The Dragon Sleeps…
A Dragon statue. An ancient sword.
What treasure is worth killing for?
It’s 1927 in Victoria, Australia. A hedonistic time after the Great War when young people knew they could enjoy life without the threat of war hanging over them. A time when women have more options opened to them.
There is a weekend house party at Thornton Park and Alexandra Thornton thinks it will be a good time to break the news to her father that she wants to be an antiques dealer, like him, her grandfather and great-grandfather before her.
Only a small number of people are invited. Amongst the guests are Zhang Huo, the Chinese antiques dealer who, with his son, has brought a Ming dragon statue from China for Thomas Thornton.
Benedict Archer, who is manager of Thornton Antiques in Melbourne and who has been secretly helping Alexandra learn more about her family business, is also invited. Alexandra asks Benedict and Edith Blackburn, her friend since childhood, to be with her when she approaches her father.
When Edith claims that Benedict is in love with her, Alexandra can’t believe it. In all the time they’d been at Thornton Antiques together, he’d never said a word. Now, Alexandra looks at him differently. Can it be true?
Then a body found in the orchard and, before the weekend is over, a priceless artefact is stolen. Alexandra is determined to discover how these things are connected to the Ming dragon and the antiques her great-grandfather brought with him from Hong Kong so many years ago.
What secret has remained hidden at Thornton Park for the last eight years?
I’ve never read a ‘cosy mystery’ before, truly, not one single Agatha Christie and to ensure you believe me, I can’t even list any other authors who write them! I have watched Poirot plenty of times, the Belgian detective is a bit addictive, but not Miss Marple, she’s just not to my taste. I read some reviews for The Dragon Sleeps before starting it which labelled it as a ‘cosy mystery’, but I’m really just going to have to take their word for it! I wouldn’t know either way.
Regardless of the genre, I did enjoy The Dragon Sleeps by Ellen Read. The story flowed at a nice quick pace and it was packed with characters and action aplenty to keep you engaged. The estate, as described by the author, sounded sublime, although I will point out that I found the novel very ‘antiques heavy’ in the beginning. I remember reading one section and feeling quite overcome by all of the mentions of the various chinese dynasties and the artefacts they had spawned. I appreciated the author’s knowledge, but I wasn’t certain that such technical detail was necessary. Fortunately, once the scene was all set up, the heavy description tended to settle down, ensuring that the story flowed much smoother. I was left wondering though, why on earth people even collect so many antiques when all they do us simply lock them away. This family had no idea on the full extent of what they even owned and I imagine that’s quite credible when you’re filthy rich. Even in the library, Alexandra remarks on a book being a first edition and wonders what other first editions they may have. Why hadn’t she already looked?! I was a bit annoyed at Alexandra in that moment, to be ignorant on the contents of ones own library – unacceptable!
Despite being ridiculously perfect, Alexandra was a smart and sassy heroine. Perhaps she should move into being a private detective instead of an antiques dealer. Although, I would have preferred her best friend Edith to be a little less melodramatic, particularly regarding the impossibility of dragons coming to life. She did come across as rather infantile with her insistence about this. I also felt that the other characters treated Edith as though she were much younger than Alexandra, and in this, I was just a bit disappointed because I feel she didn’t really get the opportunity to reach her full potential. This was contradictory from the beginning as she came across initially as quite a solid character. I only mention this because she began to really annoy me as the story progressed. Alexandra was quite maternal with Edith and then Benedict stepped right into a complimentary paternal role and it just didn’t seem to put Edith onto an even footing with them.
On the topic of Benedict, I kept thinking he was going to turn out to be a bad guy, but I think this is where ‘cosy mystery’ differs greatly from ‘thriller’. Nice people don’t turn out to be psychos, they’re just…well, nice. It takes some getting used to. Likewise, bad people are unpleasant from the beginning, so you can kind of see the chips falling before they even begin, although not entirely in the order they’ll fall. I imagine cosy mysteries are a bit like romances in the happy ending stakes. Probably because both are devoid of psychos. Seriously though, it was all very nice and I can see the attraction to the genre.
I appreciated the whole ‘Downton Abbey’ feel to the novel. It was quite enjoyable, with the grand house, everyone dressing for dinner and having fancy afternoon teas in drawing rooms with servants at the ready. I’ve not long finished watching Downton so this took me back quite nicely. Although Thornton Park had its own zoo. It’s own zoo! It kind of tops Downton for that alone.
I highly recommend The Dragon Sleeps for mystery fans and even if you aren’t, it’s a good introduction to the genre.
Thanks is extended to Ellen Read for providing me with a copy of The Dragon Sleeps for review.
The Dragon Sleeps is book 44 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.