Death at Wentwater Court ~ Carola Dunn

  • Title: Death at Wentwater Court
  • Author: Carola Dunn
  • Series: Daisy Dalrymple #1
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  This lively mystery debut introduces the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, who has taken a job to ensure her independence – an unusual step for the daughter of a viscount in 1922.

Her first assignment for Town and Country takes her to Wentwater Court at Christmastime to write about the Wentwater family. Her visit is disrupted by unwelcome guest and -according to Lady Josephine – “utter cad” Lord Stephen Astwick.

When Astwick’s body is found floating under the ice in the estate’s lake, attractive Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher arrives on the scene. Daisy’s photos of the victim, showing ax marks in the ice, suggest the death is murder and prompt Fletcher to enlist her as his stenographer during his investigations.

With the entire family, from the earl to his grandchildren, under suspicion, Daisy takes on the role of liaison between landed and working classes. Astwick’s indiscretions come to light and disclose more motives for murder at Wentwater Court.

Review: 
Reading this book was pure, unmitigated pleasure. Although it is the first novel of the series, it’s not the first Daisy Dalrymple mystery I’ve read. I have already read several others in no particular order and I have to admit: I enjoyed them all. I love the lead characters, I love the setting – England in the 1920s – and I absolutely adore Carola Dunn’s easy and expressive writing style. Especially her sweet British vocabulary, which makes the experience of reading her novels so delightful.

In almost every novel of the series, I discovered at least one word I didn’t know, a British slang or an oldie, which sent me to a dictionary. In this particular novel, I found two such little pearls:

Tippet – a hood or scarf

Tommyrot – nonsense, rubbish

I’ll definitely use tommyrot somewhere in my own writing; the word sounds and feels funny. 

This novel is a fair representative of one of my favorite genres: a cozy English mystery. The writer does a good job of introducing the protagonists of the series: a budding journalist Daisy Dalrymple and the Chief Inspector of Scotland Yard Alec Fletcher. At the outset, Daisy arrives at a country estate of an earl to write an article about his beautiful centuries-old mansion. The lives of the inhabitants of the mansion might look untroubled on the surface, but the currents of tension run underneath their illusionary complacency.

A couple days later, one of the guests at the mansion gets murdered. Reluctantly, the earl calls the police to investigate, and Alec Fletcher arrives on the scene. Together, Alec and Daisy find the murderer, and the beginning of their tentative romance made me feel happy for them both. Although she is an Honorable, a daughter of a peer, and he is a middle-class copper, the social chasm between them doesn’t seem as deep as it would’ve been before the WWI. The author’s depiction of the years between the wars, the years of profound change in England, might not be very deep, but it is lighthearted, tasteful, and true. 

Dunn pays much more attention to details and the psychology of the murder than to physical action, so the plot moves slowly, but every minute counts. We also get to meet a score of wacky secondary characters (some reviewers say too many too soon), and each of them adds flavor to the story and complications to the investigation. As in every enclosed mystery, the number of suspects is limited, the motivations tangled, and the timeline deceiving. And although I could guess the identity of the murderer a bit before Daisy and Alec, it didn’t detract from the attraction of the story.

My favorite quote:  “The Hampshire countryside surrounding the station was hidden by a blanket of snow, sparkling in the sun. Frost glittered on skeletal trees and hedges. The only signs of life were the train, now gathering speed, the uniformed man carrying her stuff across the line behind it, and a crow huddled on the station picket fence.” Simple and elegant.

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