The Winter Ground
The latest Dandy Gilver mystery is set in Perthshire in 1925/26 on the estate of Albert Wilson, a wealthy brickmaker (“the name tells you all you need to know,” Dandy writes in her characteristically waspish tone). Albert and his wife, Ina, have lost their only child to the influenza epidemic of 1918, which also left Ina weak. Albert has instituted a bizarre set of rules to stop Ina contracting another illness. Visitors must keep their distance from Ina, rather in the style of a royal audience, and the servants have a complicated ritual to follow to keep the house as germ-free as possible. On their estate, Cooke’s family circus is using part of the grounds as their winter standing. Unknown to Albert, Ina has taken to sneaking down there when he is away at work.
Ina introduces Dandy to the Cookes and their circus, but it is not long before Dandy is asked by Ma Cooke to investigate some odd events. The investigation centres on Ana, the beautiful bareback rider who is causing some tension among the various performers. While investigating, Dandy is bemused by the presence of Robin Laurie, a man-about-town who seems to have ‘taken up’ Albert Wilson as an amusement. She is intrigued by Ina’s cold attitude to Laurie as well. When Ana falls from her horse and is killed with them all present, Dandy sets about proving that it was murder.
There is much here that is fascinating, not least the circus world. Dandy’s wry and sometimes acid tongue provides amusement, as does her detached air concerning her husband and children. The middle of the book seems bogged down in red herrings, and the pace falters a little but the period detail is fascinating and well written. As a Dandy fan, I am reluctant to say that the denouement is a bit thin and patchy, but there is still plenty to enjoy.