Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Death for a Dancer: Review

The Dancer family is a bit...shall we say eccentric? Their family tree includes Sir Harold Dancer who followed his king on the Crusades and returned to find his lady fooling around with a man-at-arms. He drugged his wife, killed and quartered the man, and dumped his bits into bed with the lady. Then there was Sir Charles Dance who admired the American Confederacy and had an antebellum facade built over his Elizabethan home (his son got rid of that as soon as he inherited). And, of course, Sir Godfrey Dancer who, at the turn of the 20th Century, decided to follow the mystic ways of the Far East, built a miniature Chinese temple, stocked it with priceless jade figures, and arranged for his burial there--complete with a curse to scare off anyone who might contemplate desecrating the temple and running off with the jade.

The current head of the family, Sir Amyas Dancer has decided that the curse was never meant for Dancers and has plans to pull down the temple and make way for his own particular obsession...a Roman amphitheater. Living with him at the ancestral country house are his children Carleton who collects buttons--particularly those with a macabre connection--and Cassandra who appears to be the most normal of the bunch.  Also on site are his sisters, Bella who would spend every hour cooking if she had her way and Sybil who has a mania for reincarnation and a decided aversion to even the mention of divorce. The ladies live in the Dower House on the estate. There is also Sir Amyas's former father-in-law, Horace, who hangs out in the bushes wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the nearby village lives David Proctor, poet and former model, who is currently engaged to Cassandra, but was formerly the beau of her mother, Viola. Viola, by the way, is dead and nobody, except her father, seems to miss her much.

As the first anniversary of Viola's death by drowning approaches, Amyas begins inspecting Mandalay, the Chinese temple on the estate, in preparation for his amphitheater construction plans. To his horror, the first thing he finds when he unlocks the temple is a body. And it's not his revered ancestor. The body is that of Katherine St. Croix, alias Katie Parr alias Katerina Padrinski alias Kay Parnell--a woman who had weaseled her way into the house three months previous with a down-on-her-luck story only to vanish one night leaving only her buttons behind.  The entire family comes under suspicion when it is revealed that she was a con woman, expert at blackmail and stealing any valuables left unattended.
Sir Amyas calls on barrister Robert Forsythe, a man who has earned a bit of a reputation as a discreet amateur detective, to dispel the fog of suspicion and bring the crime home to the murderer...even if it means that a Dancer must go to jail

Forsythe, aided by his superlative secretary Miss Sanderson ("Sandy"), soon find themselves no further than the police--ten suspects all with fair-to-middlin' motive and none with a decent alibi, but no real evidence and no definite finger of suspicion pointing towards anyone in particular. It isn't until Forsythe visits the murdered woman's London apartment that he finds a clue that focuses his attention...and it will take a bit of theatrics on a "dark and stormy night" with a bit of "the wrath of God" to bring the culprit out into the open.

E. X. Giroux is a new author for me. The mystery is fast-paced, well-plotted, and stocked with interesting characters who even though they are a bit dotty are thoroughly believable. I definitely will be on the look-out for more books starring Forsythe and Sandy--I really enjoyed their interactions. The weakest part of the novel (and what keeps it at ★★ instead of four stars) is the wrap-up. Forsythe cannot produce the evidence to allow the police to arrest the murderer, so he has to rely on theatrics to force a confession. A weak ending--but overall a solidly entertaining mystery.

This fulfills the "Country House" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Sounds eccentric... maybe too much so for me.
Great review.