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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: After the Armistice Ball

Title: After the Armistice Ball
Author: Catriona McPherson
Page Count: 303 pages
Publisher: Carroll & Graf
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Back Cover Summary:

Dandy Gilver, her husband back from the War, her children off at school and her uniform growing musty in the attic, is bored to a whimper in the spring of 1923 and a little light snooping seems like harmless fun. And what could be better than to seek out the Duffy diamonds, stolen from the Esselmont's country house, Croys, after the Armistice Ball? Before long, though, the puzzle of what really happened to the Duffy diamonds has been swept aside by the sudden, unexpected death of lovely young Cara Duffy in a lonely seaside cottage in Galloway. Society and the law seem ready to call it an accident but Dandy, along with Cara Duffy's fiancé Alec, is sure that there is more going on than meets the eye. What is being hidden by members of the Duffy family: the watchful Lena, the cold and distant Clemence and old Gregory Duffy with his air of quiet sadness, not to mention Cara herself whose secret always seems just tantalizingly out of view? Dandy must learn to trust her instincts and swallow most of her scruples if he is to uncover the truth and earn the right to call herself a sleuth.

This was a random grab off the library shelves for me and I'm super glad for two things- one, that I took the plunge in what is looking like an impressive series, and two, that I read at least the first book in this series in the proper order.  I don't think, moving forward, that it's terribly important to read this series in order, as the repeating characters reprise their same roles and really it's the mystery that's different, but it was nice to have a proper introduction to the important folks.

The story opens five years after the end of World War I, and showcases people in England still trying to adjust to the world after the end of war.  Times are lean for many, so there's a certain level of resentment between folks who have titles and standing but few resources and up and coming wealthy folks.  When an annual dinner goes awry when the Duffy diamonds are stolen our intrepid investigator, Dandy Gilver, is asked by her best friend to investigate.  The best friend thinks the Duffys are trying to pull an insurance scam- if only that were the only thing going on.

This story was engaging, entertaining and thoughtful on a variety of levels.  Dandy is a fantastic narrator- she's witty and bright, and makes no bones about the fact that she's basically making up investigative strategy as she goes along.  Once she's got the scent of a conspiracy, she has to see justice done.  Turns out the missing diamonds are just the tip of the iceberg here, and murder isn't too far off.  But who actually was murdered? And when? And why?  Some of the answers are right there, and others have to be dug for.  It made for a satisfying story.

Another facet of the story that I enjoyed was Dandy's friendship and investigative partnership with Alec, fiance to the murdered Duffy daughter.  There's nothing romantic between these two, and I think they're more kindred souls- after the war, both were expected to just get on with their lives as if nothing had changed, when in fact everything had changed.  Dandy had been working to support the war effort and resented being sent back to basically answering the mail and being decorative, and the things that Alec saw and experienced during the war would not be forgotten any time soon. Having something on which to focus their efforts gave them both purpose and formed a great friendship.

The resolution of the mystery is one you need to read for yourself, and this is a series where I was super happy to find out that there are a lot of installments already in print.  I have the next book out from the library now and am looking forward to reading it.  Hooray!

Overall Rating:

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