Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
(from Sir Walter Scott: Marmion Canto VI, XVII)
I wasn’t very far into reading Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder when this quotation (above) came into my mind. This is a remarkably complicated plot, with the most difficult family relationships that I’ve ever come across. Fortunately there are two family trees in the opening pages of this book that go some way to sorting it all out.
This is the sixth Dandy Gilver Murder Mystery book:
When the heiress to a department store goes missing, Dandy is summoned to Dunfermline, where two warring families run rival stores. As Dandy starts to unravel family secrets, she begins to discover disturbing connections and it’s not long before she’s in over her head.
(extracted from the summary on the back of my advanced reader copy)
This summary says it all really. It’s set in Dunfermline in 1927 and the two families are the Aitkens and the Hepburns. At the beginning of the book Mirren Aitken and Dugald Hepburn, the two youngest offsprings of the families have disappeared. Rumour has it that they have eloped and both families are dead against their marriage.
But is there more to it than commercial rivalry? Dandy thinks so and when Mirren is discovered dead on the attic floor of Aitkens’ Emporium, apparently having shot herself, she is even more convinced. Added to that on the day of Mirren’s funeral Dugald is found dead on top of the lift up to the Aitkens’ attic. Together with Alec Osborne, her sleuthing partner, she sets about unravelling the truth even though this is against both families’ wishes.
There are things I like about this book. The setting in Dunfermline is convincing, the descriptions of both stores provide fascinating details of the 1920s department stores. In a note at the beginning of the book Catriona McPherson acknowledges that she has used what she describes as, ‘the insanely detailed and unexpectedly riveting‘ book From Ascending Rooms to Express Elevators: A History of the Passenger Elevator in the Nineteenth Century by Lee E Gray (2002).
I liked the puzzle aspects of this book, even though I failed to work it out completely. But I thought that most of the characters were difficult to distinguish, partly because their names were too confusing, with alternative names – Mary Aitken, also known as Mrs Aitken and Mrs Ninian Aitken or Mrs Ninian. There is also Arabella Aitken, also called Mrs Aitken, Mrs Jack Aitken, Mrs Jack or simply Bella (I liked that version best). I even found the men’s names troublesome, what with Robert and Robin, Mr Hepburn, young Mister Hepburn and Master Hepburn – I could go on. Dandy and Alec are similarly confused.
It’s a very detailed book (and not just about the lift) and at times that became confusing too so that I had to keep flipping backwards to go over passages making sure I understood it. It has a heavy sombre tone and there is quite a lot of repetition as Dandy and Alec keep reviewing what they have discovered and wondering what it all means. For me it could have been much more succinct. Despite these misgivings I did like this book, but not as much as the earlier Dandy Gilver books that I’ve read.
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Minotaur Books (22 May 2012)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 1250007372
- ISBN-13: 978-1250007377
- Source: Advance Reader Copy
- My Rating 3/5