Guest Catriona McPherson

Edith here, with another delightful guest to present. The ever lovely and brilliant – and entertaining – Catriona McPherson has a new Dandy Gilver mystery out that’s burning a hole in the top of my TBR pile. But let’s let her tell you all about it, and a few other books, too.

What a Way to Make a Livin’

THE MIRROR DANCE, Dandy Gilver Book 15, is a work-place mystery more than anything I’ve ever written before. It takes place in 1938 and is largely set in the offices of Doig’s & Co., a fictional magazine publisher, the home of The Rosy Cheek for women, and its sister paper, The Freckle for girls.

Man, I had a blast writing it. The circulation desk, the home hints department, fashion, cooking and baking, the print room, the receptionist and telephonist . . . If there’s more fun to be had than writing a scene where five people have a solemn discussion about what to do with a leftover pipe-cleaner Baby Jesus, once the Christmas issue is put to bed . . . I’ve never had it.

And it got me thinking about how few and far between work-place mysteries are. IF – and it’s a big if; that’s why it’s in caps – you disregard police stations, forensics units, investigations firms, and the alphabet agencies of CIA, FBI, NSA, MI5 & 6 and GCHQ.

 I decided to compile a top five, in case anyone else out there loves a workplace setting as much as I do and finds them as hard to come by. Note: I am not including the small businesses beloved of my fellow cozy authors and my fellow cozy fans. If I started a list of the shop, café, library, guesthouse, and service industry cozies I love one of two things would happen: either we’d all die of old age before I was finished; or I would finish and the list would break the internet.

This is a different list. This is a list where characters might wonder who it is that never fills the paper drawer in the photocopier and why the coffee fund keeps running out. I hope there’s something here you haven’t read yet. I really hope you’ll be able to suggest more in the comments.

In no particular order except for number one then:

5. Deep Water, by Christine Poulson.

Katie Flanagan is a researcher in a private biotech lab, where the race to cure a genetic disorder is knocked off course by murder and mayhem. There’s a simultaneous thread about the family of a child waiting for the cure, but it’s the lab and the people who work there that I adored about this book. I’m married to a scientist and, as a result, hang out with a lot of them, so I’ve heard a fair bit of grumbling over the years on the topic of mad scientists, supervillains, nutty professors and all the other ways fiction gets quotidian science wrong. Christine Poulson gets it right.

4. Feared, by Lisa Scottoline

I swithered about this one. Maybe law offices should be ruled out like cop shops and path labs, but this is different. The Rosato and DiNunzio novels are about the work of Bennie Rosato’s law firm in a really granular and realistic way. The office, partners, associates and staff have adventures, yes, but they do what looks like real jobs too. Here, in Feared, Bennie is being sued for sex discrimination by three disgruntled men who didn’t get hired, and the only man who does work there is on the side of the guys. Timely and gripping. She’s got a great future in the genre, this Lisa Scottoline. Wink.

3. A Glimmer of Death, by Valerie Wilson Wesley

Dessa Jones wants to be running her struggling catering business full-time, but to keep the lights on she’s working at a real estate agency. And what a real estate agency! Risko Realty is exactly as dodgy as it sounds (it made me think of the airline called Wheee! Who’d fly with them?), the owner is one of those characters you love to hate, and pretty much everyone there is someone you remember working with once and hope you never do again. I loved it! There’s a murder and peril and paranormal elements but it’s the real-life grind of Dessa surviving a toxic office culture because she doesn’t have a choice that gives the book the edge on relatable jeopardy.

2. Corporate Bodies, by Simon Brett

I love Charles Paris, Simon’s often out of work and seldom completely sober actor hero, and would follow him to any television studio, regional theatre or film location he ever gets a day’s work. This is one of my favourites, though. Here Charles is playing a fork-lift-truck driver in a promotional video for the Delmoleen Corporation (sounds as sketchy as Risko!) as they launch a new sustainable snack product of dubious origin, known only as Delmoleen Green. The skewering of business-speak is merciless and the War of Biscuits and Beverages make me laugh every time I look at it. I think Simon should let Charles have a late flowering, like Judi Dench did, but I must admit I relish his struggles in the meantime.

1.Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L Sayers

Of course. (DLS’s academic mystery Gaudy Night, tops that chart for me too. And her Nine Tailors is number one in my list of campanology murders. Out of a total of one, mind you.) I must have read MMA half a dozen times. It’s so rich with detail that there’s more to find every time. DLS herself worked in an advertising agency like Pym’s in the book and I don’t think there can be a single nugget of office life, politics, or gossip leftover. It’s all here. But it’s so well done that it’s never too much – unlike the bell-ringing in The Nine Tailors, I have to say. Peter Wimsey undercover as an ad man coming up with a winning slogan to sell soap and cigarettes is a delight. The flip-side plot of degenerate socialites and their drug habits is a bit dated but when you get to the solution of the puzzle it’s easy to forgive all.

Readers: And now – I know this because it’s not my first listicle – what have I missed? What famous and fabulous office-set crime novel sitting on the shelf in my room right now have I forgotten? Comment and let me know!

National-bestselling and multi-award-winning author, Catriona McPherson (she/her), was born in Scotland and lived there until immigrating to the US in 2010. 

She writes historical detective stories set in the old country in the 1930s, featuring gently-born lady sleuth, Dandy Gilver. Book 15,  THE MIRROR DANCE, is coming in November. After eight years in the new country, she kicked off the comic Last Ditch Motel series, which takes a wry but affectionate look at California life from the POV of a displaced Scot (where do we get our ideas, eh?). Book 4, SCOT MIST, is coming in January. She also writes a strand of contemporary psychological thrillers. The latest of these is A GINGERBREAD HOUSE, which Kirkus called “a disturbing tale of madness and fortitude”. Catriona is a member of MWA, CWA, Society of Authors, and a proud lifetime member and former national president of Sisters in Crime.

31 Thoughts

  1. Well there’s this Edith somebody or other who writes under the pen name of Maddie Day who has a whole series of mysteries set in a cafe she owns. I think that might fit the bill.

    I’m one of those who cheated and bought the version published in the UK (because I couldn’t bear to wait for my next Dandy Glover fix), and those of you who are just about to read it have a real treat in store.

    I found the mirror dance itself (the dance not the book) so enthralling a concept, that I was already planning a trip to London during Panto season to see it, but was crushed to learn that it was something out of Catriona’s brilliant mind and the mirror dance only exists on the pages of The Mirror Dance. (I hope that doesn’t qualify as a spoiler.)

    I’m so glad you included Murder Must Advertise among the books you listed. I, too, am guilty of having read it multiple times and am wont to quote Peter Whimsey explaining the difference between the words “from” and “with” in the world of advertising. There aren’t a huge number of mysteries that can be read multiple times. With most of them, once you know whodunnit, most of the fun is gone. But with every one of the Sayers books, it seems to me that the fifth reading is as pleasurable as the first.

    1. Hi Lee! See, I had to set aside small-business owners or my list would be just the Wickeds themselves. And sorry about the mirror dance. You remind me of the time a reader went plunging around in brambles and nettles trying to find a castle I had moved 100 miles. She was very annoyed.

    1. Isn’t it? That’s what I thought too. Maybe it’s hard to make office life page-turning, but we can always miss stuff out, play it for laughs, or add feuds.

  2. Catriona! You had me at “leftover pipe-cleaner Baby Jesus.” I’m not sure if it qualifies, but I love the earth-friendly insect control environment in Bill Fitzhugh’s The Exterminators.

    Yes, to Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise being on your list.

    I can think of several books (thrillers) set in lawyer offices.

    The one book that I am looking forward to reading is ALL HER LITTLE SECRETS by Wanda Morris.
    The murder takes place in the executive offices of an Atlanta law firm and there is supposed to be plenty of corporate espionage and intrigue to untangle. I had pre-ordered the book, but just got an email yesterday that the shipping/release date has been pushed back to November 16.

    THE FIRM by John Grisham comes to mind as another thriller set in a lawyer’s office.

    1. Another great tip. (I am still in a state of disbelief about my pub date going ahead as slated, but I haven’t heard otherwise yet.)

      1. Yes, these pub date changes of a week or so are pretty common lately.
        And it must be especially agonizing for a debut author (such as Wanda) to have any delay in the pub date of their first book!

    1. I felt on safe ground that this would be a real problem, after a priest friend told me about the Holy Hoover they use to vacuum up host crumbs after mass.

  4. Welcome back, Catriona! This is so entertaining — as always. I’m racking my brain but can’t think of a mystery offhand. I did love Dear Mrs. Bird which isn’t a mystery.

    1. Ahhhh! I adored Dear Mrs Bird. I might have stretched a point and included it here. There’s a sequel now . . .

    1. Oh my God. See this is exactly what I knew would happen. Its five feet form me right now. It’s in the background of my every Zoom call.

  5. Great list, Catriona! And a couple new ones to me, so that was a win, too.

    The Mirror Dance is your best Dandy yet! I’m still chewing on parts of it after finishing it a few days ago.

    There are a couple series around archeology that would qualify as workplace mysteries. Dana Cameron’s Emma Fielding books, and Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series.

    1. OMG! Dana! (I put Elly in my list of academic novels on BOLO Books last week.)

  6. Thanks for the recommendations, Catriona. My TBR list has just grown! 🙂
    Would Coma by Robin Cook count? I was 12 when that book was released and the cover creeped me out so much!

  7. I can’t think of the name of any of the books (I have a really bad memory for such things), but there is a series where a family of detectives have an office with a couple of other employees. Everyone is a real character. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, but I think there is a grandma, mother, and brother involved. It’s a fun series and if I ever come upon it again, I’ll probably reread at least one of the them.

    The pipe cleaner Jesus got to me, too. I was laughing all the way through this blog.

  8. Thanks for visiting the Wickeds today, Catriona! I just love the cover of your latest Dandy!

    Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch as a workplace mystery, but I think of the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters that way. While work in a monastery may be as much a calling as a profession, it seems like a workplace setting to me from the myriad tasks at hand to the need to navigate colleagues and superiors.

    1. I’m with you, Jessie. The monastery is much more than a setting in the Cadfael books.

  9. Hi Catriona! I love the Dandy Gilver books. My favorites so far are An Unsuitable Day for a Murder and The Reek of Red Herrings. My TBR pile is about to grow again.

    My favorite office-set mystery is the often hilarious Death of the Office Witch by Marlys Millhiser. The main character doesn’t want to be an amateur sleuth, but everyone, including the detective and maybe even the murder victim, keep dragging her into the investigation. Lots of fun twists.

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