Cathy Ace has made a name for herself with her cosy mysteries set in foodie-heaven locations like the South of France, Canadian vineyards, Las Vegas and Mexico. The books in her The Corpse… series have all starred intrepid academic Cait Morgan and we’ve reviewed a few of them in the past. The Case of the Dotty Dowager begins a brand new series. Ace sticks to the cosy formula but moves back to her native Wales for this novel, introducing us to the four ladies at the WISE enquiries agency.
This is the perfect book for those who would like Britain to remain a United Kingdom for some time to come. WISE stands for Wales (represented by pregnant Carol, a computer whizz), Ireland (aristocratic Christine with her society connections), Scotland (former nurse Mavis, the wise old owl of the group) and England (by way of the Caribbean and the East End in the down-to-earth Annie). This small and very diverse group, united by little else than their friendship and desire to make the detective agency a viable business, are called upon to make some discreet enquiries at the Welsh country estate of Henry Twyst, 18th Duke of Chellingworth. His mother, the Dowager Duchess, claims to have seen a dead body in her house, but when he arrives the alarm is still set and there is no corpse to be found anywhere. Henry fears his mother may be losing her marbles, but a bloodied bobble hat found at the supposed crime scene does set him wondering if any of this could be true.
The four WISE agents go undercover and use their complementary skills to reveal a tangled web of deceit, fraud and murderous intent. Who is the mysterious self-made millionaire Alexander Bright and why is he so interested in the Duke’s collection of antique dentures? What nefarious deals are the village antique shop owner and pub landlord up to? And are any of these desperate enough to commit murder and hide the body on the country estate? This is a mystery on the cosy side of the spectrum, so, although there is suspense, there are no scenes of overt violence. Everything is leavened with humour, sharp character observations and fun interaction especially between the four friends and the Dowager Duchess, who proves to be far from dotty.
An utterly charming country house mystery with modern touches, it’s perfect reading for Anglophiles. The background information on the village and its inhabitants, as well as the servants, may seem a little excessive, although if you like to solve puzzles you’ll appreciate the book’s cards-on-the-table approach. This novel should appeal to fans of Alexander McCall Smith and MC Beaton.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars