Book Review

Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

The Dalí Diaries, by Stewart Ferris

Although this book can be read as a stand-alone story, it is actually book two in the Ballashiels Mysteries series, so it is possible that some details given in the first book [although it is not clear from the list at the front which that is] might have enhanced my understanding & consequent enjoyment of this story, but unfortunately, an earlier book was not available to me; the subsequent one is, however. I can’t comment on the others, of course, but this one is very much a Curate’s egg. The story, overall, is quite good, and its premise is not entirely implausible, but the book is let down by some very specific failings which I, pedant that I am, cannot ignore.

Although the cover design is impressive, the layout of the text has the appearance of a self-published book [upon which I think I have remarked previously], which is actually very unfair to self-publishers, as I am myself, indeed, one; what I mean to say by that is that the font, and the paper on which it is printed, have a somewhat unsophisticated appearance; which is a totally subjective judgment, for which I should probably apologise, but there it is. The book is clearly not self-published [details below], so I have to ascribe my assessment to artistic prejudice [notwithstanding my design qualification]; I was somewhat disappointed, however, to read the little note on the final flyleaf detailing the printing in Poland by Amazon Fulfillment [sic]: not very environmentally sustainable, for a British company.

While I am in ‘knocking’ mode, there were more than a few grammar & spelling ‘howlers’: “a fine toothcomb”; “focussed” [should be focused]; incorrect use [all too common, regrettably] of the possessive singular of a name ending in ‘s’ — the protagonist’s family, Ballashiels — “Lady Ballashiel’s visit” should be Ballashiels’s — granted, it might look & sound clumsy, but it is correct! Finally on this subject, a matter which constantly irks me; not because I am in any way a flag-waving, Empire-loving Jingoist; but I do feel that a British writer, writing fiction about predominantly British protagonists, should write in the British idiom — i.e., using British English spellings; so it was very disappointing to find [no disrespect intended to any American readers] a litany of American English spellings & usages: chomp, stomp, draft [draught], donut, airplane [aeroplane], wrenches [spanners], parking lots, washroom [in a pub!], cellphone, drapes, and waiting in line. I don’t wish to offend, but this is my considered opinion.

I am guessing, from the presumably recent photograph on his website, that Ferris is still a young man, so I must assume that he has grown up reading American spellings and didn’t think [or have the foreknowledge] to question them, but that said, shame on Swansea University, which awarded him a degree in English Literature, for not correcting him; otherwise, perhaps he is writing for an American audience? No comment 🙃. Anyway, to the story. A quasi-Bertie Wooster character is living in elegant penury in an ancient manor house, but his life is somewhat aimless after his mother went missing in 1975. She disregarded her own mother’s warning not to open a sealed room in the house and the associated dire consequences: one of which appears to be that she disappeared without trace, whereabouts unknown. Lord ‘Ratty’ Ballashiels has acquired a lodger, albeit in a dilapidated gamekeeper’s cottage, who is known as “the Patient”, a result of his origin as a source of spare parts for “the high-flying twin he had never known”, designated thus by his doctor father: a Mengele. Ratty released him from his home in the Guatemalan jungle in a previous story.

The main thrust of the story is that Ratty’s grandmother was acquainted with Salvador Dalí, and committed some of her experiences to a diary, which Ratty has read, but it does not throw any light on his mother’s disappearance; although the Patient has a theory… Another, associated thread is there is to be a satellite launched, containing a time capsule, in which, among other artefacts, is a message to be read when the satellite returns to earth, after its orbit has sufficiently decayed, in fifty thousand years: the message requests that the recipients acknowledge receipt, at a specific date & location in the past [for them: the present for the story, 2013], presuming that backwards time travel will, by then, be possible, if only for data streams. That is about as much as can be revealed here, but the aforementioned concerns aside, it is quite an engaging narrative, so I would be prepared to accommodate other members of this canon; or, indeed, other stories by this author, if only to confirm my prejudice about his writing style 😉. The paperback I read was published by Accent Press Ltd., Cardiff, in 2017, ISBN 978-1-7861518-6-5.

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