Review: After the Armistice Ball

After the Armistice Ball was a gift from my mom, who thought it looked like something I might enjoy. Obviously the judging a book by its cover thing runs in the family 🙂 But I love that she took a chance and she loves that she was right for once. And that means I’ve got another series of cosy mysteries, perfect since winter isn’t too far off.

After the Armistice Ball is Catriona McPherson’s first book in a murder mystery series, set in Scotland after WWI. Dandy Gilver, the heroine of this mystery, is bored with her life. Her volunteer uniform is growing musty in the attic, her two sons are away at school and her husband has rather become an afterthought to her. So when her friend Daisy asks her to look into the disappearance of the Duffy diamonds, Dandy jumps at the chance of adventure and earning some of her own money. But taking a closer look at the Duffy family, sweet soon-to-be married Cara, cold Clemence, their dominant mother Lena, and quiet father Gregory, Dandy soon finds herself uncovering the secret of a death at the family’s cottage with Cara’s fiance Alec.

What I found refreshingly different about this mystery is that the amateur sleuth Dandy really is an amateur, and not a detective genius in disguise. For most of the time, Dandy really doesn’t have a clue whodunit, and she and Alec talk at length about who could have done what and every time they exchanged their theories, I was more confused than before. I guess their talks are another kind of red herring. The mystery is quite good and suspenseful but it is Dandy who makes this book so appealing. While she bumbles along trying to solve this mystery and finding her place as a sleuth, Dandy narrates her adventures with a dry wit and never takes herself too seriously, but she also has a real interest in the other characters. The combination of middle-aged Dandy and the younger Alec also works well, and I’m looking forward to their next adventure. Much of the comic relief is provided by Dandy’s interactions with her maid, Grant. Grant comes from a theatrical family and her “face-painting still tends toward the dramatic”. I also loved the way that Dandy’s interactions with her family was written. For example, going on a picnic with her sons, she is told: “‘You look dreadful, Mother,’ he said, reminding me very much that he was his father’s son.” My experience with children isn’t that great, but I find this much more realistic than many other representations I’ve encountered. Dandy’s marriage, too, is interestingly written. Her husband Hugh is more interested in the estate, fishing and the like, than having an active social life outside of his home with his wife. And Dandy finds that after a while, husbands seem to fade into the background. Not much relieve from boredom there, and Dandy repeatedly states that she isn’t very sensitive or maternal, but in her friendship with Alec, Dandy finds someone lively and interesting and their banter is great fun.

McPherson also seems to have researched the twenties quite thoroughly, although I’m no expert. After the freedom for women in WWI, Dandy is now bored with domestic life, and by helping her friend Daisy, she not only sees a chance of adventure but also for earning some money. The years after WWI affected the wealthy landowners and the gentry, and the resulting changes in their financial situation are mentioned in this book. The description of the manners of the twenties, the fashion and the language convinced me, and I had a great time with bumbling but charming Dandy.  Even if you’re not usually drawn to mysteries, give After the Armistice Ball a try.

The Dandy Gilver series now comprises five books, and there’s a website with more information.

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!