Book Title: Dandy Gilver & A Most Misleading Habit
Author: Catriona McPherson
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Source: Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Page Count: 322
ISBN/Link To Book On Amazon: 978-1473633414
Audience: Those who would enjoy a complex murder mystery set in 1930's Scotland.
Summed up in one word: Challenging
Author Bio: Born in Scotland in 1965. PhD in Linguistics from Edinburgh University. Author of the successful Dandy Gilver series (11 instalments). Full time writer who divides her time between Southern Scotland and Northern California.
First Impression: I had never heard of Catriona McPherson despite her significant presence in the crime/mystery scene in the U.K. So I entered her Dandy Gilver series at book number 11 a bit concerned, but by the end I was so impressed with the writing and events in this story that I actually forgot it was not a stand alone. It is the juggling of 30+ different characters all in the same place that impressed me the most, making each character stand out in a different way and not losing sight of the end game. There are several issues I had with this book as well so onto the review!!
Scotland 1932. Christmas Eve. A breakout at a mental hospital. A convent set on fire. The leader of the convent, Mother Superior is killed. Some prisoners managed to evade capture and are still at large. The police work the case, find a suspect and sentence him to the gallows.
6 weeks later, the new leader, Mother Mary is still concerned about the events of Christmas Eve. She calls in Dandy Gilver, a well known Private Investigator to look into several issues that she cannot put to rest herself. Why was profanity painted across the wall of the store room? Who really started the fire? Where are the escaped mental patients? What do Mother Superior's last words mean...?
Plot: This is a murder mystery at its heart and a complex one at that. Mother Superior is dead and though they have a suspect in a mental patient called Tony Gourlay, who was found near the scene with incriminating evidence upon his person, events still don't add up. Once Dandy arrives and starts gathering information, it becomes clear that this may not have been the work of a patient, but it might have been an inside job. What follows is an excitingly intricate plot that is slowly divulged over the course of 25+ interviews with staff at the convent. The writing style here is very polished, unfortunately I did find it dizzying at times, losing my place in the conversations and who was involved in scenarios as people seemed to pop up out of nowhere.
Once information is gathered, Dandy and her partner Alec have to act on it, going out into the community and turning up rocks to find what they are hiding. People's faces and behaviour tell the pair that there is a lot more to be told, but the tight lipped community make their job almost impossible. When the pressure builds though, the cracks start to show. I enjoyed the depth to this mystery, CM has written it so well, it is nearly impossible to guess the events of the book before they are revealed to the reader. The plot is most likely the best part of this book, keeping everything hidden, throwing the reader off and mixing up the stories until the satisfying and surprising ending.
Setting: The setting is important here. It is set in a convent, where the nuns are in charge, they run the show and they decide when information is shared and when it is hidden. This makes Dandy's job 10 times harder but makes for great reading. Having the orphanage attached to the convent added some youthful excitement to all the nuns heavy, elderly presence. The town and its villagers were very infuriating, all knowing the truth but intentionally hiding it to protect their own way of life. The fact that it is set in the 30's adds another layer of respectability, set in a time where things were stricter and there was less interference from the outside world.
Characters: There are so many characters here, all with their own solid personalities and involvement, so I will stay general here. The nuns are all very diverse, infuriating and amusing. The villagers are all suspicious, interfering and unhelpful and the other staff members of the convent/hospital are funny, meaningful or bold. Everyone had their place and a contribution to the story. The main event here is of course Dandy Gilver and her partner Alec. I loved their chemistry, they were so tuned into each other and they were impressive to read. Dandy is a decent Investigator, though I sensed a lot of self doubt at times. She is smart, witty and cleverer than most. Alec is by no means the tag along, he pulls his own weight, pushing deeper into this conspiracy and even pointing Dandy in the right direction at times. Together they were a lot of fun in this book.
Themes: Religion, Murder, Death, Conspiracy, Love, Secrets and Community Solidarity.
Likes: Depth and Quality of the plot. Dandy and Alec working together. The finale was a secret till the very end. Management/Quality of all those characters involved. Book art work stands out.
Dislikes: Not much back story on Dandy, though this is the eleventh book in the series, so may have to try some more books. Infuriating cast at times. Writing style was difficult at times and I lost my place in the story and who was involved in what.
Rating: This is a solid murder mystery. It makes me want to check out CM's other material and I enjoyed myself while reading this book. The quality characters and well dispersed plot were the highlight of this book. Though the writing did get disorientating at times. it did not ruin my time with Dandy and I will be back for more.