Review: The Corpse at the Crystal Palace by Carola Dunn

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace

Carola Dunn

Daisy Dalrymple Series

July 3, 2018

A casual outing to the Crystal Palace in London takes a mysterious and murderous turn in The Corpse at the Crystal Palace, the 23rd mystery in Carola Dunn’s beloved Daisy Dalrymple series.

“Mrs. Gilpin?” Pause. “Is anyone there?” Still no response.

Daisy’s suppressed irritation gave way to alarm. Slowly she pushed the door a few inches, till she saw a corner of striped skirt.

“Nanny!”

No indignant squawk followed her intrusion so she swung the door all the way open.

The figure sat on the old-fashioned bench seat, slumped against the wall in the corner of the cubicle, her cape crumpled about her. Her face was half-hidden by her hat, and the light was poor […] Daisy could see, however, that the hat was not Mrs. Gilpin’s. It appeared to have been knocked forwards when she fell backwards, disarranging her hair. Or rather, the poor woman appeared to be wearing a wig.

[…]

Daisy stripped off her own right glove and pressed two fingers to a likely spot on the nurse’s pale neck.

The skin was warm, but she couldn’t find a pulse.

The irrepressible amateur sleuth/journalist Daisy Dalrymple is back—and in true Daisy fashion, she’s stumbled across another dead body. This time, it’s in the ladies’ room of the Crystal Palace, the ornate London exhibition commissioned by Queen Victoria decades earlier. In Daisy’s defense, she hadn’t been prying (this time); she was at the Palace for a family outing and looking for her wayward nanny when she found the corpse in the loo.

No sooner has the body been discovered before Daisy’s stepdaughter, Belinda, and young cousins Ben and Charlie appear with their own frightful story. It seems Nanny Gilpin had been pursuing another nanny across the park only to end up coshed on the head and dumped into a fountain.

Luckily for Nanny, the kids dragged her out before the damage was fatal. But thanks to the knot on her head, she doesn’t remember anything about her assailant: the faux nanny who may very well be responsible for Daisy’s dead body.

A body that’s full of surprises…

“Look more closely, please.”

Daisy complied. She stared at the short blond hair under the wig, at the petulant mouth and obstinate chin. Or was she reading too much into the features of a dead woman? “I still think there’s something odd, but I can’t pin it down.”

“Excuse me.” He joined her in the now-cramped space. Lifting one of the limp hands, he eased off the glove. “And now?”

The hand revealed was square and strong, not really surprising. Nannies needed capable hands. The fingers were blunt-tipped, with short, manicured nails. Daisy couldn’t see any distinguishing mark—ring, scar, or missing finger—by which she might be expected to recognise it.

“No,” she said, puzzled. “But … Good heavens, she’s not—” In spite of a vague suspicion, a glance at the body’s torso startled her. No bosom! How had she failed to notice? “It’s a man? I don’t believe it!”

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace takes us from the titular cultural museum to London’s nightclubs, artistic haunts, and a Russian jeweler’s. Daisy and her dashing husband, Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, pursue parallel, often intersecting, lines of inquiry.

Daisy, in her usual charming fashion, hobnobs with friends and artistes alike while Alec and his men—the very Scottish Mackinnon and Ernie Piper, he of the encyclopedic knowledge—interrogate the very colorful Russians: an exiled prince, his beautiful jewelry-designing daughter, and their goldsmith.

There’s no lack of suspects, as the victim was a thoroughly unlikable man mixed up in all sorts of nasty pranks.

“He was a horror. We didn’t cotton on to it for ages and he was always made welcome because he pretended to admire our work and occasionally bought something expensive. Then he’d write something nasty in his beastly column—you couldn’t call it scandal. Horrible, snide remarks, not about us but about our creations. He went for performers, too, actors, musicians, singers. Even ballet dancers.”

“How mean-spirited!” Sakari exclaimed.

“Of course, in general creative people care far more about what’s said of their work than of themselves. I don’t know that he did much harm. People who appreciate the arts don’t go to gossip columnists for serious criticism.”

“One can’t help wondering what he had against creative people,” Daisy mused.

As with all Daisy Dalrymple mysteries, the plot itself is solid enough. Nothing too exciting or convoluted but enjoyable. The real draw is in the colorful characters, and Corpse at the Crystal Palace abounds with them.

The first half of the story is dominated by Ben and Charlie, Daisy’s several-times-removed young cousins from Trinidad. The boys are puckish fun alongside cohort Belinda. The second half is more focused on the enigmatic Russians who fled the Revolution and seem to be hiding something.

Old favorites play significant roles: Daisy’s good friends Sakari, the Indian official’s wife, and Lucy, currently dealing with morning sickness, prove helpful on several occasions. Phillip Petrie pops in from America to uncover some clues, while dog-mad Angela Devenish is temporarily a suspect.

The 1920s-set Daisy stories are light fare—don’t expect extremely rigorous detail or hefty historical research—but Dunn always does a fine job of setting the scene and peppering in the occasional period embellishment. There’s some commentary on fashion, the recent suffrage of women, the time’s changing views of parenthood, and Russian culture that add to the fun.

The Corpse at the Crystal Palace wraps things up nicely by the final page, making this another worthy installment in the long-running series—a very enjoyable way to spend a couple hours.

Read an excerpt from The Corpse at the Crystal Palace!

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