I couldn’t resist The Book People’s offer of ten Georgette Heyer detective stories for £9.99. The cover price is £7.99 so it’s a good deal. They’ve proved a Godsend to me at the moment and I’ve been getting through one a day. So far I’ve read
Footsteps in the Dark
The Unfinished Clue
Why Shoot a Butler?
Death in the Stocks
All first published in the 1930s.
I’ve read all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, several of them more than once, so I count as a fan. The detective stories had passed me by and now I’ve read some I find they’re very like the other books. Cool, clever men and wilful girls abound; the dialogue is always excellent; all ends as it should. Like other detective stories of their period they feature educated, upper class detectives and bumbling village coppers.
Footsteps in the Dark takes place in an old country house, The Priory, said to be haunted. In spite of many night scares, the pleasant family (barrister husband, wife, her brother and sister) who have inherited refuse to believe in the ghosts and eventually unmask the villain. Very enjoyable and full of secret rooms, sliding panels and other delights of the gothic (or school!) novel.
In The Unfinished Clue, an unpleasant bully is murdered, so no one need feel very sorry about his death. Again set in a country house, this one has the nicest hero and heroine in any of the four books I’ve read. Why Shoot a Butler? is quite different from the first two; much less cosy and far more exciting. Amberley, the barrister sleuth, is the typically arrogant, high handed, I’m-above-the-law type we associate with the Regency romances and his verbal sparring with Shirley Brown is straight out of one of those books. The idea that the police would defer to such a character and allow him to order them about is quite preposterous but very typically Heyer übermensch. The book is let down by the last chapter. Amberley is allowed to go on for pages explaining what is already clear to the reader and it’s boring.
From the back cover of The Unfinished Clue: Miss Heyer’s characters are an abiding delight to me…I have seldom met people to whom I have taken so violent a fancy from the word “Go”. Dorothy L Sayers It’s a good job they left this endorsement off Death in the Stocks because I have seldom met characters to whom I took such a violent dislike. The Vereker family are a ghastly crew and as for Kenneth, the chief suspect, he is a blister, a pill and any other period insult you care to raid Wodehouse for. I was reminded of More Work for the Undertaker, one of my favourite books by Margery Allingham (I’ve been saying that so often recently that I just have to re-read it soon). This also features an eccentric family whose behaviour baffles the police; with a crucial difference. In MWFTU the reader and author are complicit in finding the family impossible; in MITS I fear Miss Heyer meant us to find Kenneth and his siblings amusing.
I really like the pictures used for these editions. They’re reproduced ‘courtesy of the Advertising Archives’ and so are genuine period pieces. It would be fun to guess what product each glamorous image was promoting. If I were the type to deface books I’d be drawing speech balloons on some of these covers. Any ideas?