"Dandy Gilver and a Spot of Toil and Trouble" by Catriona McPherson is a wonderfully escapist romp. It is the summer of 1934. Dandy Gilver, aristocratic wife, mother, and partner in the decidedly genteel detective agency of Gilver and Osborne (no divorce work if you please!) is prevailed upon to help an old debutante friend, Minerva, whose husband's family, the Bewers, own Castle Bewer in Perthshire. Dandy, her astute maid Grant, and her sometimes slightly less astute partner in crime-fighting, Alec Osborne, duly arrive at Castle Bewer. There they find themselves embroiled in a complex family mystery revolving around Minerva's father-in-law, who some decades earlier left Scotland for sunnier climes, though exactly which sunnier climes, and why, is very hazy. Certainly his departure seems to have been intimately involved with the "Cut Throat" a ruby necklace of unparalleled splendour, which disappeared at the same time: though his respect for a family curse involving the necklace makes it likely he hid it in the castle and didn't take it with him.
As if this were not enough, the Bewers have decided their future ability to afford the upkeep of the castle depends on finding innovative means of generating income. One is to launch a production of Shakespeare in the castle courtyard to attract visitors. To this end, Castle Bewer is descended upon by a motley band of performers, and mayhem ensues as they work up to their opening performance. Meanwhile the guest wing is accommodating a group of formidable American ladies keen on finding the missing necklace for themselves, and prepared to fend off the castle's ghosts in order to do so.
There is a sort of magnificent chaos that pervades much of this book, and you find yourself sharing Dandy's uncertainty about what the real purpose of her stay at Castle Bewer is meant to be. And then, just at the chaos reaches a crescendo, you begin to realise that everything has had a direction and a purpose all along, and all the pieces that have been flying around for most of the book begin to fall into place to provide a highly satisfying and extremely unexpected conclusion.
This book is the author's twelfth outing for Dandy Gilver, and if you wanted to sum it up in a single word, that word would be "fun". This is a thoroughly accomplished and enjoyable book that turns, almost unexpectedly, into a deeply satisfying one. We'll let you find out how and why for yourself. With a book set in an age during which many of our grandparents were alive, the key to making the setting and characters real is for the author to ensure that everything feels right, and there are no false notes or anachronisms to derail the reader's immersion in, or enjoyment of, the story. Catriona McPherson succeeds admirably.