Friday, July 23, 2010

Book Review - Carola Dunn's Death at Wentwater Court

Death at Wentwater Court (Daisy Dalrymple Book 1) by Carola Dunn
Published by: Kensington
Publication Date: 1994
Format: Paperback, 252 Pages
Challenge: Typically British, Thriller and Suspense, 1st in Series
Rating: ★★★
To Buy
Daisy Dalrymple, despite being an "honourable" has decided to ditch the title and make a name for herself as a writer (and photographer, cause she really needs the money). She's on her way to Wentwater Court, where her title did happen to wrangle her an invite, to feature the house for Town and Country. On a crisp January day she arrives to see Lord James Beddowe, the Earl of Wentwater's eldest son ice skating with his sister Majorie, his fiance Fenella and Fenella's brother Phillip. Poor Phillip, still perpetually in love with Daisy. Once Daisy arrives in the house she is introduced to an even greater assortment of characters. There's the Earl himself, his gorgeous but extremely young new bride, Annabel, and his other children, the gambling Wilfred and the sporty Geoffry. Not to mention his sister and her husband, Lady Josephone and Sir Hugh. But the odd one out is really Lord Stephen Astwick, who is neither a relative or apparently a friend of anyone there. In fact he seems to be a bit predatory towards Annabel, which is not going down well with the others. After a tour and some ancestral gossip from Lady Josephine, the family convene for a family portrait then dinner. It is a rather awkward and dour affair and eventually, after a rubber or two, they all troop off to bed, Lord Stephen proudly proclaiming that he will be up at dawn to ice skate as part of his exercise regime. But come morning, when the others go to skate, it's Lord Stephen's body that is discovered half submerged in the icy lake. Daisy, head firmly planted on shoulders, decides she should take pictures of the accident scene, for the police, should they need them. After many protests as to whether the police should be called or not, a detective Alec Fletcher arrives direct from the jewel heist he is investigating at nearby Flatford. It transpires that Daisy was very forward thinking in taking those pictures, because they show not a man who accidentally fell through the ice, but a man who fell through a whole that had been cropped in the ice with an axe. Daisy then helps the dishy Alec get to the bottom of who killed Lord Stephen, when apparently everyone had a motive! Annabel was being blackmailed, Wilfred owed him money, Majorie was jealous of his attentions to Annabel, and the Earl watched it all.

In the classic style of Agatha Christie we have a country house murder where everyone's a suspect and one of them has to be the murderer. Set at a languid pace, once you get a hold of the unwieldy number of characters and their basic relationship to each other and the victim the story really gripes you. At times I think even the author realizes her unwieldy cast, due to the repetition of their motives and where they were when the crime happened. Set between the wars we have a heroine who lost her love on the front lines, a trope used in many of these types of story, look at Maisie Dobbs. We also have the dashing detective who, for some reason, trusts and is drawn to the heroine and views her as a confidant and confederate. Besides this love interest the story moves apace with enough red herrings and new evidence to keep you guessing. But it's the ending that takes the cake. I did not see it coming, and not that it's shocking, but the way it is handled and what happens to the guilty party I think are what make this book stand out from the pack and made it a truly memorable read for me. Even if I have now developed a bizarre desire to speak only in colloquialisms from the 20s and 30s I heartily recommend it. So, read this jolly good book if you're a fan of English cozies because you shan't be disappointed. It's a spiffing good time. Toodle Pip!


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