Review: The Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson

The Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson is the 5th book in the Dandy Gilver Mystery series, nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Historical Novel.

Dandy Gilver—forty-something wife of the phlegmatic Hugh and mother to two grown sons—has reluctantly agreed to a Christmas holiday in North Norfolk with family members keen to spend the time hunting and pursuing other activities that simply bore her to death. Moreover, going to Norfolk means Dandy will be stuck with “the wives,” whose company is so dull she tells her friend and business partner, Alec Osbourne, that they make the husbands seem as witty as Oscar Wilde. But then, a reprieve comes in the form of a letter from a certain Mr. Birchfield requesting their help.

The missive is so … peculiar … that it piques their interest.

For Alec and Dandy are detectives—it says “servants of truth” on a plaque outside their office—and the case Mr. Birchfield presents is much more interesting than anything else they’re currently working on. In fact, they admit to themselves, whatever he’s proposing—and it’s by no means clear from his missive—sounds like it might be … “fun.” It’s not that either of them is afraid of work, but as Dandy points out, “While all honest toil is noble, as the Bible and more recently the Russians have told us, still no one could resist a good bite at the juiciest meat when it dangled so expertly.”

And so the two detectives find themselves on a quayside in Aberdeen where their eccentric new client keeps his offices. His problem, as he explains in a roundabout way, is of great concern to people who are not yet aware of it. To be plain, Mr. Birchfield is in the herring business, and “foreign objects” have started showing up in his barrels of fish. There have been complaints—which is most unusual, he assures them—and so his offices have taken them quite seriously. On further examination, the foreign objects in the herring barrels turned out to be bits and pieces of men. No one is quite sure exactly how many. And therein lies the problem: Birchfield can’t really go to the police. His business—and the lives of all the fishermen who supply him—could be ruined.

Dandy somewhat “censors” the particulars of the new case, telling Hugh that she and Alec are helping Birchfield “sort out a missing person puzzle.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you, Dandy,” her husband replies, which annoys her no end—especially since he seems more interested in recalling a visit to a taxidermy museum that’s situated nearby Alec's and Dandy's destination. This is not the first time Dandy has been furious with “one of her menfolk,” and it likely won’t be the last. But at least she won’t have to spend Christmas en famille.

The Reek of Red Herrings is the 5th book in Catriona McPherson’s series about Dandy Gilver, a forty-something upperclass wife and mother, and Alec Osborne, a bachelor some years her junior. It’s an arrangement that sometimes raises eyebrows—one of the men at her husband’s club “teases” him about it—but, fortunately, Hugh can’t wrap his head around the concept that a younger man might fancy an older woman. Dandy, meanwhile, worries about Alec, who has never “replaced” the fiancée whose death brought the two of them into each other’s orbit. It’s clear from their interaction that their friendship is deep and mutually respectful, and readers do have to wonder if the author will ever take their relationship in another direction.

The series straddles a number of categories. It’s a 2016 Agatha Award nominee for Best Historical Novel, but in many ways it’s also a cozy. (Fans of Dame Agatha would definitely approve!) Mostly, though, it’s what Dandy herself would call “a corker” of a story.

Read an excerpt from The Reek of Red Herrings!


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Katherine Tomlinson is a former reporter who prefers making things up. She was editor of Astonishing Adventures Magazine and the publisher of Dark Valentine Magazine. She edited the charity anthology Nightfalls. Her dark fiction has appeared in Shotgun HoneyA Twist of NoirLuna Station Quarterly, and Eaten Alive, as well as anthologies, including Weird NoirPulp Ink 2Alt-DeadAlt-Zombie, and the upcoming Grimm Futures, which she also edited. Her most recent collection of short stories is Suicide Blonde. She sees way too many movies.

Read all posts by Katherine Tomlinson for Criminal Element.


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