Hodder and Stoughton| 21 January 2021| 259 pages| e-book| Review copy| 3*
Something sinister is afoot in the streets of Dundee, when a puppeteer is found murdered behind his striped Punch and Judy stand, as children sit cross-legged drinking ginger beer. At once, Dandy Gilver’s semmingly-innocuous investigation into plagiarism takes a darker turn. The gruesome death seems to be inextricably bound to the gloomy offices of Doig’s Publishers, its secrets hidden in the real stories behind their girls’ magazines The Rosie Cheek and The Freckle.
On meeting a mysterious professor from St Andrews, Dandy and her faithful colleague Alex Osbourne are flung into the worlds of academia, the theatre and publishing. Nothing is quite as it seems, and behind the cheerful facades of puppets and comic books, is a troubled history has begun to repeat itself.
I’ve read some of the Dandy Gilver mysteries by Catriona McPherson, set in the 1920s and 1930s Scotland. The Mirror Dance is the 15th book. The last one I read was the 6th, a few years ago now, so when I saw it on NetGalley I requested it. I was pleased to find, that although I’d missed so many of the books in the series, it’s easy to read as a standalone.
It begins on an August Bank Holiday weekend in 1937, when Dandy (short for Dandelion Dahlia!), a private detective, receives a phone call from Miss Sandy Bissett, a magazine publisher in Dundee. She asks Dandy to go to Dudhope Park to warn the Punch and Judy man there that he is infringing copyrighted property as he is using two of the magazine’s cartoon characters, Rosie Cheeke and Freckles in his show. So, the next day, Bank Holiday Monday, together with her female staff, Grant, her lady’s maid, Becky her housemaid and Mrs Tilling, her cook, Dandy goes to Dundee to see the puppet show, looking out for the appearance of the magazine characters.
But during the show, the puppet Scaramouche extended his neck upwards, unfolding from pleats like an accordion and then stayed still like a tableau. The children lost interest and the adults were grumbling. When Dandy and Grant went to the back of the Punch and Judy tent they found the puppeteer slumped dead behind the scene, with his throat cut. The police are called but Dandy and her partner, Alec take it upon themselves to investigate the murder, an apparently impossible murder, with no signs of the murderer, and no one knew the puppeteer’s name.
I liked the setting. There is a good sense of location in Dundee in the 1930s, when the effects of the First World War were still lingering and the threat of another war was on the horizon. This is a convoluted murder mystery, where there is more than meets the eye. There is a lot of detail about the publishing industry and the theatrical world of the time which was interesting, but overall the amount of detail of everyday life, with all its sights and smells, slowed the book down too much for me.
There are several complications, red herrings and apparent impossibilities and I was puzzled about the relevance of a murder 50 years earlier in the same park, of an earlier Punch and Judy man. I became a bit lost in the detail about the number of women suspects Dandy and Alec consider – there were two, and then perhaps there were three. Who were they and what was the motive for the murder? Gradually that became clear, but I got exasperated at the number of times Dandy and the others went over and over what was happening, working out how it could have happened and why. Although some of it is confusing and I hadn’t worked out the identity of the murderer some of it seemed so obvious to me that I couldn’t see why it took them so long to work it out. So, although I enjoyed the actual murder mystery and the mirror dance aspect, where everything is turned on its head, I did not enjoy how it was told.
My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for my review copy.