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RATTLE HIS BONES
by Carola Dunn
Kensington, March 2003
231 pages
$5.99
ISBN: 0758201680


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

RATTLE HIS BONES is the most recent of Carola Dunn's mystery novels featuring Daisy Dalrymple and her fiance, Scotland Yard's Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, although the back of my copy of this book gives us a sample of a later book in the series, TO DAVY JONES BELOW, to be published in July 2003. At the end of RATTLE HIS BONES, Alex tells Daisy that he wants them to get married right away, and when the DAVY JONES sample picks them up, they're already married.

The author has set RATTLE HIS BONES in the real-life Natural History Museum in the Cromwell Road area of London (not far from the Victoria and Albert Museum and Harrods). The time is 1923, the flapper era, and the Honorable Daisy Dalrymple, daughter of a deceased viscount, is writing a series of article on museums for an American magazine. (Reviewer's note: People who cut their teeth on television may find it difficult to understand the immensely popular and informative role of weekly and monthly magazines in both England and the United States prior to World War II.) Daisy presents herself at the Natural History Museum (fossils, geology, dinosaurs, meteorites, birds, et al), ready to start familiarizing herself with the various departments and staff.

She finds more than she expected. The museum keepers and curators are inordinately jealous and disrespectful of each other. Some seem pleasant, others not so pleasant, but nonetheless she has no doubt she will be able to gather enough material for her article. She also meets the young, impoverished Grand Duke of Transcarpathia (who main language is German, but seems never sure of whether to address Daisy as "Gnadige Fraulein" or "Gnadiges Fraulein"); his grand duchy had been taken over by the recently victorious Communists of Russia, and he hungers for a rare ruby that his family had given to Queen Victoria, who gave it to the museum.

In past books of this series, Daisy has had a tendency to stumble upon murders, and this book is not an exception. As she is walking with Dr. Smith Woodward to see the Piltdown Man, they hear a loud crash and rush forward to find (page 54) Dr. Pettigrew, Keeper of Geology, sprawled on the floor, bloody and dead. (I'm a bit confused here because on page 27 Dr. Smith Woodward had been introduced as the Keeper of Geology and on page 29 Dr. Pettigrew had been introduced as the Keeper of Mineralogy.)

A conference between DCI Alex Fletcher, his superior, and the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard is revealing. The AC asks, "I suppose she doesn't do it on purpose. Does she?" He then gives us a clue as to why Alec seems so anxious to marry Daisy when this particular case is over (and before another one begins), "Fletcher, for God's sake and the sake of my sanity, marry the woman soon .... Then at least you'll have the right, if not the ability, to keep her out of trouble. You'll have to take the museum case. I can't ask anyone else to attempt to control her."

The murder mystery is complicated by the discovery of another crime. Daisy is with members of the museum staff when they suddenly notice that a number of valuable rare jewels are made of paste, including the Grand Duke's claimed ruby. At some time in the indefinite past someone has stolen the real stones. Are they dealing with two criminals or one?

This is a period piece with a most interesting setting that will appeal to those readers who like cozies, and of course there's also some police procedural activity in the story. There is a lot of 1923 ambience, including some slang that I guess would have been popular then. There's a lot more in the story than can be covered in a short review. Daisy is frequently with children doing things that children do; there are scenes with people from both Daisy's and Alex's families (Daisy is marrying downward, but Alex is cultured enough to allow her people to accept him, still some snide remarks occasionally pop out); and there are frequent representations of comical accents, both English class accents on the part of the musuem guards and others and an outrageous central European accent on the part of the Grand Duke. RATTLE HIS BONES is al1l in all easy-going reading with interesting characters, plot, and setting.

Reviewed by Eugene Aubrey Stratton, April 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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