“The Three Dahlias” by Katy Watson | Book Review

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“In the early eighties, actress Rosalind King originated the onscreen role of lady detective Dahlia Lively, the creation of Golden Age author Lettice Davenport. Fifteen years later, Caro Hooper introduced the character to a whole new generation, gracing TV screens for twelve years. Less than a decade has passed, and Dahlia is headed to the big screen once again, this time portrayed by former child actress Posy Starling who’s trying to reverse a bad reputation and revive her career. A three-day summer convention is being held in the late Lettice Davenport’s honor at Aldermere, her family home, and in attendance are relatives who still reside in the house, three generations of Dahlias, the movie crew, and VIP fans. As the weekend commences, real mysteries start popping up, threatening to derail the summer festivities. Caro, Posy, and Rosalind couldn’t be more different, but they’re well acquainted with the detective mind of Dahlia and team up to figure out what’s going on. When the situation escalates to murder, the three actresses appear out of their depth but continue to push for answers. Will the tenacious spirit of Dahlia Lively prevail, or should her three successors give up their amateur sleuthing before one of them gets hurt?”

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*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Constable, imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, through NetGalley in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

I can’t even imagine what goes through an author’s head when their work is compared to Agatha Christie, the one and only “Queen of Crime.” Those are big shoes to fill, and I wouldn’t wish that pressure on anyone. That’s exactly what’s happening with Katy Watson’s debut, and as an Agatha fan, I agree on many counts. The book opens with an invitation and Aldermere House map which makes you, the reader, feel like one of the guests. The story takes place during a modern time, probably not far off from 2022, but it feels so much like a classic mansion murder mystery that you forget what year it is until someone mentions their cellphone. The convention is dedicated to Golden Age author Lettice Davenport, let’s call her Agatha’s fictional peer, and though she has passed away, her presence is felt everywhere. Aside from story after story about Miss Davenport’s life and career, each chapter begins with a quote from one of her Dahlia Lively detective novels, a deceptively small detail. The quotes don’t take up much of the book, but Katy Watson went to the trouble of creating excerpts from a book series that doesn’t exist which makes the fictional world where it does exist seem that much more real. That is maximum effort, and I applaud it.

Sometimes, on a rainy evening, you reach for a thriller to elevate your heartrate and maximize the chills in the room. Other times, you brew your favorite hot beverage and reach for a sleeper that’s going to lull you into the depths of coziness while intriguing you enough to devour page after page. “The Three Dahlias” is the latter, a mystery that’s less about action and more about brainstorming. Yet another way Katy Watson has captured the essence of Agatha’s work, almost exclusively focusing on the detectives methodically working through the clues until an answer presents itself in the eleventh hour. Speaking of detectives, I dare say the best part of this book is the dynamic between the actresses-turned-sleuths trio. They’ve all assumed the role of Dahlia Lively for films and television and gleaned enough knowledge to fake their way through detective work until something sticks. Rosalind King is the oldest and most prim and proper, and though she now finds herself passed over for leading roles due to age, she’s earned enough respect as the original Dahlia to be able to walk among the convention crowd and get answers to her questions. Caro Hooper likes to take charge and be the center of attention, much to the displeasure of Rosalind; she often loses herself in the character of Dahlia, shying away from being herself when it’s easier to hide her personal struggles behind a facade. Posy Starling rounds out the trio as the youngest member and the newest Dahlia; she is a disgraced child star recently returned to England and trying to distance herself from a substance abuse past with a new chapter in her career. Three women, different ages, contrasting personalities, and the combination works, like three liquids that shouldn’t mix, but if you trust the process, they eventually blend into something of substance.

I’m going to stick with my normal procedure and give this debut four stars, leaving room for improvement. I enjoyed it but struggled to focus at times due to the pace. There was a little something missing, but this is a solid foundation for the in-progress sequel. I’m not sure what Katy Watson’s plans are, but she has the makings of a great modern murder mystery series on her hands. I highly recommend you check out this debut mystery that has, thus far, flown under the radar. It may not have enough action for thrill-seeking readers, but mystery enthusiasts will find more than enough meat to sink their teeth into.

*NOTE: The expected U.S. publication date is July 26th, 2022.

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Content Breakdown: 

*Disclaimer: I read an uncorrected ARC so certain things might be different in the final copy.

*Disclaimer 2: This section of my review is thorough and might contain SPOILERS.

Abuse: It is briefly implied that Posy’s last relationship was abusive.

Alcohol, Drugs, & Smoking: Mentions of Alcoholism, Amaretto, Brandy, Cigarettes, Cocktails, Drug addiction, Gin, Intoxication, a Pub, Rehab for substance abuse, Sobriety meetings, Whisky, & Wine

Main character Posy Starling is a recovering addict, and there are numerous mentions of her experience with rehab and sobriety meetings. She no longer drinks alcohol.

One of the side characters who never makes an appearance is mentioned as an addict who ran away from home as a teen, got pregnant, and moved back home, only to relapse several times and struggle to keep a job.

Blackmail: PLOT SPOILER – Three characters are blackmailed with photos. The first group of photos shows the victim under the influence despite being on a sobriety journey. The second group of photos is sexual, & the blackmail note mentions there’s a tape. The third & final group of photos shows the victim in an affair with someone else’s husband.

Blood & Violence: There are dolls left lying around as a threat, each representing a method of murder such as poison & stabbing.

During a tour of Aldermere House, the contents of shelves in Lettice Davenport’s office are described: books on anatomy and poison, the knot from a noose, a bottle with a poison sticker on it, and a line of bullets.

Chapter 8 begins with a Dahlia Lively quote which is said while she holds the hand of a corpse.

In chapter 11, there’s a brief mention of World War II & a bomb landing on Lettice Davenport’s building of flats.

PLOT SPOILER -There is a murder via poison, & the victim is described as looking relatively unharmed aside from the vomit coming out of his mouth.

A character is attacked from behind, hit with a heavy object which leaves a bloody head wound.

PLOT SPOILER -A dead body is discovered in a river, described as bloated, grey, & naked; it’s later revealed that the victim suffered blunt force trauma to the head. The person who discovered the body screamed long enough for her voice to go hoarse & later mentions not being able to sleep because all she sees are the bulging, staring eyes of the victim.

During the big reveal, the murderer throws the contents of a poison bottle into Rosalind’s face. Posy throws herself in front of Rosalind, but thankfully it’s only a bottle of glitter labeled as poison.

Cheating: PLOT SPOILER – There are two characters having an affair. The history of the situation is complicated, but the black & white facts are her having a relationship with her friend’s husband & him staying with his wife despite insisting she isn’t the woman he truly loves. 

Fake Pregnancy: PLOT SPOILER – There’s a discussion about a character who announced a pregnancy, but once her boyfriend married her, the baby was never born. It’s not known whether she faked the pregnancy or lost the baby, but it is known that her boyfriend wasn’t planning to take their relationship any further before the announcement.

Language: B*st*rd, Bloody, D*mn, Heck, & H*ll

Pregnancy & Adoption: PLOT SPOILER – Details are given about a character’s father who was given up for adoption at birth. His mother fell in love with her cousin, but he wouldn’t commit when she got pregnant because he had an understanding with a family friend, a more suitable wife. The son tried, and later on his daughter, to reconnect with the biological family & was met with rejection.

Therapy: Posy mentions having a therapist & dealing with the aftermath of a past relationship, possibly abusive. 

Sensual/Sexual: There is one kiss which happens as part of the murder mystery game at the convention.

In chapter 16, Juliette admits to sneaking out of Aldermere to meet her boyfriend. There’s no definite mention of what they were doing, but Juliette says they were too busy to notice any suspicious activity outside the house.

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🌟 Find author Katy Watson here:

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