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by Catriona McPherson
Constable and Robinson, July 2005
288 pages
ISBN: 1845291301

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's spring 1922 and the wealthy folk of Perthshire, Scotland, are struggling to regain their comfy lifestyles after the hardships of the first world war.

Dandy Gilver, though, is bored out of her skull. Her two boys are away at school and her rather grunty husband Hugh seems to prefer being out with builders and contractors than keeping his wife company.

So when there's a scandal over some stolen jewels which go missing after the Armistice Ball at Dandy's friend Daisy's house, she decides -- with Daisy's encouragement -- to do some sleuthing.

But then it gets serious as Cara Duffy, the daughter of the jewels' owner, is found dead in a seaside cottage. With the help of Cara's fiance Alec, she starts investigating what really happened.

This side of the genre isn't usually my bag, but I found AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL to be a charming debut. It's a bit heavy on the talk and a wee bit ploddy on the action, particularly in the middle. But McPherson has a perky writing style, and the book feels very firmly rooted in its time and setting, complete with the air of quiet desperation as things still haven't returned to normal after the war.

Dandy is a pleasant heroine, and I particularly enjoyed the cameo roles from witch Nettle Jennie, old Mrs Marshall with the vegetable patch, Dandy's maid Grant, and the double act of Dandy's sons Donald and Teddy who come home from their boarding school with thoroughly annoying catchphrases.

The one thing that didn't ring quite true to me was Dandy's gallivanting all round Scotland with Alec as they try to solve the mystery. Given some of the prevailing attitudes at the time -- one character is disapproving about Dandy attending an inquest -- you'd expect comments that she was no better than she should be! But no one seems to find it the slightest bit odd.

I suspect this will become a series, and if you like Golden Age mysteries, I think you'll enjoy McPherson's sharp eye and throwaway style.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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