Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Three Dahlias - Katy Watson

It's been a full-on post covid week - back to work (exhausting, but not without its upsides) and an even more full-on week in politics which I've been glued to, but now the main excitement seems to be over it's maybe time to think about a nice calming book.

In this case, Katy Watson's The Three Dahlias which I managed to read whilst I had Covid and couldn't concentrate on much else. I thought it might be fun, and it really is, a book that for me delivered more than it promised. 

I don't much like contemporary cosy murder mysteries that set themselves in the Golden Age, with so far the single exception of Martin Edwards books I find they try too hard, and there are so many great actual golden age murder mysteries I don't want to mess around with imitations. What Katy Watson does is really cleverly take all the conventions, tropes, and cliches and bring them nicely up to date with all the affection for the originals I could ever want. 

The three Dahlias of the title refer to 3 actresses who have all played the fictional, fictional, character of Dahlia Lively - creation of Lettice Davenport, the one-time Princess of Poison, aristocratic writer, and mystery woman. There are references to Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, Daphne du Maurier (if you take Aldermere to be a sort of Menabilly), and I suspect if I hadn't been full of Covid I'd have recognised more. The Dahlias are Rosalind King, a national treasure who played the lady detective in 3 films in the 1980s, Caro Hooper a 40 something actress who had a 12 year run at her in the early 2000s but isn't known for anything else, and Posy Startling a washed-up child star with a bunch of scandals behind her trying for a comeback in a new film version.

There was a nice symmetry reading about fan reactions to the fictional script whilst the fuss about the new Netflix Persuasion was in full throttle. All 3 actresses find themselves at Aldermere, the country house where Lettice lived, and set her mysteries for a convention, initially they're not impressed with each other, but then someone goes missing and bodies start piling up. The first death might be an accident but it bears a startling resemblance to a Lettice Davenport plot, and the ladies are suspicious.

As the book progresses so does their friendship. They discover they were all being blackmailed, show their professional mettle in various non-murder-related ways, and settle down to use their combined knowledge of the people involved, observational skills, and Dahlia Lively channeling to solve the crime. The police are not impressed - which is one of the clever touches; Watson lets us in on the joke. 

The ending sets up a possible second adventure which I very much hope will come to pass. I'd also love to see this televised. The idea of 3 women of varied ages having fun with this plot on screen is a really delicious prospect. For lovers of classic crime, this is an affectionate homage with a nice twist that makes for an excellent light read. It's rich enough in detail to make me think I'd happily read it again to pick up more references. Altogether I really enjoyed it. 

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