Dahlia Lively is the redoubtable heroine of a long series of books by crime author Lettuce Davenport. Over the years she has been portrayed on the big and small screen by two actresses Rosalind and Caro, both of whom were well loved. Our novel takes place at a Dahlia Lively convention, held at a stately home called Aldemere, the home of the Davenport family for generations. In fact, Lettuce wrote some of her novels in the study. Now it is home to her nephew Hugh Davenport, his wife Isobel and his stepdaughter Juliette. This is the first time the convention has taken place at Aldemere and VIP attendees have paid to stay in the house for the weekend. In an amazing coup for the convention, organiser Marcus has secured all the Dahlias including Hollywood actress Posy Starling who is about to start filming a 21st Century version of the books. Posy was a child star who became the enfant terrible of the tabloids as she grew up in the glare of publicity. With addiction and criminal convictions behind her, she wouldn’t be everyone’s choice for Dahlia – rather like casting Lindsey Lohan in a young Miss Marple series. Posy is hoping this movie will erase her previous bad girl status and industry insiders will start to take her seriously. With Aldemere House needing repair and money running out, Posy isn’t the only person depending on this film. The Davenport family are getting desperate and are selling heirlooms to stay afloat as Aldemere starts to look a little threadbare. Staying at Lettuce Davenport’s home is an immersive experience, so when murder becomes part of their eleven course dinner many people aren’t surprised, but this is no act and that means one of them is a murderer.
There are so many secrets flying around at Aldemere, you’d need a Dahlia Lively to keep track. Luckily we have three. I enjoyed all three characters and we see the action in three separate sections through their eyes. I felt for Posy who has really been thrown in at the deep end this weekend. Dahlia fans are obsessive and know every detail about their favourite literary character and her creator. Posy is coming into this completely blind and has only just starting reading the books. The film makers have given this adaptation a reboot, casting Posy against type and casting Kit, a young Black British actor, as her police sidekick Johnnie. Traditionalist are complaining, but Rosalind and Caro can see that perhaps each generation needs it’s own Dahlia. Besides, keeping the character in the limelight keeps the royalties coming in for them. I thought Posy really thrived as these two strong women believed in her and almost became Dahlia in front of their eyes as the women embark on some amateur sleuthing of their own. Each woman has also received a blackmail note, because each woman has their own secrets. Rosalind was older and wiser than the other two, really able to sit back and sift through the evidence in her mind until a solution presents itself. Rosalind also has the strongest links with the Davenport family, having dated Hugh before he married Isobel. I felt Rosalind’s sadness and loneliness, but also her confusion that he chose to marry someone else after what they felt for each other. It’s a question she’s never been able to ask, but now she might have to. She regrets staying quiet and wishes she’d been more like Caro who set fire to her ex-husband’s tie – while he was still wearing it. Caro is the firecracker and the driving force behind the Dahlia’s investigative efforts. She likes the centre of attention and relishes the role of interrogator so that she can take centre stage at the end and unmasks a murderer. I did feel like she was playing a role though, and aside from knowing she was married to Annie I didn’t feel we got fully under her skin.
The mystery itself is clever and labyrinthine, at times I started to lose my way with who was where and when. That possibly says more about my brain than the plot. There wasn’t just the murder to solve but lots of smaller mysteries like who the blackmailer was, who had stolen Lettuce’s jewelled loupe from the study and who was making the creepy little dolls left behind to signal the next victim. I loved the dolls, but other than that I never felt this was a creepy or violent murder mystery. It’s more of a cosy puzzle and potentially good Sunday evening viewing on TV. I loved the odd couple who had come to the convention for their 25th wedding anniversary and knew everything there was to know about Dahlia. There was something sweet, but slightly obsessive about them that was fun. I loved the quirky elements of the house too – such as Posy’s room, named the ‘China Room’ for it’s very famous blue and white patterned wall paper that featured in one of the books. We never find out exactly what the wall paper does, but that makes it more scary. I also thought the Murder Spiral was incredible, a garden planted with poisonous specimens featured in Lettuce’s writings and giving her the title ‘Princess of Poison’. It feels wrong to say a murder mystery is fun, but this one was. With nostalgia, vintage fashion, a quirky old house and three formidable heroines this was a clever and well-constructed read with an affectionate nod to the golden age of detective fiction.
Published by Constable on 21st July 2022
Meet the Author
Growing up in a family of murder mystery addicts, Katy learned early to look for means, motive and opportunity.
After studying English Literature – with a sideline in crime fiction – at Lancaster University, she set about teaching herself to write her own stories, while also experiencing enough of the world to have things to write about.
Two careers, a lot of airmiles, one husband, two children, three houses and forty five published books for children and adults later, lockdown finally gave her the means, motive and opportunity to create her own murder mystery – with the aid of her scientist husband’s worryingly thorough knowledge of poisons.
The Three Dahlias is the result.