Monday, April 29, 2024

Aubrey's Nye Hamilton Reviews: The Witching Hour by Catriona McPherson

The sixteenth book in the Dandy Gilver historical mystery series by Catriona McPherson is scheduled for release in the UK on 2 May 2024 and in the US on 3 September 2024. I had the great good fortune to receive an advance copy of the story so I don’t have to wait until September.

The series began shortly after the end of World War I in 1922, with Dandy the epitome of a bored housewife, and has progressed chronologically through the social and economic upheaval of the interwar years. The Witching Hour (Hodder & Stoughton/Mobius) takes place in spring of 1939, with a second war imminent, to the great fear of Dandy whose two sons are now the right age to be called up.

Hugh Gilver’s 60th birthday was being observed with all the pomp it deserved. The family and close friends were gathered for an enormous feast and the family cook had done herself proud. Of especial interest to Dandy is the guest her younger son had invited. To all appearances Dandy was to acquire a second daughter-in-law. Dandy’s close friend Daisy Esslemont was there alone, her husband Silas had pleaded a previous unbreakable engagement, and Daisy was peeved about it. Silas has a long history of philandering and Daisy has tolerated much from her sadly deficient husband.

In the night the telephone unexpectedly rang. The police in a remote village are looking for Daisy. Silas has been found dead, and they think Daisy has killed him. Dandy is happy to advise them Daisy was sound asleep in Dandy’s guest bedroom. But on inquiry, Dandy learns both Daisy and Dandy’s automobile are gone. She and Alec Osborne, Dandy’s investigative partner, tear off to the village where Silas was found and hope that Daisy is not there.

The village turns out to be an odd little place with hints of otherworldliness and witchcraft. No one is especially helpful but Dandy is desperate to clear Daisy and Alec, who had his own reasons for disliking Silas, is up for the challenge.

I am once again reminded that this series is not cozy, despite blurbs that say otherwise. Inevitably there are serious underlying issues at play in each book, even if perhaps the overall premise is lighthearted and improbable. The UK is facing the advent of war once again, and this time Dandy knows she may lose her sons. The memory of the earlier war is all too clear and her entire generation is devastated at the thought of a repetition. Dandy also has the opportunity to review her very fortunate marriage compared to that of her friend Daisy. While Hugh is boring, he is also kind and would never humiliate her the way Silas mistreated Daisy. The contrast emphasizes how little freedom women had then to improve their circumstances. A bad marriage was something to be borne, not discarded.

The resolution was entirely reasonable, considering the life that Silas led, but I found the fact so many others suffered from his thoughtlessness deeply sad.

For fans of social history the bits about proper dinner table and drawing room behavior are fascinating. The conversation between Dandy and Hugh about their potential new daughter-in-law reveal the conventions about appropriate marriages in the landed gentry and just how much those conventions had changed.

A fine addition to a solid historical series. Recommended.



·         Publisher: Mobius (September 3, 2024)

·         Language: English

·         Hardcover: 320 pages

·         ISBN-10: 1399720392

·         ISBN-13: 978-1399720397



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Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2024

Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.

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