It’s 1926 in Edinburgh, Scotland, days before the General Strike of 1926. And the wealthy Balfour family is about to get a new lady’s maid.
Dandelion Dahlia Gilver, better known as Dandy, has been approached by Walburga Balfour, better known as Lollie, to protect her from her husband, Philip Balfour, better known as Pip. Pip has turned from the witty, kind man Lollie met at a tennis party to a man who has threatened on numerous occasions to kill her. Without family or close friends, she has turned to private investigator Dandy for protection and hires her to serve as her maid.
When Dandy meets Pip that first night, she is surprised by his charm and seeming warmth toward his wife. Dandy notes that his eyes are like a spaniel’s, and “It suddenly seemed very unlikely that a devil could have such brown spaniel eyes.” But Lollie is convinced that her husband is, in her words, “a monster…beastly…pig.” So Dandy gets a quick lesson from her own lady’s maid and joins the other eleven servants in the Balfour home (butler, cook, kitchen maid, scullery maid, tweenie, parlour maid, house maid, valet, footman, hall and boot boy, and chauffeur).
But when Dandy wakes the first morning after her arrival, she finds Pip Balfour dead, brutally stabbed in his own bed. And now Dandy’s position in the household is even more precarious; she must continue her role as a servant while trying to discover who the murderer is. After she and the police inspector have determined that there was no way for an outsider to enter the premises, which were locked and bolted each night, suspicion is limited to the eleven servants, with or without an outside accomplice. There certainly are enough possibilities, as nearly each of the servants tells of having been severely wronged by Pip.
One of the most fascinating chapters comes near the end, when Dandy and her partner Alec take the teenage hall boy to his home on his day off. Ordinarily Mattie walks the nine miles each way, carrying a basket of goodies that the Balfour cook gives him, but as Dandy and Alec want to talk to him they give Mattie a ride. Although Dandy understands that the village will not be like the pretty English places she is used to, she is appalled by a village “unlike any village I had ever seen: no shops, no real streets, and no church spires nor inns nor schoolhouses–nothing except that three long straight rows (of houses) set down at the edge of the rough.”
Although kindhearted, Dandy has lived in her own comfortable world for so long that she has lost touch with the lives of many of her fellow citizens. Inside Mattie’s house Dandy makes two unthinking blunders–she goes to the sink to fill the tea kettle (no running water) and asks why the family hasn’t heard the news about Pip’s murder on the wireless (no such luxury as a wireless). She thus begins to have a better understanding of why the General Strike was called by the country’s miners and why it spread to various other trade unions throughout the nation.
Catriona McPherson has written another excellent novel in the Dandy Gilver series. You can read more about her at her web site.