This is the third Dandy Gilver novel of Catriona McPherson’s series that I have reviewed for Cannonball Read; they seem to be pleasingly coming out yearly, and towards the end of one year and around the beginning of the next, I begin to keep an eye out for them at my local library. The new Dandy Gilver is a seasonal pleasure I vaguely look forward to, like Christmas pudding, or not having hayfever. However, I’m beginning to wonder if this routine is such a good thing after all–ever since the titles embraced the vintage ‘cosy crime’ style of ‘Dandy Gilver and the Something Vaguely Twee of Some Sort of Crime’ halfway through the series, there has occasionally been a sense of stiffness about the proceedings and procedures. And that’s partly, of course, because Dandy and Alec are All Grown Up, and accustomed to their roles, and the sense of discovery and freedom of doing something different and unusual for people in their station has faded–even Dandy’s staid husband Hugh is resigned to his wife’s detective business, and even more shockingly, to the money it brings in. I did enjoy the previous one, Dandy Gilver and the Reek of Red Herrings hugely, as well as the one before that, Dandy Gilver and a Deadly Measure of Brimstone, so it is ungracious of me to worry the whole series merely because I found Dandy Gilver and the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom to be…not quite up to snuff. Perhaps the problem is merely that I enjoy Dandy and Alec best in small towns and villages, and they don’t work quite as well for in the big bad city. Perhaps I just didn’t like the fact that Dandy’s maid and Alec’s valet have hitherto unmentioned expertise at ballroom dancing; it’s a bit too Downton Abbey.Grant as previously portrayed would not agree to wear feathers and sequins, let alone in public.
Dandy and Alec have been called in to investigate mysterious and sinister pranks being played upon Teresa, the daughter of nouveau riche parents who insists on ballroom dancing rather than settling down with her fiance, and professional, competitive ballroom dancing at that, at a seedy Glasgow dancehall. Glasgow in 1932 is an industrial city of shipyards and corrupt policemen run by gangsters; Dandy and Alec may have bitten off more than they can chew beneath the glitter and the feathers and the tango and the foxtrot–especially when even Teresa and her family are lying to them. Things get very complicated; the rivalries and ambitions and obsessions among the dancers are twisted enough without the threat of murder. I didn’t quite understand the motivations and denouement, or why, considering everything, Dandy and Alec were called in at all. There is some interesting period detail, and the contrast between the grim lives and conditions of the working (or unemployed) classes and the luxury of those with money is well conveyed. This is an enjoyable read, and I’d recommend it to fans of the series, but not as a starting point–The Burry Man’s Day, Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, or Red Herrings or Brimstone would be better for a novice. I am still looking forward to next year’s installment, though.
Entry title taken from Rich Murphy’s “Casanova’s Bossa Nova”(2002)