Superfluous Women: A Daisy Dalrymple Mystery –Carola Dunn
Published by Constable, £16.99 h/b.
Release date 9th July
After an illness the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple-Fletcher uses her convalescent trip as an opportunity to visit her old school friend, Wilhelmina ‘Willie’ Chandler (one of those superfluous women of the title) in her new home. When the Great War took the lives of 700,000 British men, a generation of women were left without prospect of marriage or a family of their own. These women were often referred to as superfluous women; the forgotten victims of war adrift in a society that denigrated them for their spinsterhood yet in the same breath rebuked these women’s attempts to earn their keep in an era that had yet to acknowledge women’s freshly emergent emancipation.
Willie has moved south with two other such young women just two weeks before to set up house in a small village. When Daisy pays a call they talk about problems of acceptance in the work place, about the reluctance of the villagers to accept unmarried women as quite proper, about inherited housekeepers with attitude, and finally about the estate agent who lost keys for the cellar rumoured to contain a hoard of valuable fine wines. Of course Daisy volunteers her husband – Scotland Yard’s finest, Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher – to pick open the door to the cellar – where they discover many empty wine racks and one highly odiferous corpse. Cue mystery…
Superfluous Women is a classic whodunnit/country house murder mystery, yet is none the worse for that. The atmosphere of 1920s England is skilfully portrayed, highlighting the struggles encountered by so many women of the period and the practical steps they took to overcome them. Willie herself has a chosen career, which she pursues despite the obstacles. Her house mates are more obviously subject to the tides of change and start out as very much superfluous women. They had expected the marriage and motherhood which has been denied them, and that legacy bequeathed them by war is handled so deftly by the author that you cannot avoid feeling with rather than for them, and applaud the changes occurring by the closing chapters.
As crime fiction Superfluous Women follows the usual procedural style, following multiple red herrings that lead into various blind alleys, along with the all pervading stench of that body in the cellar, before the facts are finally outed in a dashing end. It works. Fans of traditional crime fiction will find it a riveting read because Daisy Dalrymple is a credible detective, walking the eggshells of propriety that society has handed her, all too aware of how she is perceived by the majority of police professionals, but determined to reach the truth despite them.
Despite being the twenty-second book of the series, Superfluous Women reads well as a standalone novel and fully accessible to the newcomer. I read it in one sitting without ever feeling that my lack of pre-reading in this series prevented any understanding of her world. I have to admit I have not got around to reading any of the previous DD books before – but that is an omission to be corrected as soon as possible. I would highly recommend Superfluous Women for all readers of British amateur-sleuth crime.