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5.0 out of 5 starsBetter than I had even hoped
Reviewed in the United States on April 28, 2015
I love early 20th century period mysteries .. it was the pinnacle as far as I'm concerned. I've read Peter Dickinson long ago, but not for awhile, until I came across this book in paperback in a used book store. I discovered, however, that the font size of old paperbacks does not suit my old vision .. so I sampled it on kindle and went on to buy the full version. I am so glad I did. It was just plain good. Convoluted and tender and most of all, well written.
This book has been praised and this author has been much praised and has won awards. I have only read this one book by this author. Based on that one experience, I can say that I do not "get" the praise at all. I have no praise whatsoever for this silly, odd, uninteresting story. I will not buy nor read any more by this author and wish I had not been misled by the praise from authors I DO like - P.D. James praised him, for crying out loud! She and he must be friends because she surely can't be serious about his work, or maybe this one book is an anomaly and the rest of his work is terrific. I won't try again. Life is too short and budgets can't be wasted any further.
Peter Dickinson is an astoundingly prolific writer of British mysteries and young adult fiction most active from the 1960's through the 1990's. He is best known for his mastery of the British mystery and for that he still deserves a wide readership as his books are as good and in many cases better than many current offerings. His time period is generally the first half of the twentieth century and his milieu is the upper class or the dying English colonies. As this is the case, he spends a great deal of time in that halcyon period between the wars.
Peter Dickinson returns to the English aristocracy and the traps of memory and self-deception in Death of a Unicorn. It is the 1980's and successful historical novelist Margaret Millet is reviewing her life and her choices, but still she shies away from reviewing the biggest choice which may have been made for her, because it is also the 1950's and Margaret is a rebellious debutante who wants to be more. To achieve this, she quits her job as a decorative decorator's assistant and begins writing a racy column for a mid-level newspaper. She also takes a lover who is older, ugly, of indeterminate colonial racial extraction and nouveau riche. It is hard to decide which item on that list would horrify her mother and class most. But no matter, her lover ends up dead and Margaret ends up both fulfilling her obligations and her self. She doesn't sell out. Or did she already, all of those years ago by ignoring what was in front of her face through willful naivete? That is the central question and action of the book and it is very good action indeed.
Margaret is both likable and flawed and while most of us haven't ben heiresses with a duty to fulfill and a life to live we understand her motivations. Well-written, well-plotted and poignant. Evokes both the true innocence of youth, when we are convinced we are anything but and the regret that hard-earned wisdom brings. All this wrapped in a story that contains a priceless emerald necklace, a manor house and corruption, skullduggery and murder.
Again, this book and further exploration of Peter Dickinson's work is recommended to anglophiles and fans of the English mystery.
i love English mysteries and have read many by vatious authors from different eras or set in different eras but i am almost halfway thru this book and frequently have no clue what characters are referring to or talking about. i am not English so perhaps that is the problem. i am not going to finish this book as i find it annoying. But i am going to try another of his books
Lady Margaret never saw much sense in living as a proper lady. At the age of twenty, she cast off all her mother’s aspirations for her in favor of a job writing for a magazine and an affair with the magazine’s owner. Now (well, 1986 or so), thirty years later, she’s a bestselling author. But Margaret discovers that there was more improper stuff going on than she realized – when asked to investigate the mysterious death of B, her former boss and lover, she discovers that he was up to more suspicious activities than she ever could have thought.
I wish I could tell you more about that “improper stuff” and those “suspicious activities,” but the truth is I don’t know much more myself. Although Lady Margaret was really a superb character and the shrewd writing made me smile several times, I can’t say the same for the plot. The book is divided into two sections, one taking place in 1956 and the other in 1986. Although this is an interesting idea and one that generally worked, the plot fell apart near the end of Section 1, making Section 2’s job much more difficult. Lady Margaret began to puzzle me: how could she remember so clearly what happened thirty years ago when I hadn’t made sense of it the day before when I was reading it? Dickinson seemed to be so desirous of subtlety that he forgot his audience wouldn’t understand everything as well as he did; things were skirted around that needed much more explanation for me to understand them.
However, that’s not to say this is a bad book. I cheered on Lady Margaret and enjoyed several of the supporting characters, and if you like Brit humor, this book is a great place to find that. Just keep in mind what I’ve said about the plot. If it seems like a fun challenge to you, go ahead and try it. I recommend “Death of a Unicorn” with several reservations and a good dash of caution, but I’d be happy to find someone that was able to make more sense of it than I could.