Elizabeth: Old Book Squee!

As I mentioned previously, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, thanks in part to a number of recommendations from Argh Ink’s weekly Good Book Thursday posts.  While my intent was to whittle down my existing TBR pile, that hasn’t quite happened.  It seems like for every book I read, I wind up adding two more to the pile.  On the plus side, I won’t have to paint anytime soon – the walls are pretty much hidden from view – and I’m unlikely to ever run out of reading material.

Most of the books I’ve read this month have been mysteries and ten of them have been by Georgette Heyer.  While Heyer is probably best known for her Regency stories, I had not known until recently that she also wrote mysteries.  Fortunately for me, they are my favorite kind of mysteries:  interesting characters, witty dialogue, and 1940s Britain, all in a cozy / country house style without any of the grit or high-drama of today’s CSI type mysteries.

Really, what more could you ask for?

These books have definitely earned a place on my keeper shelf, though some are more likely to be re-read than others.  My favorite of the bunch (at least for today) is No Wind of Blame.   The book includes Inspector Hemmingway from Scotland Yard, who is once again called in to solve a murder that the local officials can’t handle.  There is a Russian Prince (no, make that Georgian), a middle-aged former chorus girl, a disappointing husband, some upstanding silent types, a distant relation or two, a potential inheritance, a puzzling murder, great clothes, lovely scenery, and best of all, the heroine Vicky.

Young, beautiful, and full of life, Vicky might appear brainless, but she really isn’t.  She appears in a variety of guises during the course of the book, including as Sports Girl, a Femme Fatale, One of the Younger Set, and occasionally a sweet young innocent.  She apparently inherited her mother’s theatrical skills and puts them to use throughout the story, often to the annoyance (or is that amusement) of Mr. Hugh Dering.  When Hugh asks her at one point if her life is just a series of acts, she replies that “you can’t be dull if you’re always somebody else.”

The little excerpt below is from one of my favorite scenes in the book.

“You think I did it!” Vicky cried, springing to her feet. “You’ve always thought so! Well, you can’t prove it, any of you! You’ll never be able to prove it!”

“Vicky!” gasped Mary, quite horrified.

Vicky brushed her aside, and rounded tempestuously upon the Inspector. “The dog isn’t evidence. He often doesn’t bark at people. I don’t wear hair-slides. I’d nothing to gain, nothing! Oh, leave me alone, leave me alone!”

The Inspector’s bright, quick-glancing eyes, which had been fixed on her with a kind of bird-like interest, moved towards Mary, saw on her face a look of the blankest astonishment, and finally came to rest on Hugh, who seemed to be torn between anger and amusement.

Vicky, who had cast herself down on the sofa, raised her face from her hands, and demanded: “Why don’t you say something?”

“I haven’t had time to learn my part, miss,” replied the Inspector promptly.

“Inspector, it’s a privilege to know you!” said Hugh.

While there is a dead body in the story, and figuring out who did it and how does present a mystery, the real story is all about the characters and their interactions.  While I figured out the “who”, the “how” of the murder was a little far-fetched, though there were clues to scattered here and there to point the way.  More satisfying were the romantic elements woven throughout the story; including those that I didn’t quite notice the first read through.   I have no doubt, judging from the interaction below, that at least two of the characters managed to find their own Happily Ever After just fine, despite the dead body.

“No, go up to the house,” Hugh said.  “I’ll join you later – when I’ve discovered what all this is about.”

“Not even a fusty lawyer can just carelessly fling orders at me,” said Vicky, as one imparting valuable information.

“That’s all right, ducky:  you can play at being the child-wife married to a drunken bully,” suggested Hugh.

This immediately caught Vicky’s ever-lively imagination.  “Yes, or a Roman slave.”

I’m pretty sure I’ll be pulling this book out again next time I want to curl up on the couch with a witty fun read.  In the meantime, I’ll be reviewing Heyer’s other books to see if I can pick up a hint or two about how to effectively plot a murder mystery.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

7 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Old Book Squee!

  1. Back when I was a teenager and first read Heyer, I tried the mysteries but didn’t care for them nearly as much as her romances. I definitely have to go back and try some!

    • Turns out I’m a sucker for these Golden Age mysteries. I’ve been plowing through them just like I used to go through those old Nancy Drew’s when I was a kid.

      If you give the Heyer’s another try, I’d love to hear that you think of them this time around.

  2. Like Jeanne, I tried the mysteries (many) years ago but preferred the romances. I haven’t tried them since.

    I love her writing, and I’ve read the historicals to shreds, so maybe it’s time to go back and give them another shot. I believe the mystery plots were co-created with her husband, who was a criminal law barrister.

    • Jilly – yes, I think I saw the part about her barrister-husband on one of the bio sites. That seems like it would have been a fun collaboration.

      The only thing about these stories that I had a little trouble with was that they used words / phrasing that was probably very popular at the time, but I couldn’t always understand now. That is a hazard with any writing after a long enough period, but I think it stood out more because these stories had a lot of witty-repartee that relied on specific words/phrases.

  3. That sounds like such fun! I’ve been meaning to get a couple, but my TBR pile towers too high. I’ve got to get through a whole bunch of books, first. I wish I had a well-stocked English library nearby.

    • Too bad you don’t live nearby, Michaeline. My house is very close to turning into a “well-stocked English library” 🙂

      • (-: I do wish I were closer, and not just for the library!

        The thing is, thanks to sayonara dumps, I’ve got quite a lot of books in my house from people who have moved back home. I don’t have them organized, though, so I don’t know what I’ve got, and the top layer that is easily accessible just doesn’t appeal to me.

        YOUR library, though, sounds fab. Just the sort of thing I’d like to read if I could get a three-month sabbatical and reading privileges (-:.

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