Dress Down Sunday: A Murder Mystery Party


Murder at Madingley Grange by Caroline Graham

published 1990

[the scene is a country house, where a murder mystery weekend is under way. Clothes descriptions from throughout the book]

Mrs Saville surveyed her daughter critically.

‘I don’t know why it is but even when young people get the costume and cosmetics and hairstyles of another period absolutely right they still look unconvincing.’ Complacently resplendent in coffee lace, Mrs Saville had replaced her diamond earrings with star sapphires. Now she crossed to the dressing table and opened a black velvet case lined with crinkle satin…Mrs Saville removed a dazzling necklace from the case. ‘Our family have always understood the art of the ensemble. Your grandmother’s tea gowns were the talk of Fuller’s.’

‘I couldn’t have stood the underwear. Rubber suspenders, metal hooks and eyes. And all that slithery stockinette. Ugh.’

A long moment passed while Mrs Saville admired Mrs Saville and Rosemary admired her inheritance…

‘What do we want hats for?’
‘Here’s yours.’ Simon handed over a lamé turban sporting white egret feathers secured by a glittering pin in the shape of a scimitar…

She removed a magnifying glass from the pocket, handed back the jacket and picked up her shawl. This was a beautiful fringed eau-de-nil silk painted with tiger lilies and ferns….

Now Sheila Gregory, also curry combed to perfection, had appeared on the lawn in a svelte white linen dress almost to her ankles, white turban and tortoiseshell sunglasses….

Simon waved a shimmering fall of ice-blue lamé in front of his sister in the manner of a matador with a cape. She took it cautiously. ‘It’s a bit slippy. Rather beautiful though. Are these the shoes? Heavens - they’re like stilts.’

commentary: This is tremendous fun: though, infuriatingly, I cannot remember who told me I must read this because of the clothes. Please tell me if it was you so I can give you credit…

Caroline Graham is forever famous for having invented the Midsomer Murders: a modest collection of village mysteries which have become one of the most long-running TV crime series ever.

She was a smart, clever writer and could be very funny. This standalone is her having some fun by combining a country house murder with a murder mystery weekend. It is forever teetering towards falling into complete slapstick, but that never quite happens. It is full of cliched characters, but then just often enough they surprise the reader… It is obvious that something is going to go horribly wrong with this murder weekend, but it’s not a spoiler to say that this is not a very dark or gruesome book – and it does contain some surprises.

It is full of references to classic crime fiction, and Graham clearly knows her stuff. And funny moments like this, where someone has had surprising news over the telephone:
There was a brief hiatus; just long enough for a man who has received a non-fatal body blow to fall to the ground and pick himself up again…
There are some hilarious scenes with the nouveau riche family and their appalling mother, and an excellent long-drawn-out card game between the two matriarchs present.

And above all it is full of wonderful clothes: the guests have all been told to wear 1930s weekend outfits, so I have taken the chance to show some off…

Rosemary may be more realistic about 1930s underwear, but I didn’t want to believe that, so needed to pick out some really great 30s lingerie.

And – for the Midsomer Murders fans among you, this week my friend Bernadette over at Reactions to Reading introduced me to the glorious Midsomer Murders Bot Twitter account, an unofficial feed that randomly generates a new plot each day. Try this one:
Midsomer Murders Bot‏ @midsomerplots
A local astronomer is found gently extracted by a cold press juicer. Suspicion falls on the village financially-embarrassed aristocrat, angry that local witchcraft practices might threaten caravaning.


  1. This one sounded great, had to head to Amazon and order it.

  2. This does sound funny, Moira. And it's a credit to Graham that she could do this and do the Midomer Murders (I really like her Tom Barnaby series - a lot). I'm not surprised that she also created some moments of surprise and interest, too. That element of depth sets a book like this above the rest.

    1. It's a nice entertaining book, Margot. And I was interested in ggary's comments below - I wonder if he's right about her not feeling the need to churn them out. What she did produce was very good...

  3. Graham is a fascinating writer, in that she is both talented and witty. But having scored a big hit with MIDSOMER MURDERS being sold to the TV you get the feeling that the large amounts of money that she must have received, and the sense that the show was going to be a long run, persuaded her that she didn't need to keep writing. She had been creating stuff, both for TV and in print, since the mid-'70s, but she doesn't strike me as someone with a compulsion to keep putting things in print. The few interviews that you can find with her show someone with a proud but somewhat clinical relationship with the books. It's a shame. really, as she can right very well.

    This is a very self-aware book. Because it isn't knee-deep in blood and guts it tends to be placed rather lazily by some as a 'cozy', but it really isn't. She delights in showing those really unpleasant characters like the dreadful mother, and there is a satirical intent in a lot of the books.That she decided to produce this as a standalone allows her to go full on with this. One of the things that really set the books and TV show apart are the way she treats the regulars. Barnaby's sidekick is far more unpleasant in print than on celluloid. She's not in love with her characters, which is interesting.


    1. 'Self-aware' is a very good description of her, and as you say what seems like routine cozy books are actually anything but. And it is indeed unusual for the author not to like her characters that much - it was a besetting sin of crime writers.

  4. Lovely selection of pictures - I especially like the 'Arrow' advert. But whatever happened to turbans as a fashion statement for women?

    1. Thanks, I had great fun choosing them! And yes, I always had a fancy for a turban. I did buy once but it produced such amused comments that I consigned it to the fancy dress box. (Came in handy when someone was playing Quirrell in Harry Potter.)

  5. I have had this book ever since I finished reading all the Inspector Barnaby books, but still haven't read it. Last September at the book sale I purchased an inexpensive newer edition and I shall have to read it soon.

    1. I think you will like it Tracy, and it is nice to read a proper detective story with a less-than-gruesome feel to it.


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