by Carola Dunn
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Sheer Folly is #18 in the "Daisy Dalrymple" mystery series. Set in the 1920s, it features a young woman of aristocratic background who, in tune with the times, is pushing boundaries by exploring a career as a writer and making friends with people of other classes. In fact, she's defied tradition by marrying a policeman. Fortunately, Alec is a Chief Inspector at Scotland Yard, not a lowly beat cop.
In Sheer Folly, Daisy and her less democratically minded friend Lucy, Lady Gerald, plan to complete their research for a book about follies with a trip to the country estate of Appsworth Hall. Alec's not sure he wants to let Daisy go. "Darling," Daisy says, "you've gone all medieval again. Victorian, at least. This is 1926! You don't let me do things, remember?" Appsworth has a humdinger of a folly: a multi-roomed grotto embellished with a waterfall, sculptures of pagan deities, and subtly placed gas lighting. Its current owner (to Lady Gerald's horror) made his fortune manufacturing plumbing products.
The story is an old-fashioned whodunnit in classic style: Daisy and Lucy are among a multitude of guests, some eccentric, some insufferably rude, some delightfully likeable, who gather for a house party. One of the guests (quite a few chapters into the novel) expires in dramatic and suspicious circumstances shortly before Daisy's husband, expecting a relaxing holiday weekend, joins her. Just about all the guests have something to hide. Daisy tries Alec's patience with circuitously feminine musings, impulsive brainstorms and persistent uninvited assistance. Naturally, it's Daisy who supplies the insight that solves the case.
Part Agatha Christie, part Nick-and-Nora, Sheer Folly is full of broadly sketched characters and witty repartee. Dunn doesn't have quite Christie's genius at making each of her many characters individually memorable – a dramatis personae list would have been helpful – but those that do stand out are great fun. (2009, 296 pages)
More about Sheer Folly at Powell's Books or Amazon.com
Interview with author Carola Dunn
Other light-hearted mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties:
Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn (1994), #1 in the Daisy Dalrymple series. More info (See the Europe Between the Wars page for a list of the complete series in order)
A Fete Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith (2007), #1 in the Jack Haldean series. More info
After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson (2006), #1 in the Dandy Gilver series. More info
Nonfiction about the Twenties:
Bright Young People: The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age, 1918-1940 by D.J. Taylor (2007, first U.S. edition 2009). More info
The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s by Liz Conor. More info
Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s by Frederick Lewis Allen (1931), about American life in the 1920s. Available free online
At the Movies:
The Thin Man, the 1934 movie classic starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as the wise-cracking, sleuthing couple Nick and Nora Charles.
The Folly article at Wikipeda
Grottoes that inspired Carola Dunn at the Folly Towers website: the Stourhead Grotto and the Stowe Gardens Grotto
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