It occurred to me while I was writing last week’s BotW post that I haven’t actually written a proper post about Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series and that I should definitely remedy that. So here is the latest in my (very) occasional Series I Love series (too many serieses? Sorry. I’m bad with names and it’s too late to change that). Anyway, this is one of my favourite interwar-set murder mystery series and it’s long over due a post here on the blog.
At the start of the series, it’s 1923 and Daisy is trying find a way to make her living independent of her family. She’s an Honorable, but her only brother was killed in the Great War and her father died in the Spanish Flu outbreak, which meant the title, the family home and the family fortune went to a cousin. Daisy had been engaged during the war – but her fiancé, who was a conscientious objector, died while driving an ambulance in France. And so she finds herself in the brave new post-war world needing to make her own way in the world and with few options of how to do it. So she’s trying to make some money writing articles about the stately homes of Britain, using the connections she has because of her family and upbringing.
That’s exactly what she’s doing in the first book, Death at Wentwater Court. It’s her first assignment for Town and Country magazine, going to a country house party so that she can write an article about the history of the house. But things are not all sunshine and roses at the house and she stumbles over a corpse. Armed with her camera and her shorthand skills, Daisy’s soon working alongside the police as they investigate what happened, although Daisy’s friendship with the family means she’s really hoping that it won’t turn out that one of them is the culprit. It sets up Daisy and her regular gang and introduces Detective Inspector Alec Fletcher and his team from Scotland Yard. It also has an ending that not everyone will be able to get on board with (although I didn’t really have a problem with it) – but I can’t really explain what the problem is without giving a big old spoiler.
I think my favourite book of the series may be book four – Murder on the Flying Scotsman. Daisy is off to Scotland on a writing assignment when a murder is committed on the train. To complicate things, Alec’s young daughter is also on board after running away from home and her grandmother. The murder suspects are the family of one of Daisy’s old schoolmates, and when Alec is called in to investigate the attraction between him and Daisy comes to a head. The mystery is good – and if you’ve read the rest of the series, the start of a resolution to Alec and Daisy is delicious to read about.
Daisy makes for an interesting heroine and makes a nice counter point to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher who is at a similar level in society, but with different resources and a different view of the world. Daisy is was brought up to be a good wife to the right sort of nobleman, but realises that the war and her newly reduced circumstances probably mean that her chance of that sort of life has passed her by. Daisy doesn’t get on with her mother, doesn’t want to be dependent on the charity of a distant cousin and has come up with an ingenious way of exploiting her skills and experience to try and gain her independence. Yes, people seem willing to tell her their secrets on very little acquaintance, but people tell my mum things she doesn’t need/want to know all the time, so I can totally buy into the idea of someone having a sympathetic face!
As the series goes on, Daisy’s life goes down a more traditional route – she gets married and has children, but she’s still trying to maintain her own interests and just can’t stop getting tangled up with murders. So far (twenty-two books in, with a twenty-third out later in the year after a three year gap) Dunn has also managed to keep Daisy moving around and avoid too much repetition of set ups and avoid Daisy falling victim to the Jessica Fletcher effect. The books are a great hybrid of the modern cozy crime novel and a Golden Age murder mystery, which make for a really relaxing way to pass time. Writing this post has made me want to go back and read the series all over again. In fact I may well do!
If this has inspired you to go and try some Daisy, the first four books are available as an omnibus edition on Kindle – which is how I started out on the series, although I got it for considerably less than the £6.99 it costs at time of writing, so it might be worth adding it to your watch list if you’re on a budget. They’re also available as paperbacks as you can tell from the pictures – the first few are often available in the crime sections of the larger bookstores, I also picked up mine from a charity shop, which had almost the whole set – requiring a considerable amount of willpower from me to resist going wild.
And if you want to know more about my favourite characters in books, you can read previous installments of Series I Love on Lord Peter Wimsey, and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.