Rattle His Bones: Carola Dunn

I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’ve been reading Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series out of order, and that continues to be the case.  (Side note:  does anyone else see the name “Carola” as “Crayola”?  Just me then?  OK.)  Today’s book is set in the days before Daisy and Alec get married, when Daisy is just Miss Dalrymple, and when she’s just Aunt Daisy to her soon-to-be step daughter, Belinda. This book features dinosaurs, dethroned nobles, jewel theft, and a murder, all of which just thrilled my inner hipster to little bacon-scented pieces.

 

The book opens with a heist scene.  A person, undescribed, works in a museum in London.  This person walks us through the steps to museum jewel theft success.  Basically you make copies of the jewels and have them replaced with high quality fakes.  This is apparently not cheap, but still doesn’t come close to the value of actual jewels. I’ve heard that this was a common practice among aristocracy, who would have copies of the “family jewels” made so people could wear them in public, while the real ones rotted in some vault somewhere.  Bonus points for not laughing at the phrase “family jewels,” points taken away for thinking of the pants as “the vault.”  The beauty of this jewel replacement is that the thief has time to dispose of the real things either before the theft is discovered,or well after, in another country or market after the initial shock of the discovery dies down.  It also makes it almost impossible to determine when the actual theft occurred, making alibis pointless.

 

Daisy is writing an article about the history museum for one of her magazines, and it seems as though she’s going to be spending a lot of time with the fossils  She claims it’s for the American magazines, because if there’s one thing England has more of than America, it’s dinosaur bones!  I’m kidding, of course, Sometimes I get the impression that Daisy’s American editors are all high on bootleg gin and cocaine, and that explains some of the article choices.  

 

We are introduced to a lot of characters right up front, and as usual, I have a hard time keeping them straight in my head.  There’s Dr. Smith Woodward, keeper of Geology.  He’s a small elderly man who walks with a limp, and he’s in charge of fossils. The large, mean spirited Dr. Pettigrew is keeper of Mineralogy, which covers rocks and fancy gemstones.  Pettigrew thinks daisy should focus on jewels, because wimmen like them shiny rocks and things.  Dr. Witt is young and very handsome, and he’s the curator of Fossil Mammals, whatever the hell that means.  Meek and nerdy ffinch-Brown (lowercase ffinch, noted) is an anthropologist from the main branch of the British Museum.  He seems to be the only scientist around doing actual research – he’s studying the marks of the tools of ancient hunters on mammal bones, and comparing them to the marks from modern day cutlery and weapons.  Witt and f-B are in disagreement about the use of the ancient tools and bones.  Witt thinks the ancient stuff should be preserved, and f-B think it’s useless if it’s not used in research to learn things that may help modern society.  Kind of a philosophical argument, really.  

 

Pettigrew throws his weight around some more, butting into the Witt and f-B debate, and we get the impression that he’s really a nasty man and no one likes him very much.  While Daisy is attempting to take pictures of the fossils with her flatmate and best friend’s camera, she is interrupted by Septimus Mummery, curator of Fossil Reptiles.  This is the best name I’ve ever read in a 1920s mystery, and I love it.  If I adopt a child, and that child is a boy, he will be Septimus Mummery.  He’s shown up to argue to Daisy that one of the fossils she might mention in the article should be in the reptile section, not the mammal section like Witt says, and blah blah blah.  He walks Daisy through more of the museum, thus allowing us to see some of the layout, and introduces us to a giant reptile beast, Pareiasaurus.  It’s his prized possession, and he’s especially proud of it because it’s all real bones.  They didn’t have to fill in any plaster of Paris.

 

At this point in the book, I stopped and went “oooohhhhh!”  I always knew that many of the dinosaur fossils in the Cleveland Natural History Museum were fakes but I wasn’t really sure if that was a common, respected practice.  Apparently it is.  Much like wearing a high quality glass copy of a real, famous ruby.  DUN DUN DUN.  

 

At this point, a tall, lanky man emerges from the galleries and introduces himself as Steadman, dinosaur curator.  He and Mummery are grumbly with each other because reptiles and dinosaurs are related and dinosaurs should be under reptiles and honestly, I kind of want to punch all of the scientists in their smart faces.  Actually, I know a number of scientists in real life and they’re all a little neurotic, so this kind of fits.  (Note to scientist friends: I love you all and it is your crazed attention to detail that allows you to continue your miracle works.  Please don’t shun me.)  Daisy apparently feels the same way, because she realizes that all the minutiae of their bickering might make a great second article, which she can sell for a considerable price to a specialized scientifically bent magazine in America, where they are totally into fossils and real science.  

 

At this point Belinda and Daisy’s nephew Derrick catch up with Daisy.  She’s brought them along so as not to waste a valuable family outing opportunity.  Steadman tells the kids about dinosaurs, and rants a little about how the best fossils are in the American West and Africa, and how the Americans have so much money for expeditions that it’s really unfair to the Brits.  

 

Daisy and the children move on to minerals, where they meet up with Pettigrew who is quite nice to the kids, despite his attitude to everyone else.  He gives the kids some pyrite and explains fools’ gold.  During their walk through the mineral gallery, they bump into a man who’s dressed in extremely bright but ratty old ceremonial clothing. Pettigrew is furious with this man, who has every right to be in a public museum;, but who has worn out his welcome by hanging out all day, every day, at the exhibit of an enormous, famous ruby.  The man claims that the ruby belongs to his county, which, unfortunately, is no longer an actual country.  His name is Rudolph Maximilian, and he’s vaguely German-ish/Transylvanian. He wants to get the ruby back to use the wealth to somehow amass an army to take back his throne and his territory.  Good luck with that, bro.  

 

Thus introduced to the staff, Daisy goes home to work on her article.  She proposes a fancier, more scientific article to another magazine and it’s accepted.  This creates a need for Daisy to return the museum fairly frequently, to gather material. It is during these visits that Pettigrew is murdered.

 

The murder itself is undramatic.  Pettigrew staggers into the room where Daisy is standing with Smith Woodward and collapses, blood on his shirt.  Unfortunately, a number of other people witness this, including an elderly woman who used to be a nurse, and her young grandchildren.  The elderly woman announces that there’s no point in calling a doctor, as Pettigrew’s pretty dead.  The police are called, and all of the witnesses are herded into isolation. Slowly the staff begin to learn of the death.  Mummery in particular is quite pissed…Pettigrew crashed into the Pareiasaurus during his death stumbling.  Unsurprisingly, the former Duke is also in the museum.  We have our suspects: all of the curators and keepers, and the former Duke.  

 

Daisy is fortunate that her fiance Alec does not appear for the investigation.  Alec and Alec’s boss frequently get annoyed when Daisy is involved in a murder, not that it’s ever really her fault.  One of Alec’s subordinates, Tom Tring, shows up in his place, and is to preside over the initial statements.  He takes Daisy’s statement first, and she becomes woozy when asked to describe the death.  Apparently she’s squeamish, something you’d think that would have abandoned her after about the third body she’d stumbled across.  Tring gives her a good old fashioned remedy for shock – booze – and Daisy passes out drunk.  When she wakes up, Tring is conducting interviews, and he allows her to stay as long as she pretends to be asleep.  We really don’t learn much in these interviews, aside from reiterations of the staff bickering and general assessments of their personalities.

 

The next day Alec hears from his boss that Daisy was one of the witnesses to the murder.  His boss tells Alec to marry Daisy soon, as if that will somehow give Alec more authority to keep her home, barefoot, and out of his work.  Hah!  Here Alec waxes romantic about Daisy, calling her “cuddlesome.”  I’m sorry, but when I read the very first book in this series and saw that word, I almost threw up.  The author used it as a way to romanticize Daisy’s figure, which was not the trendy, thin figure of the 1920s, but I really don’t know why she bothered.  Of course Alec likes her figure.  Of course he wants to “cuddle” her.  But I would bet actual money that no man in history has ever looked at a babe with a booty and thought “mmm, that’s cuddlesome.”  No. Just no.

 

Anyway, Daisy proceeds to tell Alec her impressions of the crime, even though he keeps insisting she stay out of the investigation.  Alec likes to give mixed signals.  Daisy tries to pretend she wasn’t awake for the other interviews but, really?  No one believes that.  She again repeats that that Pettigrew’s a jerk, a lot of people had quarrels with him, and that the Duke kind of had a motive, if you believe that he’s dumb enough to think that a new curator also wouldn’t refuse the Duke his family ruby.  Alec wants Daisy to promise not to go back to the museum, but Daisy insists she must.  She has that new article to write, and after all, they’re not married yet and she and her friend Lucy are just poor girls trying to scrape together a living.  He can’t forbid her to go, she’ll become known as unreliable, and then she and Lucy will starve to death in the streets.  She must go back to the museum.

 

Daisy gets it into her head that someone must interview the children who witnesses the murder, and that she should kind of smooth the way.  Kids hate talking to cops, right?  But they love talking to strange women.  She’ll just head over there and see what they saw.  Because this is England and texting hasn’t been invented, the elderly woman is not surprised to see Daisy, who sneaks an invitation for tea on the premise that she’s stopped by to make sure everyone’s OK after their big shock.  Very neighborly.  One of the kids admits she heard Pettigrew say “you think you’re so clever, but I know how it was done” and that she also heard Pettigrew call someone a “fossil-eyed fool.”  Daisy assumes this means “fossilized fool.”  I’m not sure why this distinction matter – they both could mean the same thing, given the list of suspects.  The grandmother assumes Daisy’s working with the police and Daisy has to confess that she’s “unofficial,” and that she thought she’d screen the kids for observation before telling Alec the police needed to go knocking on their door.  The grandmother seems to think this is reasonable.  

 

Alec and Daisy go on a rare dinner date – rare because Alec works all the time.  Over dinner, they spend their fleeting few alone minutes together talking about the murder, because that’s what you talk about when you’re engaged and haven’t slept together yet, sure.  Alec gives in to Daisy’s wheedling and reveals that Pettigrew was murdered by a sharpened flint. The flint was affixed to the shaft of a spear with a dot of glue and so of course it broke off in the body.  Daisy is excited and reveals to Alec that she’s been snooping.  She surmises that maybe the statement “I know how you did it” had something to do with the argument about the flints, and whether the ancient flints or the modern ones were better, and that Pettigrew had tried to challenge ffinch-Brown into seeing whether f-B could detect a modern flint from an ancient one.  

 

Alec charges off to visit the former Duke in his family home, which is a crappy looking rental place somewhere out of town.  There he is presented with proof that the Duke was an actual royal figure at one time, in the form of a poor but noble family and walls covered in pictures from their ruling days.  The Duke whines about the ruby for awhile, but seeing as how the ruby is still at the museum and Pettigrew’s death hasn’t changed that, the Duke doesn’t seem like that likely of a suspect.

 

Next day, Daisy returns to the museum.  She tells us that she’s not interfering in the investigation, she’s just interviewing department heads for her article.  She interviews someone who works in mineralogy and as they make their way through the exhibit, a shaft of sunlight pierces through a window at the exact angle to light the Duke’s ruby from the inside.  The Duke, who has been staring at the ruby, beckons the mineralogy dude over to look at the ruby with him, and the new guy, Grange, takes one look at the sun-lit gem announces that it’s not a ruby at all.  It’s a fake, and he’s accusing the Duke of substituting it for the real thing.

 

Alec appears on the spot, there to investigate the murder, and we learn that there are ways to tell gems from glass.  Gems have some kind of marks or something in them called “silk.”  The glass has none.  Further investigation turns up several other missing gems.  The detectives quickly realize that the only way this could have been done so neatly is by someone with a key – a staff member.  

 

Obviously there’s discourse over whether the murder and theft are related.  They might be, but since they can’t date the jewel theft, they can’t make sure they have the same suspect list.  Even though the Duke is a shaky suspect at best, Alec has him at the top of the suspect list.  Daisy wonders if Pettigrew took the jewels himself, maybe leading to the murder.  

 

The police initiate a search of the museum, looking for the stashed gems.  Of course they’re not readily apparent in the museum, so the police go to the various curators’ homes, looking for gems there.  Nothing suspicious turns up in any of the houses.  

 

Daisy again returns to the museum.  At this point I was surprised they kept letting her interrupt the scientists at work, but they all seem equally absorbed in their jobs.  Daisy watches Steadman start the process of mounting a dinosaur skeleton, and then gets bored.  She proceeds to wander through the various departments, noting that everyone seems equally obsessed with their work.  No one is really bothered about the murder any longer, or about the jewel theft.  She bumps into the Duke, who is disgusted with the search effort.  He believes they should be searching inside the giant stuffed mammals.  Daisy cautions him against tearing them apart.  How could a jewel thief successfully open, stuff, then reclose one of those animals in the amount of time given, without the job looking shoddy?  The Duke gets mad at her.  He throws some theatrics about how he’ll never see his ruby again and he’ll never see his country again.  Daisy walks away, which she probably should have done in the first place.

 

A week or so later, the police request for jewelers who had recently copied a large amount of valuable gems pays off.  A very old, shortsighted jeweler is escorted to the station.  He confesses that he believed he was copying someone’s personal property.  He was proud of the extremely realistic copies he’d made but was unfortunately unable to describe the customer, due to his very bad vision.  I stopped reading at this part and wondered if wearing one of those jewelers loupes was enough to fix that kind of vision problem, but decided to suspend my disbelief.  I was reading a novel set in the twenties where a male character described a woman as “cuddlesome,” so what were my expectations, really?  Fortunately, the jeweler kept a receipt book, and although a very generic name has been given, the date wasn’t faked.  

 

Meanwhile, Daisy has a dream about gems in dinosaur heads, and realizes that with the ladders and things stashed around for the fossil creations, that would actually be a perfect place to store some jewels.  No one would question a museum worker up on a ladder, fiddling with some bones.  Especially if that worker was in the right department.  The Duke was almost right!

 

Daisy makes a valiant attempt to contact Alec, who of course is not at home.  Daisy decides to head to the museum herself the next day to speak with the detective in charge.  The detective agrees it’s a pretty good guess, especially since Steadman won’t let anyone near the valuable dino bones.  They need permission from someone more senior in the police force to actually search, since it’s disruptive.  Daisy and the detective agree to meet in a few hours.  

 

Daisy goes home to work and muses over her notes. She thinks about Steadman telling her about Diplodocus, who was found in America.  Steadman had complained about how American museums got all the best fossils because they had the most money.  Bingo.  Steadman wanted money for an expedition.  

 

Daisy returns to the museum and learns that the police will be searching the skeletons after the museum closes for the night.  They wander towards the gallery and see the Duke up on one of the ladders, with a pile of jewels around him.  He takes off, and the police follow.  A chase ensues.  Daisy ends up back in the dinosaur gallery, and turns suddenly to see a dinosaur skeleton crash down on her.

 

Meanwhile, Alec and Tring have followed the final trail in their investigation of museum staff.  They’ve gone to the country to see a security guard who retired soon before Pettigrew’s murder.  The guard may have seen or heard something relating to the jewel theft.  The guard confesses to seeing the dinosaur curator in the mammal department, which was near the mineral gallery.  The guard confesses to thinking that it was weird, but since the theft wasn’t discovered until much later, it wasn’t really weird enough for him to question at the time.

 

Alec and Tring return to town and go straight to the museum.  Alec feels a premonition that Daisy might be mixed up in this.   I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Alec’s not psychic, his girlfriend’s just the interfering type.  Get used to it, Alec, it only gets worse.  Of course they’ve arrived just in time to see Daisy collapsed under a bunch of old bones. Steadman is in the room.  Daisy sits up and says that the Duke hit her, just as Tring arrests Steadman for grand larceny.

 

Steadman tries to confirm that it’s the Duke who hit Daisy, and Daisy says that they saw the Duke stealing jewels.  Steadman is all like “see, the Duke did it!  And I wouldn’t hurt a dinosaur!”  Daisy’s like “wait, wait, this isn’t a real dinosaur.”

 

The lights come on and the bones are shattered. Of course they are, they weren’t bones.  They were plaster, and the gems were encased in them.  The Duke is brought in by the police who’ve finally caught him, and insists he wouldn’t hit a woman.  He’s nobility, damn it.  It’s beneath him.  He only wanted his ruby.  The police confirm that the Duke couldn’t have assaulted Daisy, because they were chasing him.  That’s actually a pretty good alibi.  The Duke says he overheard Daisy and the sergeant discussing searching the bones, and decided to cut in first just to get his own property back.  Steadman and the Duke are both arrested.

 

A day or so later, Alec tells Daisy all.  Steadman didn’t intend to kill Daisy, just knock her out.  However, Steadman did kill Pettigrew, who had confronted him about the jewels while holding the spear.  He’s claiming self defense.  Daisy was correct in assuming that Steadman really just wanted money to run an expedition.  Charges are dropped against the Duke, who will probably get some kind of pension in exchange for dropping his claim to the ruby.  Alec ends the book by asking her to marry him as soon as possible.
Good luck, Alec. Good luck.

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