I’ve not had raving success with Daly’s Henry Gamadge series in the past, but I was tempted to give her another go when I came across this book in a charity shop. It is the second in her Gamadge series and it begins with a character portrait of Gamadge himself, which was interesting as I hadn’t really got a strong sense of what he was like based on my other reads by Daly. Although only in his thirties, his interest in old books and manuscripts, amongst other things, makes him seem like someone who looks back to/fits in with earlier times. Physically Daly describes him as having a ‘blunt featured, rather colourless, amiable face’ and that ‘he was apt when possible to efface himself in company’ and ‘he did not object to his own society.’ All seems reasonable enough, but the way Daly describes his character didn’t really gel with my own impressions of him. I do appreciate it is probably a rooky error to go around disagreeing with an author over their own creation, but I just don’t feel like I’ve ever come across this effacing aspect of his personality.
Anyways this book takes place in Maine, from which Gamadge gets a call from Detective Mitchell to come out and help him solve a case. Some rather young children have been given some deadly nightshade berries, which of course they have eaten. One survives, one dies and another has disappeared but is presumed dead. The locals are keen to make the nearby gypsies scape goats, but Mitchell thinks there is more to this case than meets the eye. He hopes that Gamadge can talk to the families involved to help unearth a reason for what has happened, as well as figure out how the children received the poisonous berries in the first place. Was it all an accident? Was it the action of an insane person? Or is it part of a coldly calculating plot?
So yes if you’ve already sneaked down to my final rating then you’ll know this is not one to rush out and buy immediately. The annoying thing is, is that it actually started with a really interesting and unusual premise, far darker than you usually see in vintage mystery fiction. Unfortunately what lets the book done is quite frankly the rest of the story. Gamadge does not have an effective approach to sleuthing in terms of the reader enjoyment it brings. From out of nowhere he manages to bring out or hear information which could provide additional angles to the case and to be honest these pieces of information feel more like info-dumps poorly shoved in so the case can ultimately be solved. From that we progress to the middle of the book which just meanders aimlessly along, which means about 75% in to the book the plot feels like it is fizzling out. This brings us to the ending where Gamadge brings a solution which comes out nowhere. This is not a mystery you can solve yourself, as rather than being shown things, everything is told to you, with lots of important information not being revealed or hinted at until the solution itself. On a very weak plus side though I did come across the delightful sounding word, ‘addlepate.’ Daly has an interesting way with language at times, describing someone’s hair as ‘oilily’ – not sure if that really counts as a proper word or whether the printers meant to type oily. Regardless I think after 4 tries I should probably give up on Daly, as she doesn’t seem to be the author for me, though I do know people who like her work.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Death by Poisoning