Dandy Gilver & the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom is a book of the mystery genre, written by Catriona McPherson. Set in Glasgow in 1932, Dandy and her detective partner Alec Osborne are immersed in the world of competitive ballroom dancing as they uncover secrets, deal with rivalries, and, of course, death threats.
Firstly — I must admit that I have not heard of Dandy Gilver prior to getting this paperback*. As it turns out, this is the tenth book in the series, with another one coming out July of this year in the UK. So while I am ignorant of these books until recently, they are undoubtedly popular.
Dandy Gilver is obviously the main character of the series: a married, middle-aged female detective living in what I assume to be a manor house in Perthshire, Scotland. Getting to know the character in the book’s first chapters, she felt reminiscent of another amateur detective that I used to read when I was much younger. I couldn’t help making comparisons with the famous Nancy Drew, who, like Dandy, is from the upper middle-class society, and had all the perks that come with it. Dandy is described as having a “patrician voice” that the Glaswegian characters (who are predominantly a working class society), once noticing it, would make adjustments to their bearings once they realised “they had a lady in their midst”. She drives her own car, has a personal maid along with other housemaids, a butler, and her sons are educated at Eton. American teenager Nancy Drew, in comparison, also drives her own car, rides horses, spends Daddy’s money on clothes, and is involved in charities.
I do wonder if this is all deliberate — did the author purposefully create a middle-aged, British version of Nancy Drew? I have not read Nancy Drew since my preteen years, and if Dandy is an adult Nancy, then I have to say that in my personal view, the Nancy Drew books do not stand the test of time. In this age when different classes and races are fighting for representation in all types of media, both book series come off as tone deaf.
Putting that aside (I just had to mention it as it kept making me form a distasteful frown), the story itself was engaging. I kept guessing in my head who the culprit was as the narrative went along and Dandy and Alec picked up clues and made deductions. While it was somewhat obvious at the beginning as to who it was, my guess was only half of it. Some characters I felt wary of in early in the story became endearing at the end, one was lovably amusing right off, and one was a twit, but she was meant to be so that’s all right. It was a good cast of characters and an enjoyable mystery. I can see why the series have fans awaiting each book.
So yes, other than my rant about the Dandy character (which I honestly couldn’t care much about), I did have some fun with this easy read. If what bothered me is something you do not care for and can easily ignore, I am sure a female reader who loves mysteries would enjoy this book.
“You don’t introduce women to men, Lady Stott. You present men to women.’ ‘Is that right?’ she said. ‘Even a detective such as yourself and a lawyer like him?’ ‘Even a duke and a shop girl,’ I said. ‘The only male person I have ever been presented to in my life was His Majesty the King.”
– Catriona McPherson, Dandy Gilver and the Unpleasantness in the Ballroom
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Have you read other Dandy Gilver books? What is your favourite?
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*A great and many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for a copy of the paperback. This review was in no way influenced by this circumstance.