Cornish Mysteries // by Carola Dunn

  • Manna from Hades
  • A Colourful Death
  • The Valley of the Shadow

Note: this series also includes Buried in the Country, which I did not read at this time, for reasons that shall be revealed below…

So a while back I read through Dunn’s other cozy mystery series, set in the 1920’s and starring Daisy Dalrymple.  I overall really enjoyed that series, although it had its ups and downs, so I thought that I would give this set of Dunn’s books a go.

//published 2009//

Set in the late 60’s or possibly early 70’s in Cornwall, Eleanor Trewynn (widow) has retired to a small coastal village.  She and her husband worked for many years for a charity organization whose purpose was honestly rather vague but I think somehow involved giving food and shelter to poor people in… places??  (It’s called the London something-or-other, but they travel all over the world, so apparently it’s for lots of other countries as well?)  Since her retirement, Eleanor has been living in the upstairs apartment of a cottage she purchased, and has renovated the downstairs to be a thrift shop whose proceeds benefit this charity.

There were aspects of these books that I liked.  I felt that the setting was done well, and overall the mysteries come together decently.  But there were little things about these books that aggravated me. Usually I enjoy reading a series straight through and really immersing myself in it, but I think these books would have benefited if I had read them spaced apart a bit, as those little aggravations become more annoying with each passing book, and by the time I finished The Valley of the Shadow, I realized I had literally zero interest in picking up Buried in the Country.  Valley was honestly a bit of a struggle for me to get through; I was just so bored while I was reading it.

I really like my current method of reading four books at once and rotating between them, but the disadvantage is that it sometimes takes me longer to realize that I don’t actually like a book, and that’s what happened here.  I enjoyed these books less and less as I went along, but kind of didn’t notice it until I finished Valley.

//published 2010//

So I realize that the things I’m going to complain about are going to sound rather nitpicking and maybe overly-sensitive, but hey, it’s my blog so I can say what I want!

The biggest thing was Eleanor herself.  I started out not exactly liking her but at least not being actively aggravated by her.  She’s kind of a batty old woman, which was definitely at its worst in the first book – I honestly just wanted to shake her at multiple points in time because she’s so vague and rambly and someone has been murdered and yet it felt like she wasn’t even making an effort to remember things or get things straight.  It wasn’t quite as bad in the next two books, but I did get very tired of hearing how bad she is at remembering to lock up (because she’s spent so much time in countries that don’t even have doors, much less locks!  Like how many times do you need to tell me that…???) but how even though she might be vague about some things she has an excellent sense of direction and always can find her way through the rambling lanes of Cornwall.  Blah blah blah.

I also realized that the more I read about Eleanor, the more she came across as just obnoxiously superior.  The biggest place that this came through was in her relationship with her supposed best friend, Jocelyn.  Jocelyn is the vicar’s wife, and also is in charge of the charity shop.  She’s efficient and intelligent, yet Eleanor/Dunn always manage to sound incredibly condescending about her, because Eleanor isn’t religious.  This, of course, makes Eleanor superior because she does charitable things out of the goodness of her heart, while Jocelyn only does them because of duty.  Eleanor has the flexibility to make her own decisions about what is best to do or say at different moments in time, but Jocelyn is bound by duty because of all the annoying religious rules she has to follow, so obviously she can’t listen to gossip even if it may aid the investigation, and she’s going to be super judgy about a pair of strangers living together because her religion has made her so sanctimonious and sheltered that she doesn’t really understand real life like Eleanor, who has traveled the world and seen lots of other cultures and realized that everyone has a legitimate point of view so she’s incredibly open-minded unlike poor, narrow, stick-in-the-mud Jocelyn.

//published 2012//

It just felt like these comparisons happened more and more frequently as the books went on, or maybe I just became more sensitive to them.  I found the constant snide remarks about how Christianity, and religion in general, is only for people who aren’t strong enough to be compassionate on their own.  They are only compassionate because of rules and duty and are also only compassionate to people who fit within their boundaries of rules and duty.  But people like Eleanor are much more enlightened and superior.  Besides being a complete misrepresentation of Christianity, it also got quite old, as a reader, to listen to how clever and kind Eleanor was.

Eleanor, as an aside, also knows a special martial arts that she still practices, and of course this means that she’s basically invincible (in her mind).  On a couple of occasions she even uses “a move” to get out of a bad situation.  While I find this realistic, the concept that she could then continue to fight her antagonist and come out ahead – I’m sorry, an elderly woman vs. a young man, even where elderly woman knows martial arts, is never going to actually end with the elderly woman winning.  The best she can hope for is what she did – to stun/startle her opponent long enough for someone else to step in.  But Eleanor is convinced that she could basically win any fight that comes her way because of her martial arts, and this made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out of my head.

The other nagging thing, besides Eleanor herself, was her niece, Megan.  I actually like Megan a lot.  She’s a detective and so is another connection in Eleanor’s involvement in various mysteries.  Of course, this is an earlier time, when women weren’t often on the police force.  For the most part, I felt like Dunn handled this well and didn’t make to big of an issue of it.  Like yes, it’s a thing, but there is more to Megan’s character than that.  But she still managed to bring up things that just felt obnoxious.  Like at once point, Megan is in the car with another officer and something happens and he swears:

Dawson reversed, swearing.  He shot Megan a half-shamefaced, half-defiant look and muttered, “Sorry,” as he backed into a passing niche.

After six years in the police, she still hadn’t worked out how to deal with this situation.  He’d never have apologised for bad language to a male colleague.  On one hand, he was being polite.  On the other, he was treating her differently because she was a woman.  She muttered something indistinguishable even to herself.

Here’s an idea:  just say, “Hey, no worries,” and then move on with your life.  Stick with the part where he’s being polite, accept it for what it is, and move on.  This crops up in multiple places, where men do something that is just simple, basic politeness – like holding a door – and Megan has all this internal angst about how she should respond to this.  SAY THANK YOU AND MOVE ON.  It’s not that hard.  In none of the situations are the men doing it in a way that is condescending or acting like she’s inferior.  It’s just regularly politeness, and Megan consistently acts like it’s this big deal.  None of the other officers act like she’s weak or pathetic or can’t handle the job.  She ranks higher than many of the other characters, and they consistently treat her with the same deference as their other commanding officers.  If she was in a situation where she was really battling against a lot of snide treatment, or if guys were holding doors open with an attitude like they had to do this because she’s too incompetent to handle it herself, I could understand where she’s coming from.  But instead it felt like she was always making a mountain out of a molehill.  The best way to blend in and not make a fuss is by saying thank you and not making a fuss.  Sheesh.

So this is a lot of griping for three books that I just felt incredibly meh about.  I honestly wasn’t full of rage while I was reading them, but I did realize as I went on that I was just really bored of them, bored of the characters, bored of the story, and bored of Eleanor’s superiority.  The mysteries themselves were fine, but didn’t really have any kick, and The Valley of the Shadow especially felt polemic as it was about illegal immigrants, of course comprised of a poor, upstanding, well-educated, hardworking family with small children, because those are the only types of illegal immigrants that show up in literature.  (Not that there aren’t poor, upstanding, well-educated, hardworking families with small children who are illegally immigrating, but they aren’t the only ones or even the majority so.)  In the end, the book felt like a long lecture about open borders instead of an actual mystery.

In the end, 3/5 for the first two books and 2/5 for the third and a pass for the fourth.

Mini Reviews & Updates

Well, friends, we are finally in our new house, and life is much, much  better.  It also seems to be returning to a more manageable level of chaos.  Yesterday was my first full day just at home working (or, as I call them, Hermit Days :-D) in ages and it was glorious.  While the house will be an ongoing (and going and going and going) project, every step just makes it a bit homier and happier.

So I’ve read a lot of books over the last two months or so since I last posted, and I thought I’d just give some brief thoughts on the ones that I remember.  (Usually, I write books down when I’m done with them, but I didn’t write them all down and now that little book is in a box somewhere so you’ll just have to rely on my memory – ha!)

  • The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce – 4/5 – First Test; Page; Squire; Lady Knight

So I really wanted to write a lot about these books, but I read them at the end of May/beginning of June, and it’s just been too long ago for me to do them full justice.  I had never read anything by Tamora Pierce before, but I enjoyed these books enough to try some more of her stuff, even though there were a lot of things about these stories that irritated me as well.  I really, really liked the main character (Kel?  Right?  Too lazy to look it up, so we’re just going to go with it), who was intelligent, industrious, forthright, and humble.  I also enjoyed the stories themselves.  The battles were interesting without unnecessarily gory descriptions (usually).  The writing was excellent and the stories were well-paced.

As for dislikes, those always stick out in the memory more, right?  So I may list more of them than positives, but my overall feel for this series was good, so don’t be fooled lol.

First off, there is apparently a series that takes place about ten years before this series starts, and in that series a girl isn’t allowed to be a page/squire/knight, so this girl pretends to be a boy so she can be those things.  (I haven’t actually read this series; this is what I gleaned from reading the Protector of the Small series.)  Somewhere along the line everyone is like, What this chick is awesome!  So they change the law so that girls can be knights, too.  All well and good, right?  Except Protector of the Small is ten years later and in all that time not a single girl has signed up to be a page.  So when Kel does, everyone flips out.  I’m sorry, but first off, really?  In ten years, in the entire kingdom, no other girl was ever interested?  And secondly, in ten years you didn’t have time to adjust yourselves to the fact that a girl could, in fact, be a knight?  But no, everyone has to be all freaking out about this and it’s this huge deal and in fact the whole first book is about Kel’s first year as a page and she’s on probation just because she’s a girl (even though the law says she can be a page) etc etc etc.  To add to the nonsensicalness of this is the fact that loads of women are doing all sorts of other “non-traditional” things, including other types of soldiers, so everyone making a big deal about a girl studying to be a knight just doesn’t really seem to flow with the world-building, and left me feeling irritated (frequently) because all it did was (purposefully) lead to lots of opportunities for conversations about how Girls Can Do Whatever They Want Because They Are Mighty and whatever.  It wouldn’t have bothered me if this series had taken place say, two years after the law or something a bit more reasonable, or if women didn’t do anything other than sit and knit in this world, but neither of those things were true, and so the whole fuss just seemed out of proportion to what was going on.

The second big thing was that Kel is so young when it starts.  She’s ten and she knows all these awesome battle techniques?  The whole series would have made way more sense if Kel was 2-4 years older the entire way through.  Because she’s so young in the first book, she’s still really young when she becomes a squire and we’re suddenly having conversations about using protection if you decide you want to have sex even though you’re only fourteen but even though I’m your mother not a single part of my conversation with you is going to be about how sex is more than a physical act and there is plenty of time ahead of you for these things and oh hey if you get it wrong you end up with a baby so it’s okay that the message I’m giving to younger readers is that sex is 100% A-OK as long as you have protection of some kind have fun!  Excuse me!?

Third and final for this mini-review that is turning into a medium review (although I am talking about four books at once so) is that throughout the stories these various battles are going on against various people, and then there is an actual war going on, and then at the end of the fourth book there’s no real conclusion at all to the bigger picture of what’s going on in the world, and that was a little frustrating to me.  The series just kind of petered out without any real wrap-up.

There were other things, like unnecessary references to Kel’s having a period, some random deaths in Squire that seemed completely out of place, and some over-the-top bullying.  Even though I’ve spent way longer griping about these books than praising them, I really did enjoy them, and really do want to read more of Pierce’s work.  While they’re a bit humorless for me, they were still enjoyable and engaging reads.

  • The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick – 3/5

I totally watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as they unfolded on YouTube, and was intrigued to check out the book (from the library, of course :-D).  Short story: if you enjoyed the series, you’ll probably enjoy the book.  It would be fun to read the book and watch the episodes in tandem, but I don’t have that kind of time.  I will say that (spoiler) in the book, we get more details about the Jane/Bing relationship, and it did seem quite out-of-character to me that Jane and Bing would be sleeping together after such a short friendship, and that did bother me a bit, but overall the book added some fun  background to what was appearing “publicly” on the videos, and that was a lot of fun.

  • Bachelors Anonymous by P.G. Wodehouse – 4/5

If you’re feeling stressed, you should read a Wodehouse.  There’s a quote from someone that appears quite frequently on the front cover of Wodehouse books that says something along the lines of “It’s impossible to feel sad while reading Wodehouse,” and that’s really close to true.  Even his weaker stories (like, honestly, this one) are absolutely hilarious.  In this story, the concept of a Bachelors Anonymous club that helps keep its various members out of entanglements with females, is enough to give the story its own flavor, even though all the usual Wodehouse ploys are in play.

  • Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters – 4/5

I enjoyed the Amelia Peabody series so much that I’ve had to make myself be patient and wait a bit before starting the Vicky Bliss series, just to prove that I have some semblance of self-control.  I have heard rumors that at some point in the Vicky Bliss series, reference is made to the Emersons, so I’m excited to see if that’s true.  Borrower of the Night was actually the first Elizabeth Peters book I ever read.  My aunt had a copy that I remember reading when I was probably 12 or 13, and honestly too young to really understand a lot of what was going on.  The story is told from Vicky’s first-person narrative, and she is, to say it bluntly, a tall and buxom woman of high intelligence, and I think that I was confused by a lot of her oblique references to her curves, powers of attraction, and sleeping with Tony.  As an adult, I understood the story (and oblique references) much better!  Vicky isn’t nearly as entertaining a narrator as Amelia, but she’s still quite believable, and Borrower of the Night is full of dark passageways, lost diaries, and seances, making it a great deal of fun.

One thing I love about Peters in general is her ability to not use a lot of foul language.  So many books in general and mysteries in particular that I read that are being currently published seem to substituted a lot of swearing in place of actual witty and useful dialogue.  Peters manages to without, leading to a cleaner narrative without losing the supposed “emotional impact” or “true to life language” that swearing is supposed to bring.  Take this brilliant sentence:

“It’s that Nolan,” said Tony, adding a few qualifying adjectives.  “Do you know what that rat said to me today?”

The phrase “a few qualifying adjectives” entertains me to no end.  Without actually writing any swear words at all, we know exactly what Tony is saying, and I love it.

Overall, this book was great fun, and I’m super excited about reading the rest of the series.  It’s not nearly as along as the Peabody/Emerson series – only six or seven titles – but it should be a good time.

  • Black and Blue Magic by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – 3/5

A while back, I reread The Velvet Room by the same author (the link takes you back to the old tumblr blog, by the way), one of my childhood favorites, and still a classic that I try to read every couple of years.  More recently, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I have quite a few books (like that one) wherein I loved them as as child, but have never bothered to find out what else the author wrote.  As an adult, with access to GoodReads and the library and Amazon, I find and devour every book written by every author I love, but some of those childhood favorites have yet to be explored.  Most recently, I’ve read The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg, who wrote my much-beloved childhood favorite The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and it was an instant hit. That inspired me, and I added the rest of Konigsburg’s books to my TBR, along with a few other childhood loves, including Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

All that to say (I really am a genius for taking an entire paragraph to add nothing of import to a review), Black and Blue Magic was my first Snyder book beyond The Velvet Room.  I really enjoyed it, but it lacked the depth and emotion that The Velvet Room always offers to me.  Still, this was one of those delightful stories where no one is a bad guy, where lessons are learned through relatively harmless mistakes, and where everyone ends as a better person than they were in the beginning.  Books like these are like warm, fluffy blankets, and they are the stories that kids ought to be reading in school.  Black and Blue Magic is about a somewhat-clumsy boy who, through an act of kindness to a stranger, is granted a special magic – wings.  (But only when he wants them!)  Harry is such a lovable kid – helpful and sweet, loves his  mother, and all while still sounding and acting like a real boy.

Actually, probably my biggest turn-off for this book was the illustrations.  I honestly try to avoid books with illustrations a lot because they mess up the pictures in my head and ruin them forever.  (The most tragic is the copy of Rose in Bloom that I read as a child – I know that Mac does not look at all like that picture, but he keeps showing up in my head that way, and it is so frustrating!)  The pen-and-ink drawings by Gene Holton make Mr. Mazeeck look like a strange alien and Harry not at all like someone whose last name is Marco.  Sometimes I wonder if illustrators really read the story…?????

Overall, though, this was a sweet and charming little story that would be an excellent read for 9-12 year-olds.

  • A Sudden, Wild Magic by Diana Wynne Jones – 3/5

This is not a children’s or YA book, but most definitely adult.  Having only read Jones’s books for younger readers before, that was a bit of an adjustment.  Nothing explicit, but just the overall tone of the  book is grown-up, with grown up problems and drama.  While a good story, and one that felt like it actually had an ending (unlike many of her other books), there was nothing about this book that really captured me.  When I was reading it, I enjoyed it, but rarely yearned for it when I wasn’t reading, which is unusual for her books (they usually have this sort of addictive quality that I can’t explain).  I really felt like a lot of the characters were not well-developed, and I was frequently startled when a character would act the way it did – instead of creating characters, it felt almost like she was using puppets that she had do whatever she wanted whenever she needed them to do it.  This was probably exasperated by the fact that there were so many people in this story that it was hard to keep everyone straight, especially since she may refer to them by name at one point, and then by what the other group thought of them at another (e.g., by name of Zillah, but then as “the pretty one” from the POV of those who don’t know her name), which really added to the already-complicated list of characters.  In short, while not a terrible book, this was a pretty solid 3.

  • The rest of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

There were about 5-6 titles that hadn’t been printed when I last read through the series, so it was a lot of fun to get to ones I hadn’t read.  Overall, the series was a lot of really happy cozy mysteries.  I love the main characters, Daisy and Alec, and enjoyed watching their little family grow and bond.  I was consistently entertained (as I always am when I read books set in that era) over how everyone has servants.  Even before she was married, Daisy and her flat-mate had a housekeeper who came to do the “heavy” cleaning for them – and they go on and on about how broke they were, living on sardines, etc.  But they still have a servant!  Anyway, the fact that Daisy, solidly middle-class, has a housekeeper, a cook, a maid, a nanny, and a nanny’s assistant, blows my mind.  No wonder she has time to gallivant about discovering dead bodies!

As with any series of this length (around 20 titles now, I think), there were some good and some weak.  For instance, I really enjoyed the characters and story of Anthem for Doomed Youth, especially the way that Alec’s mystery was running parallel to Daisy’s, but the (current) final title, Heirs of the Body, was really just a terrible mystery, one that I had solved from the outset, and one that delivered absolutely nothing in way of a twist.  Heirs of the Body is obviously freshest in my mind, so I’ll add that in that book I was confused by Alec’s behavior – he is usually respectful and patient of Daisy, but in this book he was frequently short-tempered and abrupt, dismissing and cutting her off in a way that seemed completely out of the character that’s been developed for him over the rest of the series, a trend that I found quite distressing, as I’m very fond of Alec.

Still, overall the series is fairly solid.  While they lack the depth of the Cadfael books (still my all-time favorite mysteries), and definitely aren’t as engaging as the Amelia Peabody books or even most of Hercule Poirot’s adventures, they’re fun and fluffy cozy mysteries.

  • Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick – 3/5

Spontaneously purchased this second-hand the other day (because when one is in the midst of moving a thousand books, one feels the urge to add to said collection).  Wick wrote one of my favorite relaxation romances, The Princessbut overall her works are a mixed bag for me.  Her historical novels are, honestly, rather terrible, as they are completely modern language and action set in historical times wearing costumes, but her modern novels are sometimes good.  Sophie’s Heart was a pleasant and happy read, but ran tooooo long (another problem I frequently  have with Wick).  Still, I really liked Sophie and the Riley family, and while this book held absolutely zero surprises (young intelligent beautiful immigrant woman goes to work as a housekeeper for young widower with three children what in the world will happen next?!), everything moved along pleasantly and relaxingly (new word), making it a very nice oh-hey-I’m-actually-supposed-to-be-unpacking-but-I’ll-read-for-just-five-minutes kind of book.  Like all of Wick’s books, it’s rather long on religion, but her characters are honest and engaging, and the religious aspect feels honest and realistic instead of coming off as overtly preachy.

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Well, my friends, that went on way longer than I was expecting to – and I’m sure there are more that I’ve read recently but just aren’t coming to mind!  Hopefully, as I said, life will be settling back into some semblance of a new normalcy, and regular book reviewing can resume!  I’ve missed being more engaged in the book-reading community on WordPress and am excited about getting back into the groove!  :-D

Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries

So I’ve still been reading my way through the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.  I read several on vacation, and several since then, and I’m still really, really enjoying them.  For those of you who don’t remember, these charming cozy mysteries are set in England in the early 1920’s.  The heroine is the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, who, despite her background, is working for a living as a writer, mostly of magazine articles.  (Her brother died in the War, and her father in the ‘flu epidemic, leaving a cousin to inherit the title and family estate.)

While some of the mysteries have been unnecessarily complicated (Dead in the Water), full of far too many secondary-characters-who-could-also-be-the-murderer (Rattle His Bones), or just completely impractical (The Case of the Murdered Muckraker), on the whole, these mysteries are just good, clean fun.  They’re super relaxing and quick reads, and Daisy and Alec are a favorite pair of mine.  (I’ve explained why I think Alec is such a perfect hero before here.)  I love the fact that their relationship actually progresses (I apparently was quite scarred by Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys; even though almost every mystery series I’ve read since then has progression of time, I’m consistently surprised and pleased to find it!); the happy couple is married just before To Davy Jones Below, and I’ve realized that watching Daisy settle into her role as wife and mother is a huge part of the reason I keep reading these books.

These are definitely cozy mysteries, and one must keep the ‘cozy’ part in mind – these are not procedurals or thrillers or anything of that sort.  Sometimes disbelief must be a bit suspended (seriously, The Case of the Murdered Muckraker – what even?!), but Dunn generally does a good job of killing off an unlikable person and giving us a limited field of suspects from which to chose.  I also like the way that, while the books are in the third person, she shifts sometimes from Daisy’s to Alec’s perspective and back, giving the reader a bigger picture of what’s happening with the  mystery, as well as some insight into the motives of both the main characters.  I also like it that while Daisy is hardworking, good at her job, spunky, and courageous, she still doesn’t like the sight of blood and sometimes gets queasy when thinking of/seeing the victim – far more realistic than having her be completely nonchalant and tough.

Overall, I definitely recommend the series, and am excited about reading through the rest – I just finished Mistletoe and Murder, so I’m only about halfway through!

“Requiem for a Mezzo” and “Murder on the Flying Scotsman”

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by Carola Dunn

Published 1996, 1997

In the third and fourth books of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, we learn more about Daisy and see her relationship with one of my favorite heroes develop more.

Some words about Alec and why he makes me swoon a bit:  Alec is hardworking, reliable, protective, caring, quiet, compassionate, steady – and all without a lot of fuss or drama.  His wife died in the influenza epidemic (as did Daisy’s father), leaving him a single father (Belinda is nine when we first meet her).  I love that Alec is ten years older than Daisy (my husband is ten years older than me so) – just his feeling of I can’t believe this beautiful young woman seems to actually like me is too adorable for words.  And maybe that’s what makes Alec so endearing – he looks at his relationship with Daisy as just brilliant luck – he’s so proud and pleased to be her man.  He encourages her in her work but is still a voice of reason when Daisy starts to get a bit carried away.  He’s a loving father, an excellent worker, self-educated, and respected by his supervisors, peers, and underlings.  Alec is not particularly romantic, but he’s the kind of man who will wear well, making a solid, dependable husband for life.  Watching the mutual attraction between him and Daisy grow into love is one of my very favorite parts of this series.

Notes about these titles in particular:  They’re cozy mysteries, and one of my favorite part of cozy mysteries is the way likable characters aren’t usually the ones to get knocked off.  In both these stories, the problem seemed to be finding someone without a motive instead of someone with one.  Both also have a closed set of potential suspects, allowing the reader to really have a chance to make a guess at whodunit.  The answer is usually guessable (although I don’t always guess it because I’m a terrible detective), and Dunn doesn’t usually use annoying tricks like whipping out a murderer that you met for two paragraphs on page five while the main character was sipping a cup of coffee.

In both mysteries, Daisy’s presence is natural.  Her friendship with a chief inspector at Scotland Yard also helps make the fact that Daisy frequently seems to stumble across murders seem to be at least slightly less ridiculous than it otherwise could be.  While these book don’t go into a huge amount of character development, I do feel like Daisy is a relatable person – open, compassionate, friendly, polite, hardworking, stubborn, loyal, and slightly impulsive.  We meet Alec’s daughter Belinda in Murder on the Flying Scotsman, and see Daisy starting to think about what her long-term relationship with Alec could mean – about whether or not she (Daisy) is ready to be a mother to a girl only 15 or so years her junior.

All in all, rereading these mysteries is just as much fun as I hoped it would be, and I highly recommend the series.

“Death at Wentwater Court” and “The Winter Garden Mystery”

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by Carola Dunn

Published 1994, 1995

Having bid a very fond farewell to Amelia Peabody Emerson, it is time to start a new mystery series.  I’ve been meaning to reread the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries for quite some time, and am actually pretty excited to do so.  

These books start in 1923 (so, ironically, right where the Emerson books leave off!) and are set in England.  Daisy Dalrymple is the protagonist, and a delightfully adorable one she is.  Although Daisy is an “Honorable,” being the daughter of a Lord, her cousin inherited the title, estate, and money when Daisy’s brother died in World War I.  While Daisy could live with her mother in the dowager house, or even with her cousins in her old home, Daisy has chosen to be the quintessential 1920’s girl and work for her living.  Having tried (and hated) stenography, Daisy begins Death at Wentwater Court with a new job – writing articles for a magazine.  The articles are supposed to be about various estates around the country, Daisy’s editors (correctly) assuming that she will have connections that will get her in the door where others may fail.  Wentwater Court is first on Daisy’s list, and she heads to the country expecting to spend a few quiet days taking pictures of the estate and listening to the housekeeper tell all the tales of the family’s history.  And that’s exactly what happens – except there happens to be a murder, too.

These are the ideal cozy mysteries.  Daisy is sweet and kind, but independent and fun.  She’s a very relatable person (Sophie and I have decided that that is a word), which makes these stories very easy to read.  They are quick reads (I confess – while I usually am reading through various series in a round robin fashion, I enjoyed Wentwater Court so much that I plunged right into The Winter Garden Mystery without pause!) – the dialogue is good, the characters well-written, and a good balance of the current story mixed with the over-arching development of Daisy and other characters.  These are not crime novels, so don’t expect brilliant analyses and stunning conclusions – they’re just solid, fun, well-written mysteries centered around a very likable young woman.

I will say that Daisy’s love interest is one of my favoritest of heroes.  He is solid, reliable, hard-working, steady – I fall in love with him every time I read these books.

I may not review every single one of these titles – I often don’t know what to say about mysteries (especially ones I like) because I don’t want to give anything away, but don’t be surprised to see them crop up pretty regularly.  I’ll list the full series under Dunn’s name, even the ones I don’t review.  I’m excited about rereading this series (it’s been about five or so years) because Dunn is still adding to this series, so there are several later titles that I’ve never read, and plenty of earlier ones that I don’t remember.  Overall, I highly recommend this series.