Apparently, in the twenties at least, no one outside of the UK knows about our tradition of Bonfire Night where we celebrate the prevention of a plot to destroy the Houses of Parliament in 1605 by symbolic burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes, who wasn’t the ringleader and who wasn’t burned to death but hanged. But with a bonfire, we have the excuse for a firework display. We like bright lights and loud noises.
I digress. Daisy Fletcher, née Dalrymple, is invited to the country estate of Lord and Lady Tyndall by an old school friend to write a story about the traditional bonfire and fireworks display that has taken place on the site for centuries. As the family watch the display, accompanied by a pair of seemingly random Australian tourists, the Goochs, they met in the village pub, there is a shock discovery. Lord Tyndall, who has been going out of his way to give everyone a motive to kill him, has shot Mrs Gooch and then turned the gun on himself. Or has he?
Well, obviously not. It’s murder of course…
I have a blind spot in my reviewing. There are certain series that, to date, I haven’t really got on with but seem to be extremely popular. Not, I should make clear, in the blogging circles, but they sell well and populate library shelves. I have seen a number of bookshops where Carola Dunn and MC Beaton books outnumber Dame Agatha.
The thing is, there are plenty of easy reads that have proper engrossing mysteries and as such, I have this determination that I must just be picking bad examples of the series each time I pick one up. I actually rather enjoyed Death At Wentwater Court, the first in this series, although I had trouble with the plotting. It was an enjoyable little read. I had more concerns with Anthem For Doomed Youth, a later entry in the series.
As for this one… it starts off well, with some promising set up. Dunn’s writing is entertaining and, while embracing some clichés from the period, such as the disapproving parents of a woman who wants a career, they were clichés for a reason and they don’t feel like they’re clichés, if you know what I mean.
As with the other two books though, the plotting let the side down for me. A personal one first, if you’re going to set a murder on Bonfire Night, then you need to kill someone with a firework or knock them out, dress them up as the guy (the Guy Fawkes effigy) and stick them on the bonfire. Otherwise, what’s the point of the setting? OK, there is a bit about kids playing with fireworks but I felt this was a missed opportunity. Just my personal (and slightly ghoulish) opinion.
The mystery plot, though, is a guessing game. No clues and Daisy solves it in a manner akin to this:
KILLER: I was hiding in the wardrobe loading my gun waiting for Lord Tyndall to come into the room…
DAISY <thinks> I’ve solved it. I know who the killer is now!
Bad enough to have to get the killer to confess to the crime without the sleuth taking credit halfway through the confession.
And there is this odd habit of the author – and it’s happened in each of the three books – for there to be a sort of happy ending to the whole thing. Everything’s tidied up neatly and the double murderer isn’t all that bad really…
And yet, I still hold out hope for the series. It has its charms and I really want to like it more. Why I keep coming back to it? Maybe for the same unidentifiable reason that the shelves of Waterstones are lined with the books.
I really can’t recommend it for the mystery, but if you fancy a bit of fluff, it’s much better than some of the fluff out there. If you’re a fan of the period, then you’ll probably enjoy it a lot.
I bought this copy as an ebook in a sale for 99p – but you can get it, or another in the series, from most bookshops with a decent crime section. Anyone who wants to recommend one from the series to me, by the way, feel free. I’ve a strange feeling that I’ll be back to series again one day.