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by Catriona McPherson
Hodder & Stoughton, July 2012
307 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444731858

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Dandy Gilver receives a phone call from a family she used to know. They ask her to investigate what is happening to one of the sisters, Fleur, whom she remembers well. The investigation takes Dandy to a girls' school in Scotland, where she finds herself impersonating a new replacement teacher. In this role she finds out more than she expects, and corpses begin to appear.

The plot begins to develop after a slow start in which the author has Dandy reflecting on the past whilst taking a telephone call in the present. Prior to this chapter there is a prologue that never seems to connect with the story. However after this rather muddled start, the plot begins to develop and things start to improve. The plot itself is cleverly constructed with a number of interrelated elements which slowly unfold. The setting of a school is well described with believable conversations between pupils and their new teacher. Also believable are the descriptions of the school, the bedrooms and corridors, typical unfortunately of many small private schools established in old country houses. It would have been helpful, though, if the novel had made more of the period in which the story is set – it was easy to forget at times that it was set sometime between the two world wars, not in the present nor in the very recent past. The book's Scottish roots certainly show through, however.

The investigation is recounted alongside an account of the lives of the investigators themselves which sometimes detracts from the plot, particularly as various issues, are raised but not developed; issues such as those relating to women working away from home. The characters are well described. In particular the image of the Italian café owner is carefully crafted, as are some of the girls and teachers in the school. A good attempt is made to paint a picture of Fleur's family, a typical moderately wealthy family of the period of the novel but none of the characters are developed in any real depth, which makes the whole novel somewhat superficial.

After the faltering start the story manages to maintain interest until the end and is fluently written, and overall this is a competent murder mystery.

§ Sylvia Maughan is a retired university lecturer, based in Bristol.

Reviewed by Sylvia Maughan, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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