"Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses" by Catriona McPherson is the most recent of the author's series of crime novels featuring the detective agency Gilver and Osborne. The story is related by Dandy Gilver. Wife of a Perthshire farmer and mother of two teenage sons, Dandy, or Dandelion, takes on cases with her associate Alec Osborne. Her husband Hugh is reconciled, or perhaps resigned, to being married to one of the most unlikely detectives since Miss Marple, though Scotland in the mid 1920s has rather more difficulty coming to terms with the idea.
This case takes Dandy back to her youth, when she spent a series of wonderful summers with the three Lipscott sisters and their family in Devon. Now Pearl Lipscott is on the phone, pleading with Dandy to go to Portpatrick in the far south west of Scotland and find out what is wrong with her youngest sister, Fleur. Fleur Lipscott has become a teacher at St Columba's College for Young Ladies in Portpatrick, and after a number of years of apparent contentment has more recently been refusing to see her sisters, in another of the dark episodes that have plagued her still young life. Can Dandy help?
So Dandy and Alec set off for Portpatrick, in an age when the railway could take you almost anywhere in Scotland. Dandy's efforts to meet Fleur lead to a misunderstanding that results in her being taken on as a teacher in what increasingly seems to be a very odd school, to fill a vacancy left by the latest in a mysterious series of disappearances of teachers. St Columba's is physically located on the site of what in the real world is a hotel overlooking Portpatrick, but in terms of its management style and academic rigour it appears to owe just a little to St Trinian's. Meanwhile Alec is asked to investigate the disappearance of the wife of the owner of the local fish and chip shop. And then a body is washed up on a nearby beach, and Fleur disappears.
This is a beguiling book whose 1920s setting, light tone, and beautifully developed main characters draw you ever deeper into the central puzzle, or perhaps puzzles, which take on an increasingly dark tone as the story progresses. The background is utterly convincing, and there is a considerable amount of pleasure in simply learning more about Scotland in the 1920s. Most important of all, however, is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable read whose whose twists and turns are genuinely intriguing. An absolutely outstanding murder mystery...