Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
*Contains mild spoilers*
Perthshire 1929 and the menfolk of the Gilver family have come down, between them, with influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy. Dandy the devoted wife and mother decides it is time to decamp; Dandy the intrepid detective, however, decides to decamp to the scene of a murder she would dearly love to solve.
The family repairs to the Borders town of Moffat, there to drink the sulfurous waters straight from the well and to submit to the galvanic wraps and cold salt rubs of the splendid Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel.
But all is not well at the Hydro. The Laidlaw family is at war, the guests are an uneasy mix of old faithfuls and giddy upstarts, and the secret of the lady who arrived but never left cannot be kept for long. And what of those drifting shapes in the Turkish bath?
Just steam shifting in the air? Probably. But the Hydro was built in the lee of a Gallow Hill, and in this town the dead can be as much trouble as the living. (author’s website)
Dandy Gilver is essentially a bored housewife. The spouse of a Scottish country gentleman, she and her neighbor/closest friend Alec have gained a favorable reputation as private detectives. Her entire household (excluding her) has been ill so, when she receives a letter from Mrs. Addie’s children asking them to examine the strange circumstances surrounding their mother’s death at the Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel, Dandy feels this is the perfect opportunity for her husband, sons, cook, and butler to partake of the “healing waters” at the hotel while she and Alec investigate. The family sets up in a house near the hotel, and Alec checks in under the guise of back pain, and the two begin their clandestine probe all the while trying to keep their true motivations from Hugh and the boys.
The Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel is a busy establishment, but it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. Some guests are there for their health, while others are there for the secret night life, and a few ghost hunters and mediums are thrown in for good measure. Mrs. Addie’s family was told she died while hiking from heart failure, but her children wonder if it was foul play. Dandy and Alec are suspicious of owners Thomas and Dorothea Laidlaw and the town doctor who signed the death certificate. Dandy spends a great deal of time talking to Regina, the spa assistant who laid out Mrs. Addie. She even solicits the help of her ladies maid Grant to infiltrate the group of mediums. Eventually, Hugh is clued in on the mystery, and his knowledge helps to solve the ghostly subplot. There is also a subplot involving Alec’s sudden decision that he needs to find a wife and produce an heir.
Honestly, A Deadly Measure of Brimstone has a wonky plot, but it works on most levels. The writing is strong and sharp witted with an authentic “voice” that provides a good sense of place and period for its post-WWI setting. McPherson capably captures the droll sense of humor of the aristocratic stiff upper lip and reserved relationships of the time while not overlooking the lingering effects of the Great War on society in general and her characters. The story does get a bit bogged down at times with all of the descriptions of steam rooms and detoxifying mud treatments, but the climactic fire provided sufficient thrills. It was nice to see that Hugh really did care about Dandy, and I particularly enjoyed Grant’s inclusion in the investigation. I suspect she is quite an eccentric personality and hope to see her appearance in future investigations. I confess that I am disappointed in the lack of resolution regarding Mrs. Addie’s death. Was it due to natural causes, negligence, accident, or foul play? I was also left a little bereft about the deaths of other characters. Their demises seemed unnecessary.
Overall, I enjoyed this installment and will continue to read the series. I recommend A Deadly Measure of Brimstone to those who follow the series and to readers who might enjoy an offbeat mystery set in the Roaring Twenties.