The Case of the Dotty Dowager by Cathy Ace

the case of the dotty dowagerOch aye, it’s no’ bad…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Henry Twyst, Duke of Chellingworth, is worried. His mother, the dowager duchess, has phoned him in the middle of the night to say there’s a dead body in the dining room of the Dower House, but when he gets there, no corpse is to be found. At first, he assumes his mother must have dreamt it or worse, that she is beginning to lose her marbles, but when a blood-stained hat is found on the floor he begins to wonder. Since the local police don’t seem to be taking the matter seriously, he calls in the women of the WISE Enquiries Agency; their brief – to discover if the body really existed and, if so, who was it?

This is quite a fun cosy that is obviously intended to be the first of a series. The acronym WISE stands for Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England – the birth places of the four women who run the agency. It’s not really explained how the four came together – there’s a brief mention of them all having been involved in solving an earlier case but that’s all – but there’s plenty of potential for them to develop into a nicely mixed team, so long as Ace can avoid going too far down the road of using rather clumsy national stereotypes. Oddly she only stereotypes the Scot and the Englishwoman (Cockney, of course) – the Irish and Welsh contingent seem to escape. (I believe she is of Welsh origin herself, though now living in Canada, and perhaps she genuinely believes that Scots start every sentence with ‘Och’ and eat haggis every time they get the chance, and that Cockneys call everyone ‘doll’ and go into a decline if they can’t hear the Bow Bells. I suppose when you start life in a country where everyone is called Dai the Post and eats leeks three times a day it’s hard to avoid national stereotyping… 😉 But I feel it was a real pity the Irishwoman never once got to say ‘begorrah’ or hit anyone with her shillelagh.) I am being facetiously unfair – the stereotyping is reasonably low-level and hopefully will disappear completely once the characters’ personalities are more fully developed in later books.

Cathy Ace
Cathy Ace

There are two linked crimes in the story – one is very original and quite fun and I won’t spoil it by giving any hints here. The other is the murder which, while it is eventually solved, is left unsatisfactorily explained – it feels as if it got lost along the way as the author got more interested in the other strand. The WISE women’s technique is basically to use their various people skills to get people to let things slip during chit-chat, though one of them is a computer expert who finds a lot of background information online. The chit-chat element is enjoyable and the women are well enough drawn so that we see each of their different personalities affecting how they approach their tasks. The online stuff is much less fun – lengthy typewritten reports full of information that it’s highly unlikely anyone could find online without hacking government websites, which would not be the WISE women’s style at all. I felt this was a way for the author to slip in information that she couldn’t quite see how to have her characters uncover in more credible, and interesting, ways.

Overall, then, there are some weaknesses in the plotting, but the characters are likeable and I suspect will become more so over time as the dynamics amongst them get the chance to develop more fully. And it fulfils well the main function of cosies – to be light and enjoyable to read. First books in series are often tricky since it takes time for characters to be introduced, and since this one has four main protagonists that problem is magnified in this case, but Ace pulled it off well enough that I will certainly be interested in seeing how the series develops. Och aye, I certainly will!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Severn House.

Book 13
Book 13

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71 thoughts on “The Case of the Dotty Dowager by Cathy Ace

  1. This rather appeals to me. From your (as always excellent) review I understand that it is a first in a series so the little hiccups can be over-looked. No doubt Ace’s style and characters will evolve as she progresses. I personally don’t mind a bit of national stereotyping – as long as it isn’t offensive – and when done with some irony it can be quite amusing. It’s a fine line, though, but I suspect she is just using it as a tool to stamp identities on her characters early doors. All in all, it sounds rather delightful!

    • Yes, it’s the first in a series, but I understand she has written another series previously though I haven’t read any of them. This one didn’t go over the top with the stereotyping but personally I find stereotyping pretty dull – a lazy way to create characters. I guess it’s because you rarely read about a non-stereotyped Scot unless written by a Scot – and not even then sometimes! A good read overall though – enjoyable!

  2. I love how you put that little rip in there! Stereotypes are fun to use, though. At least, I’m thinking so. Now, do they really say begorrah? *laughs a little*

    So, do you have a favorite from all the women? If you pick the Scottish one, I’ll know you cheated.

    Wow! Now, she’s got blue eyes!!

    • *laughs* I doubt if they say begorrah any more than Scots eat haggis – rarely if at all and only to please the tourists! I’ll just have to leave you and Lucy to agree about the joys of stereotyping – not for me, not in a book anyway. It can be fun in a joke sometimes so long as it’s not done offensively.

      Actually I did like the Scottish one best! But not because she was Scottish – because she was down-to-earth and sensible..

      She’s got a lovely happy face, hasn’t she? Cheers you up just to look at her!

      • What are some American stereotypes? I’m curious, the sudden. ‘Cause my extended family is Italian, I know lots of the Italian ones!

        There should be more sensible characters, I’m thinking, it’s a missing quality.

        She does! I usually don’t notice eye color. I think she’s spray painted them.

        • America’s so big – it depends which bit! Tobacco-chewin’, stetsons, John Wayne accents. But over here we always say that if you see a man in tartan trousers you can guarantee he’s an American tourist – of course, that’s not a stereotype… it’s true!!! *runs off* What ones do you think of for Italian? For me, it’s mafiosi and singing gondoliers…and giant families eating massive bowls of spaghetti. Oh… and flirting!! Italians are worse than Frenchmen for flirting!!

          It is! Completely missing in the Punchy Lands, that’s for sure…

          I think she’s looking at a giant picture of Darby coming out of the lake…

          • John Wayne accents! He had an accent?! He did not! Did I ever tell you, he’s like my favorite actor? I wish I had a JW accent, the sudden. Tobacco chewing! *laughs* But…isn’t tartan a Scottish thingy? Oh yes, all right with Italian. Lots of food jokes, I think. But…not the flirting! That’s a lie. The French are known for that? How interesting.

            *laughing* No, it isn’t: I’m there!

            And he’s naked.

            • *laughs* He did! I think you may have mentioned it once or a hundred times back when you were persuading me to watch the dead horse film! Yes, tartan is Scottish but mostly we only wear it on special occasions. But American tourists make for the tartan shops the minute they arrive here! Italians are dreadful flirts! I should remember that whne you’re flirting – you can’t help it – you’re genetically programmed! But I must say flirting while eating spaghetti takes real talent…

              Yes… well…

              *gasps* No he is not!! Not on my blog!! Even Rafa knows to keep his shirt on around here…!!

            • I”m actually, the sudden, John Wayne! Do they? Interesting. I wouldn’t wear it, probably. Just black shirt and white pants. Like…Statham! Now, now, I’m American not Italian! And I’ve never flirted either, which is a few wonders.

              Hmm…does he? I don’t believe it!

            • Oh, couldn’t you be Jimmy Cagney instead? I like him better! No, you’re far too old – it’s middle-aged Americans who go for tartan. Well, if you’re going to be Stathma, you need to be mean all the time – he looks better mean than smiling. Oh, you flirt even when you don’t know you’re doing it… soooo Italian!

              The only naked people on my blog were brought here by you, wicked one!!

            • But Cagney wasn’t as fast with a gun! John had such a draw… Yes, I must admit, I’d go for some sort of hat. I know which one it would be. But I can’t describe it to you. I’m not sure what it’s called. Unless, I wanted to pretend to be Scottish! Then I might have to get some sort of tartan thingy. Statham and I look similar already! *holds ears* I can’t hear you, the sudden.

              I didn’t bring any naked people here, excuse you!

            • But Cagney had wicked glittery eyes! And he used to be a boxer! But you must describe it! A leprechaun hat? A tartan bunnet? A beefeater’s helmet? Except you’re cuter…

              Hmm…what about your Dejah? And your Phaidor? (And my John?)

            • How can you tell? All his films are B&W! Umm…it’s…like a baseball cap, only it’s flat. Has a bit of something sticking out the front. Does that help? I’m uglier!

              They all had clothes on!

  3. I’m glad you saw plenty to like here, FictionFan. I admit I’ve not (yet) tried this series, but I do very much like Ace’s Cait Morgan series. I like her sense of wit, and she does put together a good traditional mystery. I’ll be interested in seeing where this series goes next.

    • I haven’t read her earlier series, but this one definitely has lots of potential. And one of the more original crimes I’ve come across in a long time… I think it’ll be a good series once the characters become settled in their roles…

  4. Now THIS one might be just the thing for a rainy weekend read, FF! I like the premise behind it, though having a four-woman agency feels like overkill. Wonder why the author didn’t let each nationality solve the puzzle in her own book, bringing in the others only as needed? Hmm, I must think on that one. Anyway, yes, I’ll look into this cosy — thanks!

    • Definitely a fun read, Debbie, and I expect the books will get even better as the series progresses. Four is a lot – it’s hard to get the balance right amongst them, but she pretty much does. It’ll be interesting to see how she develops them in future books and if one will end up becoming the ‘main’ character…

  5. I thought this might be fun when you first mentioned it – och aye, Ah did. I could do with a new cosy series: as we keep telling each other, most modern crime fiction is unappealing, ye ken, Hen?

    • Hoots, aye, hen! Jist the thing tae enjoy wi’ yer haggis and a wee dram! Absolutely – I’m turning to cosies and historical crime in self-defence… much more enjoyable! Och, aye!

  6. Well, I can see what the target audience for this series will be! I am confident it will go on as a PBS “Mystery” TV series, in the mode of “Hetty Wainthrop Investigates.” Now, I have absolutely no bias against a woman detective; I have always enoyed Miss Marple (Poirot more, though); and I really liked the first episode of “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman,” based on a P.D. James character named Cordelia Grey, and starring the always very watchable Helen Baxendale. And I loved the TV version of “The Cater Street Hangman,” starring Keeley Hawes; and my mother and I very much hoped that they would make more TV versions of those Anne Perry stories, but they did not. But this one, with the four women with the people skills, each one from a different British country, with their cute acronym; with people calling them in because of course they are absolute detection whizzes, seems contrived to me. But I will admit that it is a clever concept for a series, and will ensure a TV viewership. And if the author can actually come up with clever stories; well, then, the cutesiness could be bearable. Purely extrapolating, I am somewhat dubious that she can, however.

    • Ha! Yes it probably would make for a good cosy TV series actually! But nothing will ever equal ‘Murder She Wrote’ – I can waste entire days watching re-runs of that. (How I wish I was joking! 😉 ) I liked Hetty Wainthrop a lot and of course her sidekick went on to star in LotR!

      Haha! You’re very harsh! The secondary crime in this one was actually one of the most original I’v come across for a long time – good fun and actually very credible. The murder plot didn’t work quite so well purely because the motive was left unexplained. But overall this was a superior cosy, and the characters were strong enough not to be cloying, but not ridiculously over-the-top kickass either. See? You’ve actually made me like it better now… 😉

      • Always glad to help adjust your ratings, even in a reverse way. 🙂

        It’s a shame that the author didn’t provide a motive for the murder which triggered the entire story; one usually expects that in a mystery novel. 🙂 Well, I am glad that the female characters are not of the kick-ass variety, which is sometimes the case when an author is determined to show that women are better than men in every way. These four detectives are probably likeable, then, even if they chose a silly acronym. Well, maybe we won’t hold them responsible for that!

        And I am sort of intrigued to see what the highly original secondary plot is. I know that it is very hard to come up with original plots in a mystery story, so I will give Ms. Ace strong credit for that. I probably won’t read this one, but if she writes another, and you like it, I will give it a shot.

        You know, I never really watched “Murder, She Wrote”? I don’t know quite why. I like Angela Lansbury a good deal. Of course, I never watched “Ellery Queen,” either. Maybe hour mysteries don’t seem long enough. I do like “Perry Mason,” but that had a great cast, and even some noiriish plots.

        • Haha! You’re so cruel! You make me look kind to books – and that’s not an easy thing to do. But I have to take issue with one thing – women are better than men in every way! Except we rarely win in hotdog eating competitions, I’ll grant you that. 😉

          I’m going to try to tempt you next week with a better crime one, so I’ll let you off with this one. I can’t remember – do you read historical crime?

          I didn’t watch Murder She Wrote when it was new – thought it was silly old-fashioned rubbish! But a few years ago I got hooked on the re-runs on daytime TV – at first to mock them, until I discovered I actually loved them! I’m guessing it was me that had changed and not them. Cosy to the point of being the perfect companion to coffee, cake and a little afternoon nap – wonderful! Eventually I had to wean myself off them when I realised I’d seen each episode about 20 times… 😉

          • I will look forward to the recommendation! Historical crime, hmm. I probably would like such a genre, if the story were very atmospheric as to the time. I loved the unfortunately short-lived TV series “City of Vice,” which was about the novelist Henry Fielding and his brother developing the first police force in London. That just exuded atmosphere.. And I would probably like a mystery set in the Victorian Age.. I liked “The Name of the Rose” pretty well, too. But it takes a very fine writer to weave the mystery into an evocation of the era. I assume that is what you mean by historical crime; there was of course Josephine Tey’s “The Daughter of Time,” which I guess (I never read it, though it has been recommended to me at times) tried to solve a real historical crime, the murder of the two young royal children in the Tower of London during the time of Richard III. But I don’t imagine there are many of that genre.

            It is very charming that you love to watch “Murder, She Wrote” episodes so often. 🙂 It is very nice to be able to have something that one loves to return to, and see over again. Sometimes I find that with music; but very rarely with shows, though. I did buy and watch every hour episode of “Danger Man.”. And come to think of it, I have watched all of the Inspector Morse episodes, maybe twice or so each; so even though that is not 20 times, it is pretty close!

            I perhaps have a reading treat for you, though I think you have read almost everything in mysteries. But if you have not read this, “Hamlet, Revenge!,” by Michael Innes, is very good. At least I thought so when i read it years ago. I gave it to my mother, who absolutely loved mysteries, to read, and she really liked it, too. Quite clever and literary, and a very good mystery. I even bought it recently, but somehow wasn’t quite in the mood to read it all again, though I will. But I do think you would like it; it does stand out in its way.

            • Yes, I only like historical crime if the history element seems sound. I like them because for some reason the plots of them tend to be more traditional – no reliance on forensics of course, and depending on when it’s set, no police. The one in question is set in 17th century Scotland – review tomorrow probably (I’m so far behind with writing reviews at the moment, forward planning has become a bit like tossing a coin). I tried ‘Daughter of Time’ but didn’t get on with it very well. But I love CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series – very superior historical crime.

              I’m dreadful for having TV on in the background, especially when I’m on the computer, so I half-watch things quite often which is what makes repeats bearable. Generally these days I have the news channel on as background but if that gets too depressing one of the channels that shows all these old mystery series is a good alternative! Haha! I won’t even mention Diagnosis, Murder…

              I’m pretty sure I read some Michael Innes in my teens but I don’t remember which ones. I shall look out for that one… 🙂

    • I love the title! All her books seem to have great titles – there’s another one called The Corpse with the Golden Nose – I must read it sometime! This one is definitely worth a read and I suspect the next one will be even better since she won’t have to do all the character introduction…

  7. I’m SO shocked to hear Scottish people don’t eat haggis. In fact, now you have said YOU don’t, I don’t see how you could be Scottish at all? Isn’t it a Norman Tebbit (I think it was he) type test – put a haggis in front a group of people, and those who eat it are Scottish?

    Actually, I think it’s a clever ploy by Scottish people to weed out those who are merely PRETENDING to be Scottish – a method of revealing spies from other powers. It’s ONLY the non-Scots who eat it.

    I confess myself very fond of something you can buy in some health shops which calls itself vegetarian haggis. And, back in the mists of prehistoric time, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, before I became vegetarian, I DID eat (and enjoy) haggis when i worked for a while in Edinburgh and then in Glasgow – I spent maybe about 6-8 very happy months touring Scotland, discovering whisky, learning to wear thermal underwear and eating haggis. Hence proving I was English, of course. Happy days. Och aye the noo!

    • You are correct, ’twas he! I would actually quite like to have Mr Tebbit and a full-size haggis in the room with me – I’m sure I could think of a few innovative ways of combining the two! The thing is that, as I understand it, you’re not allowed to eat it until you’ve memorised all of Burns’ Address to the Haggis plus several verse from Tam O’Shanter – and that soon sorts out the men from the boys! I have had plates of haggis thrust in front of me from time to time, usually by solicitous family members who like to share all life’s little experiences – but I’m so generous I just tell them to keep it all for themselves! Yes, whisky is another essential of life for Scots apparently – my English boss in London used to give all the girls a bottle of wine at Christmas, except me. I got a bottle of whisky – shame I don’t really like it! Still it all got used up in the end at my leaving-do celebration, which turned into a whisky-soaked binge back at my place after the do… As you say, happy days! Hic! Och…

  8. Personally, I like the way Dickens introduces characters. We’ve usually “got them” in a sentence or two. I’d really like to hear your commentary based on alcohol consumption for these four. Just curious. 😀

  9. I’ve read several positive reviews of this one and had already put it on my list. I don’t read many cozies anymore, but I may make a change in that regard in upcoming reads. My reading, like much else in this world, tends to cycle around. It will probably soon be time for a ‘cozy cycle’.

    • I’m trying to move to cosies and historical at the moment, till domestic noir runs its course. I usually find I can only take so much cosiness though before I start longing for something a bit meatier. This one was good though – plenty of plot, which isn’t always the case with cosies…

  10. I’m glad it was enjoyable. I’m willing to try this one, since I’m in a cozy mystery mood. I’m hoping the stereotyping won’t make me cringe. But you didn’t think it was too bad, right?

    • No, not bad at all. In fact, if one of them hadn’t been Scottish I might not even have noticed it. I wondered in fact if the books were aimed more at the US market than the UK. I’d recommend this one, if you’re looking for a cosy – and I think there’s a good chance it’ll turn into a nice series in time… 🙂

      • We are such a mixed bunch that it’s quite hard – lots of Scottish people here, in my team at work of ten people there are three alongside three born in Jersey (aka Jersey beans, one Italian, one Portuguese and two from England – The only real generalisation is that we are 90,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock which isn’t terribly flattering 😉

    • Yes, I like the odd cosy to break all the heavier stuff up from time to time, and this one was fun – and has plenty of potential to develop into a good series, I think…

  11. I’m all for writers getting paid for what they do, but this book, by an unknown (to me) author costs £11.99 for the Kindle version.

    • Some of the prices are crazy at the moment – I don’t know what’s going on with them. With this one, I suspect the price will drop when the paperback comes out in December. Sometimes the Kindle price matches the hardback price – maybe at the publisher’s request?

  12. This was quite entertaining, although obviously targeted to an American/Canadian audience with a nostalgia for British culture and stereotypes… But I think her other series, featuring foodie, no-nonsense academic Cait Morgan travelling to diverse locations, is better written and more interesting (still a cosy though).

    • I must try that series then – I did like her writing, and the stereotypes weren’t so overdone as to bother me over much. But I think having four main characters might be a bit difficult to maintain over time – it’ll be interesting to see if she manages it.

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