Sunday, 4 March 2012

Anthem for Doomed Youth

by Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, the Cornish Mysteries, and over 30 Regencies. 

Anthem for Doomed Youth, the 20th Daisy Dalrymple Mystery, came out in 2011, but it's just been issued in paperback. This is the poem quoted at the beginning of the book, which lent me the title and inspired the story.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs--
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers, the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk, a drawing-down of blinds.
                Wilfred Owen
(killed in action just a week before the Armistice)
The UK edition
 On the whole my Daisy mysteries, set in the 1920s, are light-hearted little murder stories, but obviously this one has a serious theme. However Daisy's cheerful nature peeks through. In fact, the book divides into two interwoven threads, following Daisy and Alec through separate investigations which may--or may not--be connected. I'll give you a taste of each.

Here are Daisy and her friend Sakari:

DI Gant was not lying in wait, but as they reached the pudding course, a message was brought to them: He had arrived and wanted to see Daisy.

Daisy was speechless. She had thought herself safe for the day, though she should have considered the irregular hours worked by detectives. Somehow she hadn't expected Gant to stay on the job late. After all, he had abandoned the triple burial site before Alec even arrived there.

Sakari spoke for her. "Tell the inspector that Mrs Fletcher will receive him when she has finished her dinner."

"I've lost my appetite," said Daisy, pushing away her enormous slice of sponge cake layered with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

"Nonsense, Daisy. It will do him good to wait. If you let him spoil your meal, you give him a victory."

"We can't have that." Daisy took another look at the cake and decided it was still irresistible—worth lingering over, in fact. She savoured every bite.

After a twenty-minute wait, Detective Inspector Gant was even more irritable than earlier in the day. When Daisy and Sakari joined him and his silent acolyte in the writing room, he said rudely, "I don't need Mrs Prasad."

"But I do," said Daisy. "I'd be extremely uncomfortable shut up alone in here with two men who are virtual strangers."

"But we're police officers, madam!"

"So is my husband. Perhaps I should send for him to come and—"

"That won't be necessary," Gant conceded with a martyred air. "Mrs Prasad may stay."

As Sakari had already sat down and looked singularly immoveable, he had little choice, short of arresting her for obstruction. It was a near thing, though, when a waiter brought in the ladies' coffee, and Sakari decided she wanted a liqueur with it. Daisy was sure she was just being awkward, and she guessed Gant realised it too. His face turned an interesting shade of mauve.

"Daisy, will you have something? A Drambuie? I know it's your favourite."

"Lovely, thank you." Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. She could do with a bracer.

So Gant had to wait for the waiter to go off and return before he could start the interview. He paced round and round the writing table till Sakari said, "Do take a seat, Inspector. You are making me quite dizzy. If you insist on disturbing us at this hour, you must take us as you find us."

"It's only nine o'clock! And may I point out, I'd no intention of disturbing you." He sat down. "You're at liberty to leave!"

"Do you imagine I could rest easy," Sakari said soulfully, "while you interrogate my dearest friend?"

Daisy frowned at her irrepressible friend. Sakari sighed and fell silent. The waiter came in with the liqueurs and poured out their coffee.

"Anything else, madam?"

Sakari opened her mouth. Daisy and Gant waited on tenterhooks, but all she said was, "No, thank you. That will be all. For now."

Gant pursed his lips but managed to contain himself in the face of the final provocation. "Mrs Fletcher, all I want is for you to go over again exactly what you saw and did when you found the body."

"If you're hoping I'll remember some clue I didn't mention before, I'm afraid you'll be disappointed. But here goes."

US edition

And here is her husband DCI Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard:

The butler announced him. A tall, lean man who had been standing staring out of a window, came forward to greet him, walking with the aid of a stick. He moved stiffly, but his shoulders were unbowed by age, his steel-grey hair still thick. Observing his lined face and liver-spotted hands, knowing the age of his son, Alec reckoned he must be in his seventies.

"Chief Inspector, Cheriton did not inform me of the purport of your visit, but I can only assume you bring bad news."

"I'm afraid so, sir. Won't you sit down?"

Sir Daniel raised his chin with an impertinence-depressing stare, then thought better of it. With a sigh and a faint, ironic smile, he said, "We none of us want to admit the influence of anno Domini, do we? Perhaps I will."

He moved to the table and took the seat at the end, motioning to Alec to join him. Alec was pulling out a chair when the door was flung open and a plump, fair girl-child burst in.

"Grandfather, they said there's a policeman—" She stopped dead on seeing Alec. "Oh!"

"You were not invited, Delia." The baronet's voice was icy. "I will not have you rushing about in this hoydenish manner."

"It's my daddy who's missing!" she cried. "You don't care."

"Of course I care."

"Then why didn't you—"

"Don't argue. Go back to your mother at once. You will be told what you need to know in due course."

He was unduly harsh, Alec thought, but it was none of his business and, in any case, nothing would make him relate the grim story in her presence. In fact, he was glad the girl's mother and grandmother were also apparently to be excluded.

Delia glared at her grandfather, then her face crumpled and she ran from the room, sobbing noisily.

"My apologies, Chief Inspector. I don't know what they teach at that school she goes to, but it's clearly not self-restraint."

The simple fact of his speaking thus to a stranger, and a mere policeman at that, showed him not half so cool and calm as he would have liked to appear. His face had taken on a greyish tinge Alec didn't like. He looked every minute of his age.

However, he continued abruptly, "Please go ahead. I assume your presence indicates that my son is dead."

Alec sat down. "Pending positive identification by a member of the family, sir, so we believe. All the evidence points that way. Have you a photograph?"

Sir Daniel was prepared. He handed over a studio portrait in a silver frame of an Army officer, a major—in his late thirties, at a guess—in dress uniform. "It's not very recent. We don't go in for family photography. Well?"

Army officers in uniform tend to look very alike, yet there was no doubt in Alec's mind. "I'm sorry, this strongly resembles the deceased. We're still required to have someone make a personal identification, I'm afraid."

He inclined his head in acceptance. "Regulations must be observed. I take it Scotland Yard would not be interested had Vincent died a natural death."


"May I know...what happened?"

After a brief internal debate, Alec said, "The information could materially affect our investigation, sir, but if you will give me your word—"

"You need not fear that I shall talk to the press," the baronet said with a touch of anger.

"I'm sure of that, sir, but I must have your assurance that you won't tell any of the family, even. No one at all."

"You have my word."

"Mr Halliday was shot through the heart. Death must have been instantaneous."

There was silence while Sir Daniel absorbed this. Then he said, "May I at least tell the family that he didn't suffer?"

"If you wish." Alec didn't add that Spilsbury said Halliday had been bound hand and foot for several hours before death. He had undoubtedly suffered physical discomfort and considerable mental distress.

1 comment:

Maggi Andersen said...

This looks intriguing, Carola. Those First World War poems are so tragic. Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke are favorites of mine.