Title: A Dark and Stormy Night by Jeanne M. Dams
Reviewed By: P.J. Coldren
Publisher: Severn House
Date: April 2011
Did you grow up reading Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Dorothy Sayers? Did you love them, and wish there were more writers like that? If you haven‘t read Jeanne M. Dams, in particular her Dorothy Martin series, you have a treat in store for you. Her latest entry in the series, number 10, takes the traditions of Golden Age mystery and brings them up-to-date. Dorothy Martin and her husband Alan Nesbitt are looking forward to seeing the Guy Fawkes’ fireworks from a converted thirteenth-century abbey. Dorothy is an American who has made her retirement dream come true: she lives in England.
As one might expect, things do not go as planned. Two of the houseguests are boorish, rude, and very inclined to drink. Unfortunately they are related to the woman of the house, so can’t be sent away. One of the guests is the former owner of the Abbey. One is an American photographer, sent to do a coffee table book about Branston Abbey. The rest of the guests are colorful, and the help are wonderfully reliable, having been connected to the Abbey for generations. This could be an interesting mix for a weekend, but not for much longer. Of course, the weekend is extended.
Most of England is hit by “the storm of the century” or at least the last decade or so. Hurricane-force winds. Rain in buckets, buckets that just keep coming. When all is said and done, the Abbey is totally isolated from the nearest village or anyone that could help. Even the cell phone towers have been downed. This might make for a physically uncomfortable weekend: no lights, no power, and all the normal entertainments no longer an option. The thing that takes this out of the realm of a someday amusing story is the body found tangled in the roots of an ancient toppled oak tree.
The obvious questions are simple: how long has the body been there, and who is it? There are some reasonable suppositions, although not everyone agrees with the obvious answers. Alan, in his capacity as a former Chief Constable, has the authority to ask questions and attempt to preserve evidence (unofficial authority, given by the current owner). Then matters escalate, some of the guests disappear, and contemporary bodies are found. This takes the “interesting puzzle” aspects of the situation to a totally different level. Much as Dorothy enjoys a puzzle, this isn’t fun anymore.
There are several sub-plots, one of the signs of a decent mystery writer. Dams connects them all to the over-riding mystery, which takes things up a notch. Her characters are believable, the setting is amazing. Dorothy’s reflections on the difference between an American’s sense of history and a Brit’s are something to think about. Although it is not necessary to start at the beginning of the series to enjoy DARK AND STORMY (another sign of a capable writer), there is pleasure to be had in watching Dorothy and her cohorts grow and change over the course of ten books. The first in the series is THE BODY IN THE TRANSEPT. Enjoy!
Review copy provided by the author.