Georgette Heyer

Books

Footsteps in the Dark (1932), Why Shoot a Butler? (1933), The Unfinished Clue (1934), No Wind of Blame (1939)

Inspector Hannasyde: Death in the Stocks (1935), Behold, Here’s Poison (1936), They Found Him Dead (1937), A Blunt Instrument (1938) 

Romances


Footsteps in the Dark (1932)

Footsteps in the DarkPeter, Margaret, Cecelia and Charles (Cecelia’s husband) have inherited an old house in the country–the Priory. Some claim the house is haunted, and others claim to have seen the figure of a ghost on the grounds.

But the four–and their aunt Lilian–refuse to be driven from the house by noisy spirits and believe there may be a more corporeal explanation to the sounds and events around the house.

I’m not certain how I feel about the mystery. It was not a murder mystery, which probably threw me off initially, as I kept waiting for someone to die. And of course there was a strong element of romance (this is Georgette Heyer after all) which I didn’t mind at all.

It was also a period piece, however, it took me a bit to determine precisely when the mystery was set. I decided it was set about the time of publication, between The Great War and WWII.

I’ll probably have to read another to decide how I feel about her mysteries, but I do enjoy Georgette Heyer’s writing.

Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
Rating: 7/10

Why Shoot a Butler? (1933)

Why Shoot a ButlerThis story was all over the place.

Barrister Frank Amberley gets lost taking a shortcut to visit his aunt and uncle, and comes upon a car alongside the road, and a young woman beside it. A closer look find a man dead in the drivers seat, and the woman claiming she found him shot.

Frank reports the murder–but not the presence of the young woman, and then ends up getting involved.

I stopped to ask the way to Greythorne and found the fellow was dead. Probably murdered. I’d come with you, but I’m an hour late for dinner already.’

I think my favorite part of this story was the language. Written in 1933 it was then a contemporary and now so much of the language is strange and unusual to the modern American reader.

(A) closed Austin Seven. It was drawn up to the side of the road, its engine switched off, and only its side and tail-lights burning.

Burning car lights.

Felicity became aware of an indignant motorist who was violently sounding his hooter.

You tell that to the marines.

‘Nothing would induce me to mount the velocipede again, I can tell you.’

‘Fountain rang up the police station at three in the morning?’

‘That’s right, sir. Some people seem to think the police like being rung up at all hours.

…supposed that the man had taken French leave..

Frank jerked his thumb downwards in a certain Roman gesture.

That last bit I REALLY want to know what it means.

So, although the story was a disappointment, I was fascinated by the way the words were placed together.

Publisher : Poisoned Pen Press
Rating: 6/10

The Unfinished Clue (1934)

The Unfinished ClueSir Arthur Billingham-Smith and his wife Fay are throwing a house party. Except that the general didn’t want to have the party, doesn’t want to see his son and the woman he wants to marry, and is pretty much a complete bastard.

He dislikes his son almost as much as he dislike’s Fay’s sister.

‘H’m! I suppose this is a specimen of the modern frankness we hear so much about!’ remarked Sir Arthur belligerently. ‘Personally, I should have thought that common politeness –’

‘You wouldn’t,’ interrupted Dinah, quite unperturbed. ‘You told me last time I came that you’d ceased to expect ordinary courtesy from me.’

Dinah is probably the best character in the book.

‘Would you like me to make love to you, darling?’ inquired Francis.

‘Do just as you like; I needn’t listen,’ replied Dinah.

‘It seems to be the order of the day,’ he said softly. ‘You don’t like me a bit, do you, my sweet?’

‘No, not much.’

So, to summarize: Arthur is awful, Fay is weak, the son–Geoffrey–is unable to stand up for himself, and the rest of the members of the house party are pretty much contemptible.

The mystery is ok. Although the murder doesn’t happen until chapter five, you know precisely who is going to die, and of course everyone has good reason to kill him. I also guess pretty quickly who had killed him, although I wasn’t positive which of two characters was that person.

However, I did enjoy the historical aspects of the story–in that is a contemporary that is now 80-some years old and an historical, which I always find fascinating. The rest of it? Meh.

Publisher : Poisoned Pen Press
Rating: 6/10


Inspector Hannasyde


Death in the Stocks (1935) 

This is, as best I can tell, set around the time it was published, the mid 1930s.

What I found fascinating was that I was totally unable to pin down the time. I was pretty sure it was post WWI, but wasn’t quite certain.

I think the police procedures of the time are pretty fascinating.

‘Know how the body was sitting when you found it?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘All right. Put it back as near as you can. Ready with that flashlight, Thompson?’

Constable Dickenson did not care much for the task allotted him, but he went up at once to the body and raised it to the original position, and carefully laid one arm across the stiffening legs. The Inspector watched him in silence, and, when he stepped back at last, made a sign to the photographer.

So, the siblings are incredibly obnoxious, and no one seems to have any compunctions about lying to the police, and to a modern reader the murderer was pretty obvious.

That said, it was still fun.

Kenneth’s story was a much better one, all the same, because you can’t disprove it, and it doesn’t place him anywhere near Ashleigh Green. I really don’t think much of yours, Rudolph. Can’t you think of something better? We’ll all help, won’t we?’

‘Speaking for myself, no,’ replied Giles.

There was also, of course, romance underneath, because this is Georgette Heyer. But mostly it was a fascinating period piece.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Rating: 7/10

Behold, Here’s Poison (1936) 

The second Inspector Hannasyde mystery.

Gregory Matthews is found dead in his bed one morning, with a terrible look up on his face. Everyone assumes it’s a natural death, except for his sister who insists upon an autopsy.

The list of possible culprits is quite large, especially since two characters, Miss Harriet Matthews and Mrs. Zoe Matthews (niece-in-law to Gregory) are unable to act like normal humans.

‘one comfort is that Aunt Harriet can’t live for ever.’

‘That kind of person nearly always does,’ said Mrs Matthews, forgetting for the moment to be Christian. ‘She’ll go on and on, getting more eccentric every day.’

We have a tray brought into the drawing-room at ten o’clock. I myself think it’s entirely unnecessary, and simply encourages young people to sit up late, drinking and smoking, and wasting the electricity.’

There is, as the book was written in the 1930s a fair amount of sexism, even in a book written by a woman.

‘I’m not surprised her husband looked so uncomfortable. More shame to him, letting her run riot the way she does!’

But as those were the times, it’s not unexpected. Just a reminder of how things used to be.

And some amusing bits.

‘Bit of womanly intuition, if you ask me. Funny things, women.’

‘You don’t believe in that, do you?’ asked the Inspector scornfully.

The Sergeant looked at him with a penetrating eye. ‘You a married man, Inspector?’

‘I’m not.’

‘That was what you call a rhetorical question,’ said the Sergeant.

It’s interesting, and I find the time period fascinating, as the world was still changing rapidly. The mystery actually was a surprise, since there were plenty of people who had grounds for being unhappy with the victim.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Rating: 7/10

They Found Him Dead (1937) 

The third Inspector Hannasyde mystery.

This one I was pretty sure who the murderer, even if I couldn’t figure out why. Or quite how the second murder was managed.

Silas Kane is found dead the day after his 60th birthday celebration. He’s survived by his mother, and a nephew and great-nephew, as well as partners who were wanting to take the business in another direction.

So again, lots of potential murders. Especially since some of the people were rather awful.

I do frightfully believe in keeping their little minds free from everything but happy, beautiful things, don’t you?’

‘A waste of time,’ pronounced Agatha. ‘Children are singularly heartless creatures.’

‘I think,’ said Rosemary, as he went out, ‘that as Clement’s widow I am entitled to some consideration!’

‘Considering you have just informed us all that you are in love with Mr Dermott, I think the less you say about being Clement’s widow the better it will be!’ retorted Miss Allison.

But again, I really liked the bits that secretly gave away hints to what the world was like at that time.

Mrs Mansell had been to college in the days when such a distinction earned for a woman the title of Blue-Stocking and the right to think herself superior to her less fortunate sisters.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

A Blunt Instrument (1938) 

The 4th Inspector Hannasyde mystery.

Ernest Fletcher seems to have been a likable man, so his death–bludgeoned to death in his story–came as a surprise to everyone.

The obvious suspect is his nephew Neville, his heir who seems to owe money to everyone, and who was heard to have argued with his uncle earlier in the evening, but the report of a man leaving the scene immediately prior to the discovery of the body seems to clear his name.

That’s why I told Neville. I thought he might be able to do something.’

‘Neville?’ said Miss Drew, in accents of withering contempt. ‘You might as well have applied to a village idiot!’

‘I know, but there wasn’t anyone else. And he is clever, in spite of being so hopeless.’

‘As judged by village standards?’ inquired Neville, mildly interested.

That and the fact that Neville doesn’t seem they type.

I suppose you wouldn’t just hint to him that he oughtn’t to do it? I feel that what you said would carry more weight than what I say.’

‘What’s he been up to?’ asked Hannasyde.

‘Well, he’s told one of the reporters that he’s employed here as the Boots, and when the man asked him his name he said it was Crippen, only he didn’t want it to be known.’

Hannasyde chuckled. ‘I don’t think I should worry very much about that, Miss Fletcher.’

‘Yes, but he told another of them that he came from Yugoslavia, and was here on very secret business. In fact, he’s in the front garden now, telling three of them a ridiculous story about international intrigue, and my brother at the back of it. And they’re taking it down in their notebooks. Neville’s such a marvellous actor, and of course he speaks Serbian, from having travelled in the Balkans. But I don’t think he ought to deceive those poor men, do you?’

‘It might be better for you, sir, if you told the truth about your doings on the night of the murder without waiting to be questioned,’ suggested the Sergeant, with a touch of severity.

‘Oh no! You’d have thought it very fishy if I’d been as expansive as all that,’ said Neville.

Upon reflection, the Sergeant privately agreed with him. However, all he said was that Neville would be wise not to try to be too clever with the police.

I quite liked Neville.

So this is another book where I figured out the murderer pretty quickly. I couldn’t figure out the why, but then who was rather obvious, though again that is perhaps due to being a modern reader. (In the first book, a woman is the murderer, and I suppose it might have been chocking at the time, but not so much to modern eyes.

So these are interesting books, and I like the settings and time, but the murders felt a little obvious to a modern mystery reader.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Rating: 7/10

No Wind of Blame (1939)

No Wind of BlameErmyntrude Carter married Wally Carter, but has come to regret doing so, as Wally isn’t a great human. Yet Ermyntrude and her daughter Vicki Fanshawe, and Wally and his ward (and cousin) Mary Cliffe lived together on the money Ermyntrude inherited from her fist husband.

Although Ermy is badly put upon by Wally and others in this story, it’s Mary I feel bad for.

Mary, who disliked White, could not agree with Ermyntrude that he was Wally’s âme damnée. Having lived with Wally for many more years than had Ermyntrude, she suffered from fewer illusions, and had long since realised that his character lacked moral fibre.

Consider being an adult but still being a ward of someone solely because you’re female.

Ugh.

This was an adequate story, but interesting more for being a set piece for the late 1930s than for anything else. It’s got lots of slang at the time (which is often hilarious), but it’s a good reminder of the place women had in the world at that time.

Also, no medical privacy laws.

‘(I)f anyone knows the ins and outs of that household, it’s the doctor, for if you were to tell me the fair Ermyntrude doesn’t treat him like a confession-box I wouldn’t believe you.’

‘Well, I don’t know,’ said Small. ‘You wouldn’t hardly expect him to give away anything she may have said to him, would you?’

Plus, most of the characters are just awful.

Her father, who had been treating her with the politeness he reserved for public use, forgot, in the irritation of finding his cigarette-case empty, that in the presence of strangers she was his indulged daughter, and got up, demanding to know why she had not put out a box of cigarettes.

The Russian prince felt ridiculously fake, mostly because the way he put sentences together felt more French of Spanish than Russian.

‘You are the Inspector of Police? You desire to interrogate me? I understand perfectly. This terrible affair! You will forgive me that I find myself so startled, so very much shocked, I can find no words!

I have NOTHING to back up that assertion, yet I’m still making it.

It just wasn’t a very good story, but since it was my bedtime book, that was perfectly fine.

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Rating: 6/10