Fresh Meat: A Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson is the 8th cozy mystery featuring heroine Dandy Gilver, and this time a weekend spa getaway is interrupted by some deadly happenings (available November 18, 2014).

Dandelion Gilver, and her partner in detection, Alec Osborne, are back in the latest installment of a wonderful historical series that takes place in Scotland in the early 1900s. The year is 1929 and Dandy is up to her elbows in sick family and staff. Her two sons, her husband Hugh, and several of their servants have come down with a bad case of influenza. As Hugh and the boys are showing signs of recovering, she receives a letter addressed to Messrs Gilver & Osborne asking for their help. It is not only a new case, but one that sounds quite interesting, if not a bit tricky.

It seems that a brother and sister, Mr. Addie and Mrs. Bowie, are requiring their services in finding out the true nature of their mother’s death. She died recently while staying at a Scottish health resort, Laidlaw’s Hydropathic Establishment. The death certificate listed her cause of death to be heart failure, and her children insist that she was strong as an ox, with no heart issues at all. Dandy and Alec realize that it is entirely possible that the clients are unable or unwilling to accept a death that was natural, but they agree to look into things. Even if just to set the clients’ minds at ease.

One the one hand, murder is the gold standard for a detective and any of that ilk who says otherwise is afraid of sounding callous and so is lying. On the other hand, these Addies – or rather this Addie and Bowie née – sounded like the very worst sort of client. They had already made up their minds and looked to Gilver and Osborne for corroboration; I would be forced to warn them, along with sending our terms, that we were servants of the truth and that our fee only paid us for finding out whether, finding out what. No treasures on earth could buy our agreement to finding out that, dear dead mother or no.

Alec sets off to visit the spa as a guest and at the same time, Dandy packs up her sons, Hugh, her Dalmatian Bunty, and the household staff she knows she can’t live without, and they head to the spa as well. She will at some point have to tell Hugh that she and Alec are on a case, but she decides that she will wait for the proper moment, when things seem right. When they arrive at the spa, they find all sorts of curious happenings and strange occurrences, not the least of which is a band of spiritualists who have arrived to contact the dead. In addition, the Laidlaws, brother and sister team who run the spa, are both clearly hiding something. Whether or not what they are hiding has anything to do with Mrs. Addie’s death is a question that must be answered.

I thought of my eavesdropping in the steam room, and the strange bunch who had turned up in the foyer as I was leaving. I thought of Simpson’s revelation too.

“What’s the bet?” I asked.

“First pick of the next juicy bit the case offers,” said Alec.

“Does that include shirking the next dull bit?” I said.

“Of course.”

“It’s a deal,” I said. “I am spitting in my palm and holding it to the mouthpiece. I think the wave of new guests coming to the Hydro are…mediums.” He was silent. “Spiritualists.” Still nothing. “Ghost hunters, darling.”

“Brava,” said Alec, sounding about as pleased as someone who had just dropped his watch down a grating. “How did you know?”

“And the next irksome task in this case,” I said, “which I must say is beginning to get interesting, is to go back to Edinburgh to the Addies and delicately try to find out if their mother was the fanciful sort who would see a shadow, call it a ghost and drop dead from the shock of it. A ticklish business to carry it off without offending or alerting them, I must say. I’m glad that it falls to you.”

I am a big fan of historical mysteries and read a lot that take place in England. I love that Dandy takes the reader to her home in Scotland. It is so much fun when a book transports you to a different time and place and these books never disappoint in that. I could picture the health spa and the surrounding countryside. When Dandy entered the steam room and Turkish baths, I think I started to sweat. When she jumped into the cooling pool, I pulled the blanket up a little tighter around me. Being inside her head when she forced herself to endure these extreme treatments made me laugh out loud, thankful that it was her and not me. She has such a fresh and interesting personality, that I can’t help but be amused.

The characters in the Dandy Gilver series are extremely colorful. Dandy is a woman of her time, but she stretches the boundaries as much as she dares. By doing this, you see the proper social etiquette and then you see Dandy’s idea of it. She loves her family, but she does not try to convince anyone that she should be voted doting mother or wife of the year. She is a feisty and intelligent woman who drives a motorcar and investigates crime. Not a very common thing for the 1920s.

Dandy is pitted against murderers and thieves, but her most fearsome adversary is her lady’s maid, Grant. She realizes and freely admits—if only to herself—that she perhaps should have reigned Grant in when she first came to work as her maid, but it is much too late now. Grant can bully Dandy like no one else, and takes complete control of her wardrobe, whether Dandy likes it or not. Hugh frequently comments on the relationship, but to no avail.

Hugh said nothing, but settled back against his pillows with both hands cupped around the broth and a look on his face that one could only call mischievous. My husband cannot hide his views of Grant, my maid, and my dealings with her: he thinks her above herself and me under her thumb; he deplores her taste in modish clothes and despises me for wearing them; he thrills to remember the many times in our early married life when he instructed me on the dangers of getting chummy with the servants. He imagines (I imagine) that I regret not listening and obeying and that I try to hide my regret to lessen his triumph. Marriage would be so exhausting if I really gave it my all but I rather let things wash over me, from maid and husband both, and find life easier that way.

Grant is one of my favorite characters in the series (outside of Dandy and Alec, of course) and I was pleasantly surprised that she had supporting role, if you will, in this book. Dandy needs her help during the investigation and Grant steps up and assists in the investigation. I won’t say more because I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s very amusing and I loved each scene where her help was needed.

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Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.

Read all posts by Kerry Hammond for Criminal Element.