The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s Rhapsody Gershwin

The Alphabet in Crime Fiction meme continues its perilous journey and although there are dangers aplenty, we’re all fine. For now. ;-)  Thanks as always to our leader Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for the expert guidance. Today we’re at the Hotel G. While everyone’s unpacking and checking email, let me offer my contribution for this stop – Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s  Rhapsody Gershwin.

Rhapsody Gershwin is a librarian in the small Yorkshire town of Knavesborough. She’s curious and she’s a skilled researcher. Those qualities are part of what make her so helpful to her fiancé, Constable Archibald “Archie” Penrose. You wouldn’t think a lot of things happen in a small place like Knavesborough, but there’s quite a collection of unusual – even eccentric – characters there, and as it’s a small town, there’s also a lot of gossip. There’s also plenty of spite – and murder. Since Rhapsody is the daughter of Vicar George Gershwin, she hears all of the local talk. She and her two sisters Psalmonella and Harmonia live with their father while she and Archie are saving up money to start their lives together.

Rhapsody may be a small-town vicar’s daughter, but that doesn’t mean she’s completely naïve. One of the appealing things about her character is that she’s able to get people to talk to her without them suspecting that they’re saying too much. For example, in The Cosy Knave, she and Archie look into the murder of retired teacher Rose Walnut-Whip. Rose was among other things a member of the local knitting club. When another member of the club Mildred Kickinbottom is attacked, Rhapsody decides to talk to some of the members of the club to find out if anyone in the group is responsible for the killing and the attack. Here is a bit of her conversation with Mildred:

 

“Mildred’s face brightened…. ‘So you have come to pick my brains, Miss Gershwin?’
‘I have indeed, Mildred. Eh, you don’t mind, do you?’ She was sure the other woman was thrilled, but there was no need to indicate she thought Mildred was a real gossip.
‘Oh, no, not when it is you, Miss Gershwin. It’s almost like helping the police with information, isn’t it?’ she asked….
It took some time and another plate of biscuits to worm everything out of Mildred.”

 

Rhapsody uses her friendly manner to make people feel comfortable around her without them really being aware that she’s putting the pieces of a puzzle together.

That friendly manner isn’t entirely a front, though. Rhapsody has real compassion for those who are in pain, although she’s not mawkish about it. That also makes her character appealing. For instance, one of the residents of Knavesborough is Annabella Kickinbottom, daughter of Mildred Kickinbottom and her husband Arnold. Arnold and Mildred spend most of their time fighting with each other and it’s very hard on their daughter. At one point in The Cosy Knave Rhapsody is visiting the local estate where Annabella works as a maid. She’s looking for a particular clue and wants Annabella’s help. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about Annabella herself. At first, Annabella suspects that Rhapsody is only going to pump her for information, but she’s proven wrong. Here is a bit of their conversation.

 

“‘What you mean is that you want to play sleuth, don’t you?’
‘Why is it that nobody believes my good intentions when I want to be helpful?’ She kept an eye at Annabella who was slicing a loaf very inexpertly. ‘Let me do this, and you can fry the bacon and the sausages.’
‘Well, at least you are not after my Dad, are you?’ Annabella tried to keep her cool façade, but the first egg slipped out of her hand and onto the tiled floor.
‘No, I’m not.’…
‘I told mum she should leave him. But my parents will never leave each other. Their main interest in life is to pick at each other.’…
‘That’s so sad. But you must try to break away and form a better life for yourself, Annabella.’”

 

Gradually Annabella feels a little comforted and she gives Rhapsody the information she needs. Rhapsody’s status as the vicar’s daughter means that people expect her to be kind. But she genuinely is. That doesn’t mean she’s gullible though, and that combination makes her an interesting character.

Another appealing aspect of Rhapsody’s character is that she knows she’s an amateur. She doesn’t pretend to be professional, and she knows the limits of what she’s allowed to do. Whenever she finds out important information, she passes it on to her fiancé and the two make sense of the clues together. That’s much more realistic than the stereotypical amateur sleuth who is blocked at every turn by the police but solves cases anyway.

Rhapsody has a sense of humour, too, which makes her both authentic and interesting. For instance, in Toffee’s Christmas, a short story that appears in Candied Crime, Knavesborough gets a new resident – the enigmatic Toffee Brown. For the first few weeks, no-one pays much attention to the newcomer. Then she makes a major change to her hair colour. One day, Rhapsody and her sister Psalmonella happen to be shopping in the local market when they see Toffee:

 

“‘Isn’t that Miss. Brown?’ Psalmonella nudged her sister.
‘No it can’t…Dear me, I’m afraid you’re right. Do you think she was caught up in a duel between a couple of graffiti painters?’ Rhapsody bit her lip to keep herself from laughing out loud. “

 

When Toffee Brown is mysteriously killed, it’s Rhapsody’s literary knowledge and her powers of observation that provide the important clues about who killed the victim and why.

Rhapsody Gershwin is a bright, interesting, sometimes funny and always fun character. If I moved into Knavesborough, I’ll bet she’d be among the first to greet me and I’d like that. She’d be a good friend. If you haven’t yet “met” her, I hope you will.

24 Comments

Filed under Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, Rhapsody Gershwin

24 responses to “The Alphabet in Crime Fiction: Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s Rhapsody Gershwin

  1. Margot, those are some very interesting names. Psalmonella, Rhapsody, Toffee Brown, Kickinbottom. I love it and it sounds like Jakobsen had a good time naming her characters. The excerpts sound very likable and in the mold of classic British mysteries. I’d not heard of Jakobsen before but I’ll be sure to check her out.

    • Peter – I hope you will check out Jakobsen’s work. She does indeed write in the classic British mystery tradition. There’s humour, there’s a murder or two, and a solid investigation. And a low gore/”ick” factor. And I give Jakobsen a whole lot of credit for those names, too.

  2. kathy d.

    This does sound fascinating, and having read Dorte’s blog many times, I know she has a wicked sense of humor. And the names: Rhapsody, Psalmonella and Harmonia Gershwin — couldn’t be better.

    • Kathy – Oh I think you’ll like this very much. As you say, there’s terrific humour in it as well as a solid plot and some great village-cosy characters. I really recommend it.

  3. I thought the book was fantastic. The names were clever and it was like reading a Caroline Graham book but funnier.

  4. A charming review for a charming book.

  5. Interesting off beat names.

  6. A new one for me and one I will definitely be looking for me! Sounds wonderful.

  7. Sounds interesting, and if it is really similar to Caroline Graham’s books, I would like it. Only in e-book now?

  8. Thank you so much for this fantastic post, Margot, and thank you for all these lovely comments!
    Trach K: Ehm, actually there is a paperback now – my latest venture. Not that I want to push anyone, but a couple of my own blog friends have asked for it for ages and recently I pulled myself together to try out CreateSpace.

  9. hugr5

    I wonder if Dorte lives in England [and where this author originally came from]. Why did he/she put Rhapsody in England? I love to speculate on the motives of the writer! For instance, how much of the writer is IN the story (I’m reading Sun also Rises, right now, by Hemingway, and am speculating as to how much of it is true, and how much is fiction… but that’s another literary genre. :-) )

    I have to find this Rhapsody Gershwin. What TOTALLY intrigued me, was the play on words, all those OFF-BEAT NAMES! This has to be a “light” story! Toffee Brown? Rhapsody [in Blue] Gershwin, with her father George? I hope like heck the author was smiling as he/she was writing! It made me laugh just reading your review – which made me KNOW I have to track down this series. Thanks!

    • Dorte is actually Danish. She’s extremely well-read in English crime fiction and her stories really feel “right” in that setting. Dorte has a terrific sense of humour and you can see that in the names of her characters. You can get a paper copy of the novel here. If you have an e-reader, you can also get an e-copy of the novel here.

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