Liza Goddard and Lionel Blair are back, and I hope you like your whimsy! Death at the Dance, the second in the Lady Eleanor Swift series, is here, and Verity Bright has (have? VB is a husband and wife team, blended together as finely as one of Mrs Trotman’s celebrated marinades) not stinted with the ingredients. In the first few pages we are knee-deep in 1920s expressions, with a ‘botheration’, a ‘teensy’, a ‘golly’ and a particularly preposterous ‘lummy’. Thing is, you have to be in the mood for this, and at the start, gentle reader, I fear I was not. Palace lost to Aston Villa today, after all. Did I really want to know whether Blair (Clifford) was trying to second-guess Goddard (Swift) into wearing a particular party frock? No I did not until Bright did something very clever indeed, wrapping the scene up brilliantly, and causing even the grumpiest curmudgeon (me) to be charmed by the whole thing. We were off to the dance, the first in a season of social excess that symbolises the roaring twenties.
Three-quarters into the book, we’re rolling along very nicely indeed. I hope it isn’t too much of a spoiler to note that Lord ‘Goggles’ Fenwick-Langham has been wrongly accused of this and that and Eleanor Swift and her loyal butler Clifford are trying to clear his name. That’s fine for me because it means that we don’t actually get too much Goggles. (I’m not a fan.) Instead we party it up with his mates: brilliant socialites who are practicing for their inevitable appearance in a Huxley novel later in the decade. There are some rather fine set pieces including one in which these spoiled, privileged thugs drive at speed, tossing mixed cocktails between their two cars. There isn’t a huge amount of mystery (even I manage to work it out) but we don’t really mind because we’re living vicariously through Swift.
Once again, the relationship between Swift and Clifford is where the heart of the novel lies. Eleanor herself leans on her legendary adventuring to give her a sixth sense in times of trouble (I have learned what to do if someone’s driving straight at me), but we know that if she slips up then Clifford will do something incredibly clever and get everyone home safe. But his air of constant professionalism is balanced by both playfulness and a certain nerdiness. We like most of the rest of the characters too: Polly the young and scatty maid is pitched just the right side of the charming/irritating divide; the village am dram society are themselves well cast with all the tensions of that kind of local enterprise well portrayed. It’s good to see the loathsome Thomas Cartwright cast as the baddie, though Lady Millie might be an even better match. It’s still quirky, though it’s disappointing that Eleanor’s faithful hound Gladstone plays less of a part than in A Very English Murder. The police are ambiguous: obviously they get in the way, obviously they are oblivious. DCI Seldon has a love/hate relationship with Eleanor which is fun to watch.
Death at the Dance moves the series along: it’s worth reading A Very English Murder first, but this works as a stand-alone novel. It’s a great addition to the cosy canon with bags of style, a pinch of humour and a teaspoon of paprika relish.
Thanks to Sarah Hardy for the invitation to be on the blog tour, and to Bookoutre for the review copy.