Sunday, August 31, 2008

"Black Ship"

Carola Dunn is the author of several previous mysteries featuring Daisy Dalrymple as well as numerous historical novels.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Black Ship, the latest Daisy Dalrymple mystery, and reported the following:
...Madge laughed. "True. I'm not so choosy. I'll be there. Shall I be Lady Margaret, do you think? Are they that sort of people?"

"I don't think so," Daisy said doubtfully. "I suspect they'd be less likely to invite you. But I don't know them very well yet."

"Then Mrs Pearson it is."

"Bring Robin too, if you like. There's to be nursery tea as well."

"Heavens, darling, you are becoming positively domesticated."

"It's all right, we don't have to watch feeding time at the zoo. There will be nurses aplenty to scrub their jammy faces. But the little Jessup girl adores the twins, and Mrs Jessup—Mrs Aidan Jessup—is very motherly so I thought it would please her."

"You want to please Mrs Aidan Jessup? What are you up to, Daisy?"


"Aidan? Isn't that Irish?"

"I believe so. The elder Mrs Jessup was Moira Callaghan when she was on the stage."

"A chorus girl?" Madge sounded amused.

"Shakespearean," Daisy said severely.

"And Irish. Have you moved in next door to a nest of Republicans?"

"Not at all! Aidan is frightfully English in spite of his name. So is his father, in spite of all his travels on the Continent. It's the younger son...Irish Republican—I hadn't even considered that possibility. I think he's in America, not Ireland."

"I'll come early and you can tell me all about it."

"Right-oh. Yes, I'd better ring off now or Alec's going to be asking nasty questions about the telephone bill. Cheerio, darling."

Hanging up, Daisy went down to the kitchen to discuss the tea-party with Mrs Dobson. The cook-housekeeper was delighted at the prospect of showing off her baking skills....

Page 69 of Black Ship is a telephone conversation between my protagonist, Daisy Dalrymple, and a friend who plays very little part in the story. Nonetheless, it's remarkably revealing.

For a start the tone of the book is clearly not "noir," but a nice, cheerful little murder story. The period is pretty obviously 1920s, and the place is clearly England. Daisy belongs to a class that takes servants for granted.

The passage even contains strong hints--both clues and red herrings--about the mystery side of things. Daisy, who has a tendency to be "up to something," has recently moved to a new house and her next-door neighbours have Irish and possibly American connections. This is the era of Prohibition in America, when organised crime was becoming a large-scale operation. It's also a time when the Irish Republicans might stir up trouble. In fact, busy fighting among themselves, they had only recently stopped blowing up English policemen. At least temporarily.

What page 69 doesn't tell you is that Daisy's husband, Alec Fletcher, is a detective chief inspector at Scotland Yard. Nor does either Daisy or Madge mention the American acquaintance who recently turned up on the Fletchers' doorstep, announcing that he's now a Prohibition agent. The hapless Lambert has been sent to find out which British merchants are shipping wine and whisky to the US. And Daisy's new neighbours are an old-established firm of very high-class wine merchants.

In the circumstances, it's not altogether surprising that, early one morning, the Fletchers' dog finds a body hidden in the bushes in the garden!
Learn more about Black Ship at the St. Martin's Minotaur website.

Visit Carola Dunn's website and the the group blog of which she is part, The Lady Killers.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue