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Wednesday 25 August 2021

Adèle and Co by Dornford Yates

Originally Published in 1931
Published by House of Stratus,
23 September 2008.
ISBN: 978-1-84232962-7 (PB)


The book opens with the narrator, Boy Pleydell, regaining consciousness in a hotel room in Paris to the sight of the rest of his family and their friend, Casca de Palk, lying in a drugged sleep.

Berry and Daphne Pleydell, and Daphne's brother and sister-in-law, Boy and Adèle Pleydell, have travelled from their family home in England to Paris to meet their cousins, Jonah Mansel and Jill, Jonah's sister , and her husband, Piers, the Duke of Padua. This is an annual visit and, when in Paris, they spend a lot of time with their friend, Casca de Palk. Some chance-met acquaintances, the Count and Countess de Plaza, had dined with them and then drugged and robbed them. Amongst the most valuable items missing are the priceless heirlooms, the Padua pearls, and Daphne's emerald bracelets.

At first the victims assume that they must leave investigating to the police but, when the family is alone, Jonah reveals his observations and deductions, based on the fact that 'Casca smoked quite a lot while we were asleep,' The realisation that their friend has betrayed them and stolen their valuables angers the family but it also gives them a place to start their own investigation, for, as Jonah warns them, Casca de Palk is 'above suspicion' and the police will not take seriously any allegations against him.

Jonah is the commander of the enterprise and he enlists  Fluff and Susie Dones, an engaging pair of crooks to help them. However Boy and Berry take a large part of the action, from climbing across roofs to spy on Woking to spending a hair-raising afternoon with the vicious crook known as Auntie Emma. Despite the men's attempts to shelter her, Adèle too plays her part in the investigation.

There are exciting car chases, bluff and counter-bluff, the strategic relocation of a wasps' nest and the creation of a minor avalanche to aid their plans. The glorious final scenes involve a dangerous car chase and Berry, Boy and Piers disguised as women collecting for a charitable cause in order to fool the enemy. Berry throws himself with great gusto into his role as Hortense: 'A lemon-coloured dress, surmounted by a bolero of apple-green lace, made the most of her ample lines: a fold of black satin ribbon across her brow was tied in a luxuriant bow over one ear: and a green straw hat with a brim about half an inch wide completed as daring a headgear as ever I saw. Compared with her face, however, these things were of no account. Her superb but vivid complexion, her ripe and voluptuous lips, the wicked darkness of her eyes – above all, the flood of vivacious expressions which chased one another like lightning over her countenance made a kaleidoscopic disguise which I doubt if my sister herself would have perceived. … “Toto, cherie,” she squealed, “go slowly through the village: we may get off.” … “Whoever gives us twenty-five francs can squeeze my hand – through the glove, of course, until dark.”'

Yates' mastery of comic description, that contains something darker and more serious underneath, is obvious in when the treacherous Casca realises he has been outwitted and defeated and behaves in a way that no real English gentleman would ever descend to. 'Blubbering incoherence, Casca fell flat on his face and, crawling like any reptile, essayed to kiss Berry's foot. Had it not been revolting, the scene would have been absurd. My brother-in-law, stern and majestic, looked exactly like one of the elder sisters in a Cinderella pantomime, while Casca might have been Caliban, pleading with Prospero, in a production of The Tempest in modern dress.'

Adèle and Co is a lively, funny romp. It is not a wjodunnit: from the end of the first chapter the reader knows the identity of the villain, the book is based around the question of how the righteous will prevail. The plot is somewhat shaky, relying on too many convenient coincidences, but it is filled with likeable protagonists, working for a just cause, (who wouldn't want to see the repulsive Casca defeated and shamed and running for his life?) The action is fast and exciting and, over eighty years since it was first published, it is still very funny.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Dornford Yates  (1885-1960).  Born, Cecil William Mercer into a middle-class Victorian family, Yates' parents scraped together enough money to send him to Harrow. The son of a solicitor, he qualified for the bar but gave up legal work in favour of his great passion for writing. As a consequence of education and experience, Yates' books feature the genteel life, a nostalgic glimpse at Edwardian decadence and a number of swindling solicitors. In his heyday and as testament to the fine writing in his novels, Dornford Yates' work was placed in the bestseller list. Indeed, 'Berry' is one of the great comic creations of twentieth century fiction, and 'Chandos' titles were successfully adapted for television. Finding the English climate utterly unbearable, Yates chose to live in the French Pyranees for eighteen years before moving on to Rhodesia where he died in 1960.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title. 

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