After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson

After the Armistice Ball is the first book in the Dandy Gilver series. I’ve read a couple of the later books in the series and had to read this one in order to find out how Dandy (short for Dandelion) first became an amateur detective, or Society Sleuth, as she is called on the book cover.

It all began when there is an alleged theft of Lena Duffy’s jewels at Daisy Esslemont’s annual Armistice Ball in 1922 and Daisy asks Dandy to find out what really happened. Dandy is a bored wife, whose husband, Hugh is the ‘hunting, shooting and fishing’ type. The theft of the jewels is rapidly pushed to the sidelines after the death of Lena’s daughter, Cara in a lonely beach cottage in Galloway. Accompanied by Cara’s jilted fiancé, Alec Osborne, Dandy is faced with the puzzle of Cara’s death. Was she killed, or did she commit suicide? She had died in a fire, whilst on her own in the cottage – why was the cottage always kept so hot, so hot that the coal that was supposed to last all winter had been finished in one week?

The setting in the 1920s is convincing, the sense of dislocation after the First World War, the class divide and the contrast between the idle rich and the poor. The locations are beautifully described, and the characters are lively and come to life, particularly Dandy, although Hugh does seem to be a cardboard cut-out, but the book dragged in the middle as Dandy and Alec went over and over, and over the events and theorised about what had happened and why.

I too puzzled over the mystery and I did find the ending rather confusing, so much so that I had to re-read parts of the book to sort out what I thought had happened. I’m still not sure, but I think I know. Having said all that, I did enjoy the book, and apart from the middle section I raced through it and that’s probably where I missed some salient points.

My Rating: 3/5

I borrowed the book from my local library

Wondrous Words Wednesday

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. It is hosted by Kathy, over at BermudaOnion’s Weblog.

My words this week come from After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson, set in 1922.

  • jounced – ‘Alec increased the speed again as we passed the sign for Reivers Rest and we jounced over the close-cropped turf faster and faster until the car rounded the last of the gorse into the open and skidded to a slithering halt.

I could tell from the context what ‘jounced’ means, but it’s a word I’ve not come across before. Looking it up I found it does mean just what it sounds like – ‘to jounce is to move or cause to move with bumps and jolts’ (from The Free Dictionary).

I like the Wikipedia definition of jounce – ‘in physics, jounce or snap is the fourth derivative of the position vector with respect to time, with the first, second, and third derivatives being velocity, acceleration, and jerk, respectively; in other words, the jounce is the rate of change of the jerk with respect to time.’ As I said, just what I thought it was!

  • Thawpit – ‘I should begin calmly but ready to dissolve into tears if the occasion arose and a corner of my handkerchief was soaked in Thawpit to help with the dissolving.’

I had no idea what Thawpit was – and amazingly discovered that it was a a stain remover, a solvent that containing carbon tetrachloride. It’s no longer available, presumably because of the danger of sniffing it etc. No wonder Dandy Gilver (the amateur sleuth in the book) ‘succumbed to a fit of weeping’ when she ‘dabbed her eyes’ with the Thawpit soaked hankie.

  • chafing-dish – ‘I trigger no obvious trip-wire en route from my bedroom to the ground floor, but every morning Pallister appears with a chafing-dish just as I’m sitting.’ He then cooked Dandy’s eggs.
An old woman poaching eggs in a glazed earthenware chafing dish over charcoal

A chafing-dish is a new term to me. Wikipedia explains that it is ‘a kind of portable grate raised on a tripod, originally heated with charcoal in a brazier, and used for foods that require gentle cooking, away from the fierce heat of direct flames.’