McPherson, Catriona - 'After the Armistice Ball'
AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL is set in Scotland in 1922 and is the first outing for novice sleuth Dandy Gilver.
For the first time since the War finished, Dandy is beginning to feel bored. She has an apparently loveless marriage and her children are away at boarding school. So when her close friend Daisy Esslemont pleads for her help she swiftly goes to her. The Esslemonts are very rich having branched out into insurance selling and are about to float the business. However there is a fly in the ointment in the shape of the extraordinarily valuable Duffy diamonds which Mrs Duffy claims were stolen on their visit to the Esslemonts country home of Croys, for the Armistice Ball. The Duffys in the shape of matriarch Lena and her two daughters Clemence and Cara are now back at Croys and are putting pressure on the Esslemonts to pay the insurance value of the diamonds. Lena hints that she has something on Daisy’s husband Silas which will ensure he pays up. Also at Croys is Cara's fiancé Alec with whom Dandy strikes up a friendship.
Daisy formally hires Dandy to discover the whereabouts of the Duffy diamonds and in the course of Dandy's gentle interrogation of Lena she receives an invitation to spend a few days with them at the coast in Gatehouse in Galloway. Meanwhile Alec receives a mysterious letter from Cara breaking off their engagement. Confused, he and Dandy travel to Gatehouse where they discover the Duffy's cottage burning to the ground with Cara inside it.
Though officially an accident there are too many unexplained happenings, not least the lack of distress shown by Cara's mother and sister. Dandy and Alec work together to deduce what happened to Cara and how it is connected to the disappearance of the Duffy diamonds.
AFTER THE ARMISTIC BALL superbly evokes the feel on the 1920s and attitudes of the time. Dandy is the very epitome of the 'amateur' sleuth as she bumbles along but with her humorous narrative, she is a real treat. The plot is quite tortuous and is mostly unravelled by Dandy and Alec discussing the events or 'aha' moments after sleeping, rather than lots of action and possibly there is a little bit too much of that, stretching the investigation a bit thin for the length of book. However, the momentum picks up in the last quarter of the book to an ending which answers most questions but leaves some, that may or may not be answered in the next book. As Alec inherits the estate next to Dandy's presumably he'll be back in the next book, and their currently platonic relationship will continue. I look forward to their next adventure.
Karen Meek, England