Tag Archives: mystery novel

Book Review: The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn

The Winter Garden Mystery is the second in a long series of gentle cosy crime mysteries by Carola Dunn, the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries.

The Winter Garden Mystery by Carola Dunn 

Daisy Dalrymple, or more correctly the Honourable Miss Dalrymple, is the daughter of aristocracy but the family estate was passed onto a cousin when her only brother was killed in the First World War. Daisy is expected to live with her mother at the family estate’s Dower House but, independently-minded Daisy prefers to make her own way in the world and house-share with a friend in London, while earning her living as a writer for a country magazine. Daisy has a particular skill for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and becoming embroiled in murder investigations.

It’s 1923 and Daisy is off to stay at Occles Hall to write an article for Town and Country about the history of the house and estate. Invited by the daughter of the house, a girl she was at school with though not particular friends with as the girl was a few years older, Daisy isn’t at all sure what to expect. She’s heard a few stories about the Lady of the manor, Lady Valeria, who carries before her a formidable reputation as an unrelenting battleaxe and Daisy starts to wonder what sort of an assignment she’s taken on.

When she arrives Daisy is soon put at ease by the welcome from horse-fanatic Bobbie, otherwise known as Roberta, her younger Adonis-like brother Sebastian and the family’s secretary, Ben Goodman. Sir Reginald also makes Daisy feel quite welcome, though he is a rather absent-minded man and spends all his waking hours at his estate’s dairy, creating award-winning cheeses. Lady Valeria is the only uncomfortable presence so Daisy does her best to avoid her and goes about writing her article and photographing the Hall and gardens.

A visit to the winter garden is a must as it is February at the time of Daisy’s visit so the winter garden is the best-looking part of the estate gardens to show off in the photos and article. Daisy is handed over to the young Welsh under-gardener, Owen, for the tour of the winter garden and on their visit Daisy spots a dead azalea bush in the middle of the garden which looks quite out-of-place amidst the winter flowering shrubs and evergreens. Owen is dismayed and calls on the head gardener straight away. They go to dig it up and make the shocking discovery of a dead body wrapped in a sheet buried under the dead bush. What’s more, the body is that of young Grace Moss, previous parlourmaid at the Hall and particular friend of Owen. She had disappeared a couple of months previously and it was assumed that she had gone off to London to find fortune and fun. A shocking secret lies buried with Grace as well… something to ruffle feathers and rock relationships up at the Hall.

The local Inspector proves to be worse than useless, so Daisy surreptitiously calls on her friend Alec, Detective Chief Inspector Fletcher, from Scotland Yard; an acquaintance made on a previous case Daisy found herself mixed up in and who seems to be as fond of Daisy as she is of him… though both are very aware that they come from different social classes and so their friendship is frowned upon by some members of the upper classes…

Daisy refuses to leave the excitement at the Hall and head back home to London, so Alec needs to find and catch the killer, with some urgency, before they strike again. Daisy’s meddling nature may well be putting her at risk. The trouble is, with a number of likely suspects and little hard evidence, can this murderer be caught?

A gentle 1920s cosy crime mystery, peppered with social etiquette, manners, and featuring the interesting and newly independent Daisy Dalrymple, finding her way in the new 1920s upper and middle class society. A very enjoyable and easy, lightweight read. Absolutely no gore, no deep psychological twists and no suspense of the sort to stop you sleeping at night. A very good, Golden Age-style, old-fashioned murder mystery. If you enjoy the Daisy Dalrymple series, you may also enjoy the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear and the Kate Shackleton mysteries by Frances Brody.

A complete list of The Daisy Dalrymple mysteries to date (up to April 2017):
1. Death at Wentwater Court
2. The Winter Garden Mystery
3. Requiem for a Mezzo
4. Murder on the Flying Scotsman
5. Damsel in Distress
6. Dead in the Water
7. Styx and Stones
8. Rattle His Bones
9. To Davy Jones Below
10. The Case of the Murdered Muckraker
11. Mistletoe and Murder
12. Die Laughing
13. A Mourning Wedding
14. Fall of a Philanderer
15. Gunpowder Plot
16. The Bloody Tower
17. Black Ship
18. Sheer Folly
19. Anthem for Doomed Youth
20. Gone West
21. Heirs of the Body
22. Superfluous Women

About the Author

Carola Dunn (born in 1946) grew up in England, graduated from Manchester University and now lives in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of around 60 books, including the 22 Daisy Dalrymple books, 4 Cornish mysteries and 32 Regency novels. To find out more about the author, visit her website caroladunn.weebly.com.

Where to Buy

You can buy the series from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. The Winter Garden Mystery is currently available as a new paperback, RRP £7.99 ISBN 9781845297466. At Books & Ink Bookshop most of our new books are for sale at a discounted price. If we don’t have it in stock we would be happy to order it in for you. We also have a large second-hand stock.


Review: The Clue in the Diary (Nancy Drew)

The Clue in the Diary – Nancy Drew Mystery No. 7

It’s been a very long time since I last read a Nancy Drew story – I would have been around 9 years old and borrowing them from my local library, along with many, many other books which I devoured, particularly in the school holidays.

I have always loved books with a passion and, although I didn’t have very many, the books that I owned as a child are the ones that were re-read and they are the stories that stayed with me most vividly. I remember borrowing the Nancy Drew stories – I even have a visual memory of the carousel in Daventry Library that housed them – but I can’t remember anything more about them… that is, until now.

The Clue in the Diary is the 7th Nancy Drew mystery and features Nancy with her friends, the cousins George and Bess, and her new friend Ned Nickerson. Together the three girls, with a bit of help from Ned, are trying to solve the mystery of a diary and signet ring found at the site of a burning house which the girls saw on their way home one night. They stopped at the scene to see if they could help. Nancy saw a man fleeing the scene into the undergrowth and the diary and signet ring were found soon afterwards…

I thoroughly enjoyed this quite undemanding but entertaining read. I’ve recently re-read a number of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. This is very similar but (and I never thought I’d say this) not quite as well written or as well plotted as a Famous Five. Still, the characterisation is very good, the novel well-plotted and I enjoyed it very much. Although Nancy drives a car and has had boy friends, this is perfectly suitable for 8 and up and is  equally suitable for teenagers and beyond looking for a lightweight read.

Nancy Drew novels

About the Series

Set in America the first four novels in the series were published in 1930. The original series kept running until 2003 with 175 novels published in total. The main character has also appeared in spin off series The Girl Detective, The Nancy Drew Files and is the heroine in the Diaries series as well.  The author, Carolyn Keene, is the pen name for a number of different writers used to write the books.

Where to Buy

The book is currently in print with Grosset and Dunlap in a 2015 edition. The UK RRP is £6.99 for a hardback copy. ISBN 9780448489070. You can buy this and other titles from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local when you can to help keep your high streets alive. At Books & Ink Bookshop we sell most of our new books at a discounted price and we also have a large second-hand stock (specialising in second-hand and antiquarian children’s books). Online we recommend biblio.co.uk for collectable and out-of-print books.

Review: A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

maisie dobbs

Maisie Dobbs is the creation of Jacqueline Winspear and she is my favourite fictional detective to date. I’m a bit of a book tart in my reading tastes – pretty much anything goes, except crime or thrillers which leave me unable to sleep at night, forensics or gore, or horror. I only lightly touch on science fiction as well but I enjoy the occasional fantasy or dystopian novel. Maisie, however, is a fictional detective I really enjoy reading about. The series reminds me slightly in style of Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series but there is greater depth with Jacqueline Winspear’s novels.

A Dangerous Place is the 11th in the series based on Maisie Dobbs and, although it seems to have divided opinion amongst Maisie fans, I enjoyed it almost as much as I have enjoyed the rest of the series.

If you go back and begin at the beginning (as the King says in Alice in Wonderland), the first book introduces us to a young Maisie Dobbs who has just started up her own private detective practice in London, in 1929. Independent self-employed young woman in London in the 1920s – I fell in love with this straight away! You sense in Maisie, from the beginning, a sensitivity, spirituality and sadness which makes for an interesting and empathetic character. Maisie’s first assignment as private investigator turns out to be a harrowing one for her personally, as it takes her to a convalescent home for severely wounded veterans of the First World War. This forces her to face her demons and flashbacks back to her time as a nurse on the battlefields in France.

Subsequent novels take Maisie through the 1930s, with moments of joy and humour, as well as psychological investigation and touches of sadness. She develops into a fiercely independent, modern woman and, as an investigator, into one with a talent for solving crimes where compassion and understanding of the human psyche are often involved. She takes on a couple of assistants, Sandra and Billy, each with troubled backgrounds of their own, and by the end of Book 10 the reader is hoping for developments on the romance front, with travel and marriage on the near horizon.

The joy is short-lived as Book 11 takes quite a different path from the one the reader is expecting…

A Dangerous Place very soon has Maisie embroiled in a suspicious murder and missing murderer in Gibraltar, right on the edge of the horrific goings on next door in Spain, in the Spanish Civil War. Maisie has suffered great tragedy and is on her way back to England after a spell in India. She stops off in Gibraltar and can’t help but get involved in trying to solve this murder which she stumbles across, quite literally, one evening while out for a stroll. Maisie finds her old investigative curiosity and skills returning and feels as though solving this crime will lead her back into the real world and ready her for her return to England, her family and friends.


I was slightly disappointed that the author glossed over Maisie’s (much anticipated from previous novels) marriage to the lovely James and their happy times together in Canada; picking up the story again after summarising the tragic fate of  James and their unborn baby. It is a shame that the author felt she could only write Maisie in her grief-stricken and troubled state as we, the reader, having come to love Maisie after ten previous novels, would have liked to share in her moment of happiness before tragedy struck home again. Stylistically though, I could see why Jacqueline Winspear chose to continue the story this way; I was just a little disappointed not to share in Maisie’s moment of joy.

Other Maisie fans have criticised the direction Maisie is headed in, with her becoming drawn into espionage instead of her usual private detective crime solving. To me, however, this makes sense. I have read the synopsis for the forthcoming book 12, Journey to Munich, and it is quite understandable that the secret services would be recruiting investigative talent like Maisie as women spies were every bit as sought after in the Second World War as their male counterparts. Hopefully, espionage will turn out to not quite her thing and she’ll return to what she loves doing best but it seems perfectly plausible that she should be recruited for her abilities in the war effort.

My main criticism is that something about the final chapters seems a little rushed and doesn’t hang together quite as well as the rest of the novel. The plot becomes quite muddy and, in places, slightly repetitive. The author clearly has a good researcher but with this novel it’s almost as if she doesn’t fully grasp the scene of her characters; whereas in earlier novels she takes the reader right there to the time and the place. There’s also something rather touching about the way that Maisie usually ties up all of the loose ends, meditates on the outcomes and revisits all of the places that were significant in her investigations, for personal closure on the case. In this book, this was hinted at more than made explicit and it didn’t make for quite the same feeling of satisfaction as an ending.

I enjoyed A Dangerous Place and I love the series as a whole but I am hoping for a return to better form with the next one, Journey to Munich. (It will be out in hardback in the UK on 1st April 2016).


About the Author

[From the book blurb] Jacqueline Winspear has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex and Macavity awards for the first book in the series, Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel. Originally from Britain, Jacqueline now lives in the United States.

Where to Buy

You can buy A Dangerous Place from your local independent bookshop, or you can buy online from hive.co.uk and still support your local independent bookshop by nominating them to receive a percentage of your sale on Hive. Shop local, where possible, to help keep your High Streets alive. It’s out in paperback, RRP £7.99.