I rolled my eyes at the first page, as a tarot reader turns over cards for a client and gets the Death card. Not a good start, I thought. Talk about hackneyed!
And yet, The Prime of Ms Dolly Green won me over very quickly. This tarot mystery is full of wit and humour, likeable characters, and a mystery that definitely kept me guessing till the end.
Part of how this novel delighted was the tongue-in-cheeck character of much of the writing. After the ‘there’s Death in the cards’ reading at the outset, Daisy Waugh takes the mickey out of this in ways both obvious and subtle. The obvious is that the main character, Dolly Green, pokes fun at this kind of ‘expected’ reading. The more subtle way I shall leave you to read for yourself: no spoilers here!
Daisy Waugh decided to write this new series under the pen name E.V. Harte. When I interviewed her recently, I asked about the choice: is she ashamed of this ‘tarot’ foray?! She said that her last three novels have been based on tragedies from history, and that she wanted to start with a clean slate. She likened it to shuffling the deck before starting a new reading. Her passion for the cards shines through, so she won me over 🙂
The main character, Dolly Green, is equally appealing and realistic. In fact, one might ask oneself how much she has in common with her creator. Both are forty-something tarot readers living in South West London. Both have University age children (Dolly has one, Daisy has three, the youngest being just eleven). And both have a deep empathy, and keen eye, for the human condition.
This understanding of people shines through in the writing. The book is set on a backdrop of a somewhat idealised suburban London and slightly caricatured people. Yet, there is a warmth and humanity that makes you care about these funny characters. There’s Professor Filthy, daughter Pippa’s sex-starved teacher; Rosie, aka Mrs Frosty-Fuck, a well-to-do suburbanite; and Fenton, Heart Attack Husband, and a nasty piece of work; grumpy old man Maurice; and tarot client and sometime slapper Nikki. Yet, despite their occasionally one-dimensional personalities, you come to care about them, and what happens to them.
The main characters are more fleshed out and fully believable. I would count here Dolly Green herself, her daughter Pippa, and the requisite love interest: Raff Williams. Raff is a policeman – well, it is a murder mystery – but he is a strong but gentle, flawed character. A divorcé like Daisy, he has an older child, too, as well as a pet boa constrictor. And while a policeman, he isn’t a detective, having failed his exams. He also lives in an RV, post divorce. Still, he is strong, fairly open-minded, and sweet.
As for the mystery at the heart of the book, it manages to surprise till the end. All told, this was a lovely start to this series, subtitled The Tarot Detective. I am now looking forward to the second instalment, due out in April 2018.