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by Catriona McPherson
Hodder & Stoughton, March 2008
339 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0340935332

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Dandy Gilver is the wife of a Perthshire landowner and farmer, Hugh Gilver, in the early 1920's. Her two sons are away at school and Dandy has taken to a spot of private detection to give her an interest and some income (which she has to 'launder' in order to keep her activity secret from Hugh). She is aided in her detection by neighbouring landowner Alec Osbourne. When Mr Tait, who was the chaplain at her husband's old school and now has a parish in Fife, comes to lunch, Dandy is expecting the worst, but he turns out to be a jovial and entertaining man; even better, he confides to Dandy after lunch that he has a case for her.

It seems that there have been a number of assaults in his parish of Luckenlaw, all on women, and all as the women are returning home from meetings of the newly formed Scottish Women's Rural Institute, which is regarded by some of his parishioners as a dangerously radical innovation. Under the cover of having been invited to give a talk on household economy, Dandy departs for Luckenlaw to stay at the manse with Mr Tait and his daughter Lorna, there to attend one of the SWRI's monthly meetings and investigate the assaults.

The opening of this book, indeed possibly the first half, is pretty enjoyable. McPherson writes with a light touch and her descriptions of both the Fife landscape and the various characters who inhabit Luckenlaw are strong. Yet even here one immediate problem is evident. From her 'voice' - this is a first person narrative - I had assumed Dandy to be at least 50, but it turns out she is in her thirties. She is given to what are supposed to be sharp and witty observations, and occasionally they are. After a certain point however the book ceases to be engaging - which it is all too clearly supposed to be - and becomes almost wearisome. Yes it is a refreshing change to have a mystery with nomurder; there is certainly a large gap in the market for such books! But increasingly BURY HER DEEP begins to feel like a shaggy dog story.

Once again the key problem here is one of plot. If the plotting is adequate then all the quirks which one might or might not enjoy are a secondary consideration. Here the plot consists of Dandy following various false trails at great length, coming to a wrong conclusion and then having the right conclusion forced on her in a rushed climax which involves some slight Woman in Jeopardy elements and also an unnecessary piece of animal cruelty (which sat rather oddly with the book's general ethos). The main elements of the plot would be obvious to most readers long before Dandy stumbles on them. So one is left with the observation of place and character and Dandy's apercus which are just not strong enough to sustain a whole book and tend towards repetition.

BURY HER DEEP is set in the Golden Age but is more imitation and pastiche than revision. There are some minor elements of the latter in some of the social observation but Dandy is basically a conservative commentator and observer so her viewpoint hardly differs at all from many Golden Age novelists. As this is the case, why would one read this book, basically plot centred and set in the Golden Age period, when one could read, or re-read, Christie, Allingham, Sayers, Marsh, Innes, Carr, Crispin (all plotters of genius) etc.? I for one have no answer to this question. BURY HER DEEP is not a bad book but it pales utterly by comparison with those it seeks to imitate.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, July 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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