Damsel in Distress, the fifth book in the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn, focuses on the travails of Daisy’s childhood friend, Philip Petrie, and his new love, the American “poppet” Gloria Arbuckle. Motoring to see Gloria, daughter of a millionaire who made his money in investing in automobiles and who is now exploring his opportunities to invest in cars in England, Philip comes upon his girl and her father on the side of the road in a broken down vehicle. Stopping to help them, since Philip’s one real gift is working on motors of any kind, Philip looks up to see a man step out of a delivery van and chloroform Gloria and her father while hitting Philip on the head.
Waking up in the attic of a remote cottage tied up next to Gloria, Philip overhears the kidnappers, clearly Cockneys, discuss their orders from their boss, “the Yank,” who has ordered them to “wipe him out.” Without anything else to lose, Philip tries to rush the kidnappers when they come up to the attic, only to be chloroformed after knocking over two of the four men. But instead of being killed, Philip wakes up the next morning in the woods to see Lord Dalrymple, Daisy’s cousin who had inherited her father’s title of viscount, standing over him and releasing him from the ropes that tied him. Soon getting in touch with Mr. Arbuckle, Philip learns that the kidnappers have left a note demanding money and threatening to kill Gloria if he informs the police of her kidnapping, putting an end to Philip’s idea of consulting Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher, Daisy’s friend.
Philip, not known for his ability to think, considers what his favorite character, Bulldog Drummond, would do in a similar situation, and he gets the brilliant idea of consulting his friends, and who better to consult than Daisy? Drawn to her childhood home of Fairacres with a telegram that begins “Urgent Emergency” and ends with “Please,” Daisy conceives of the idea of getting four of their friends to come in the guise of a country party and go out in the community to ask about strangers who may have been seen in the area and seek out abandoned cottages.
Damsel in Distress is one of my least favorite of the Daisy Dalrymple books, as it is more an adventure than a mystery. However, I do find some intriguing elements in it. For one thing, as a fan of cozy mysteries, I have read hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books in the genre, and I cannot think of another, besides some of the Sherlock Holmes stories, that does not include a murder in it, making this unique.
I especially enjoyed the character of Edgar, Daisy’s cousin who has inherited the position of Lord Dalrymple. This former headmaster of a boys’ school is obsessed with butterflies and moths, rambling on and on about his discoveries in oblivion to the world around him and often starling people with his excited bursts of “I just saw a pink elephant!” Or “There is a black chimney sweeper!”
The book also has a fun scene where Daisy introduces Alec Fletcher to her mother. She has scared her mother with hints that her young man may be extremely unsuitable, so when her mother, on tenterhooks, finally meets Alec, the ensuing scene is delightful to see the way Alec plays up to the Dowager Lady Dalrymple.
As I’ve pointed out in previous reviews, this series deals with issues of class and race, the latter particularly dealing with xenophobia and foreigners. Damsel in Distress deals less openly with racism, but if one looks at the treatment of the American foreigners vs. that of the other foreigners from Wales (The Winter Garden Mystery), Russia and Spain (Requiem for a Mezzo), and India (Death on the Flying Scotsman), it is interesting to see the way Americans are given no better treatment than the others, sometimes called savages and treated worse than the English.
Mia Chiaromonte does the narrating of this book and once again does an excellent job. I like her narration better than the other two women who narrate the series, though all three narrators are good. One strength is her portrayal of the American accents. British readers often have difficulty with American accents, sounding awkward and forced, with the accents usually coming across as an attempt at a Southern accent but not fully successful. As many characters who are given this accent clearly are described as being from somewhere far from the South, they become unconvincing. In this book, the Arbuckles hail from Detroit (or maybe Chicago?). Being from Los Angeles, I don’t know the Detroit accent personally, but when either Gloria or her father speaks, it comes across as convincing as an American at least.
Because the book veers from being a mystery into being an adventure, I don’t give this as high a rating as the other books, though it is still a fun read, especially if you have already read the other books in the series. So I give it 3 stars.
Damsel in Distress (Daisy Dalrymple) is available now. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title–or try your local bookstore or library.