‘Heirs of the Body’: Daisy Dalrymple back on the case
In Carola Dunn’s latest Daisy Dalrymple mystery, Daisy is recruited to interview four claimants to a cousin’s fortune, accompanied by her Scotland Yard detective husband. Dunn signs books Saturday, Dec. 14, at Seattle Mystery Bookshop.
Special to The Seattle Times
The author of “Heirs of the Body” will sign books at noon Saturday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St., Seattle; free (206-587-5737 or seattlemystery.com).
Carola Dunn, U.K.-bred but a longtime resident of Eugene, Ore., is a prolific author of mysteries and historical novels — more than 50 at last count. The charming “Heirs of the Body” (Minotaur, 304 pp., $24.99) is the 21st entry in her series set in 1920s-era England starring the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple.
Daisy (it seems odd to call her anything else) is smart, strong-minded and, despite her aristocratic breeding, not much for standing on ceremony.
This time out, accompanied by her husband, Alec, a Scotland Yard detective, and their young children, Daisy has decamped to the country estate of Lord Dalrymple (aka Cousin Edgar). She’s reluctantly there to help interview four claimants to the childless Edgar’s title and holdings.
Members of Daisy’s family, also on hand, are a varied bunch. Prominent are Cousin Edgar and Daisy’s mother, the Dowager Lady Dalrymple. (In classic upper-crust fashion, the former is an absent-minded naturalist, while the latter is crusty and imperious). The requisite servants for a 1920s country-estate story — including a discreet butler and a cheeky footman — also pop up.
The potential heirs, who have been tracked down by Daisy’s lawyer, are an equally motley crew: a hotelier with a stylish French wife, a gruff South African diamond merchant, a mixed-race boy from Trinidad and a jaunty sailor from Jamaica. (Not surprisingly, Daisy’s tradition-bound mother is aghast that all four potential heirs are far from aristocratic.)
Dunn starts her book at a leisurely pace. In fact, the first hint that something might be amiss doesn’t appear until about a third of the way into the story.
But then we encounter a series of puzzling incidents. A hefty tree limb nearly falls on one claimant’s head. A donkey race at the village fair inexplicably sends someone tumbling.
Another candidate is nearly run over by a tram and dies shortly after, apparently from a heart attack. (The normally unflappable Daisy witnesses the accident and is driven home seated next to the corpse, which understandably freaks her out a little.) There are more incidents, including a near-tumble down a staircase.
Taken separately, these occurrences could be accidental and coincidental. But then they grow increasingly dangerous. Among these ominous incidents are an assault and a harmful tea given to the Jamaican sailor’s pregnant wife.
It seems that one of the claimants is out to eliminate the competition — but isn’t very good at it.
Alec, Daisy’s detective husband, is a handy fellow to have around, especially since the local police are skeptical that the incidents are worthy of serious investigation. Alec’s a good copper, but it’s up to Daisy to clearly see the answer to the mystery.
Dunn’s forebears are writers such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. They set the standard for classic cozy puzzles, and “Heirs of the Body’s” unfussy prose and straightforward plot lend themselves well to this venerable tradition.
Adam Woog’s column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.