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by Carola Dunn
Minotaur Books, March 2011
304 pages
ISBN: 0312387768

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Although promoted as "A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery," ANTHEM FOR DOOMED YOUTH is a bit different from the usual Daisy story - Daisy's husband, Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Alec Fletcher, takes center stage here. For the most part, this story is an historical police procedural, and a very good one at that. Yes, there are many cosy and light-hearted elements, and the balance between the dark parts and the light is very well done, but Dunn highlights some very sad and conflicted elements of World War One history, and made them the central thread in this intriguing story.

It's June, 1926, and Daisy and Alec are planning to visit their daughter Belinda's boarding school for Sports Day, when Alec gets called out to a crime scene and finds there are actually three of them. It seems that over the space of a couple of years someone has kidnaped, bound and shot three men, and left their bodies in shallow graves next to each other in the depths of Epping Forest. Features of the crime suggest the three are linked to a past event, but nothing is certain, and we get to work alongside Alec and his group of detectives as they navigate the murky waters surrounding what proves to be very dark doings indeed. Alec is also under the gun as far as his bosses are concerned - this becomes a high-profile case due to political sabotage from another officer, and yet there seem, at first, to be very few clues to grab onto. But Alec and his team are not only methodical, they're very good at what they do, and we get to watch them all the way along their investigation as they slowly work out what actually happened, and even more importantly, why this happened.

Meanwhile, Daisy and her friends Melanie and Sakari spend a lovely weekend with their daughters at their boarding school, until one of them quite literally falls over a dead body. Dunn gently mixes farce and police procedure, comedy and tragedy, and keeps the pace moving quickly, as we turn from Alec's investigation to Daisy's experiences, and back to the investigation. While this is a usual tactic for the Dalrymple novels, here the emphasis is on Alec's investigation, not, as is usually the case, on Daisy. This shift makes for a solid and entertaining historical police procedural with light undertones rather than a frothy society detective story with a serious bit or two. I like the different emphasis very much.

Furthermore, Dunn pulls it off beautifully, as the pacing is excellent, the settings and characterizations superb, and the plotting very, very good. This series is always strong in depicting the interactions of differing sorts of people and Daisy's tendency to get involved with all sorts of folks, but here we also get to see the various detectives in Alec's team use their many and different skills in solving what turns out to be a very important case. It's a wonderful visit to the past, and while I always enjoy catching up with Daisy's personal history, this closer look at the working environment of an upper-level policeman in the 1920s was very entertaining. I would like to see Dunn keep the future stories balanced between Daisy and Alec. While I love Daisy, I'm even more fascinated by Alec and his job, and look forward to seeing more of that.

At the conclusion there is a bit of confusion as to motives and circumstances, and I'm afraid the last twist concerning the fourth murder didn't work for me. It made sense, but in my opinion it only served to muddy the waters of what was otherwise a really solid plot. It made the conclusion rather confused and over-complicated, and I didn't like coming across that at the very end of the story.

Bottom line: A very good read for the summer, with a setting and time-frame that transports you away nicely, and filled with people you enjoy being with, all mixed with a good, strong murder plot that's well-conceived but not so convoluted that you need to work hard to solve it. The ending is a bit murky, however, and kept this otherwise fine story from being a complete five-star-success for me.

Abbey Hamilton loves New England, her cats, yarn, and old-fashioned murder mysteries, and isn't shy about offering her opinions, usually at great length.

Reviewed by Abbey Hamilton, June 2011

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