fresh eye on these plotlines, she uses her magic and translates them into something different and unusual, while still keeping an iron grip on tension and atmosphere. I was busy guessing what was going on, and she kept turning it round and springing new surprises. It is superbly done.
House Tree Person is the US title of the book – in the UK it is published as Weight of Angels. I prefer the US title: it refers to a basic psychological test which is used to great effect in the book, a test which gives Ali all kinds of clues as to what is happening. (Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley would be proud of her.) And while she is asking questions and trying to get to the truth, Ali goes on with her beauty treatments: makeovers for the patients, and a clear case for looking after anyone, and that it isn’t either superficial or unimportant to make people feel good about themselves.
A nice selection of cosy pyjamas and dressing-gowns, with very varying levels of happiness, above. The best one was actually an American Girl doll (featured on the blog in various guises in the past):
But I didn’t want to challenge Julia’s humanity, as the book is all about humanity.
The two working-doctor outfits come from Pringle of Scotland, and that is very much somewhere Dr Ferris would shop, I feel.