Daisy Dalrymple visits the Natural History Museum for her latest magazine articles in Rattle His Bones, the eighth book in the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn. She spends significant time interviewing each of the scientists who works there and learning about the specialties of each man. In one early visit, the three of them meet Rudolph Maximilian, the Grand Duke of Transcarpathia, a former country that has been swallowed up by the newly communist Russia. The grand duke is pining over a very expensive ruby presented by his grandfather, the former head of his country, to Queen Victoria. Because the queen had shown disrespect for the gift by giving it to the museum instead of adding it to the royal collection, the grand duke thinks the ruby should be returned to him so that he can use it to raise an army to free his country from Russian rule. The scientists treat the grand duke as a pest and try to make him leave the museum, where Daisy soon learns that he is a frequent visitor.
Discovering that the scientists do not get along well, with conflicts over what items belong in whose section, Daisy is still surprised when Dr. Pettigrew, head of mineralogy, is killed with an ancient flint arrow and crashes into the skeleton of the pareiasaurus dinosaur. The destruction of this skeleton so enrages Dr. Mummery, head of the dinosaurs, that he threatens to kill the already dead Pettigrew! Because the local police do not have any detectives to spare, they call in the Met, so of course the assistant commissioner assigns Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher to the case to try to reign in Daisy.
Having a lot more research to gather at the museum, Daisy is there when a few days later the grand duke calls attention to a problem with “his” ruby, which leads to the discovery that most of the valuable gems in the mineralogy collection have been substituted for paste copies. This changes the course of the investigation, suggesting that the murder may have been committed by the jewel thief, which all the employees want to blame on the grand duke. But Alec makes a point that under the law all people are to be treated equally and seeks to discover the truth of the case, with Daisy of course putting in her own assistance.
Rattle His Bones, while at times getting a little technical on the scientific elements of the museum, is an enjoyable read and is the first of Dunn’s books that uses details requiring extraneous research and which add informative details to the story. Despite the prologue’s starting slowly, the book moves at a fun pace and does a great job of portraying the characters. I really liked the way that Alec’s visit to each scientist’s home to search for the stolen jewels reveals a totally different side to each one’s character that still fits in with and sometimes explains the persona that he shows at work. For example, the always angry Mummery who threatened Pettigrew after the man was already dead, has a very sick son at home who both was gassed and lost two or three of his limbs during the Great War, so Mummery is the picture of gentleness with his son at home. His behavior at work is likely a result of his not being able to express his frustrations at the state of his son and the paucity of reputable treatments for him.
The book shows plenty of Alec’s two team members, Detective Sergeant Tom Tring and Detective Constable Ernie Piper, both of whom are a lot of fun to spend time with. I see a strong influence here by Ngiao Marsh’s Detective Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn and his team member, Inspector Fox. While Alec Fletcher does not come from the aristocracy as Alleyn does, he does have a university education and has the bearing of a higher class police officer. In fact, in the first book he is called in to the murder because of his reputation for dealing well with the gentry. And Tom Tring reminds me of Inspector Fox in both his physical description as a rotund but graceful man and his relationship with his superior, in this case Alec Fletcher.
As in previous novels, this one addresses the topic of class, such as the way one scientist had to find a profession that was respectable enough for his upper crust family to accept. But it is race that once again plays out strongly, in the way almost all the people first treat Grand Duke Rudolph Maximilian as a pest and then become so eager to place the blame for the murder and jewel theft on him, despite the logical reasons why he is unlikely to be either.
This is the first in the series that is narrated by Lucy Rayner, and while she does an admirable job overall, her voicing of Daisy does get a little irritating as she gives Daisy a rather high pitched voice that gradually becomes annoying. Otherwise, she does a good job.
I am happy to give this delightful book five stars and heartily recommend it to readers. Even if the topic of natural history is as dull to you as it is to me, you should find plenty to love in this fun addition to the Daisy Dalrymple series.
Rattle His Bones (Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, No. 8) is available now. To order from Amazon, click the link in the title. You may also find it in your local bookstore or library.