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Old 09-28-2011, 02:02 AM   #10917
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As mentioned, I finished the last 3 of those Georgette Heyer mysteries I bought during Sourcebooks' Heyer anniversary sale.

These three standalone titles were a very varied set of contrasts as far as subgenre and style; a little on the experimental side for Heyer, I think.

The Unfinished Clue is probably the most conventional of the lot, following the traditional Christie-esque English countryside manor murder mystery setting and tropes. It's almost a kind of proto-Hannasyde (being published early in the 30s before the other books came out, IIRC from the copyright date).

A fairly standard, but neatly written whodunnit with familial tensions where the motive was fairly easy to guess but the actual identity of the culprit was somewhat harder.

I think I liked it the best of the lot, as it generally had reasonably likeable characters* and a decent plot to go along, and I wouldn't have minded a few more in a series with the same Inspector.

And I actually approve of the sudden surprise proposal romance in this one, because both of the characters so surprised seem to be reasonably nice and well-matched, even though I don't think it's necessarily advisable to so quickly throw things over in order to be with the One You Now Love. Don't quit your day job, and all that.

Penhallow, written much later in the 50s, is a very different sort of book. It's actually much more of a dramatic psychological suspense†, as we find out whodunnit relatively early on; the mystery lies in who's going to find out about it, and which if any of the suspects will pay the price for the crime.

It's probably the best written and most mature of the standalones, but there's a rather long set up to show just how much the victime du livre got to a point where one could reasonably ascribe motives so that everyone could have dunnit and given that they were a rather unpleasant person (surrounded by mostly none-too-pleasant other characters who were capable of murder), it's a bit of a slog because of all the repressed and expressed emotionality to properly set up the tense and unbearable atmosphere which someone finally breaks under.

However, it is a rather good (if sympathy-exhausting) portrayal of the tensions and stresses that accompany domestic tyranny and the character types subjected to it in an isolated gentry-level House in an English countryside village where the head of the household basically rules like an unquestioned lord.

A good read, but probably best enjoyed by people looking more for taken-to-the-breaking-point family drama than a straightforward crime-and-investigation.

Why Shoot A Butler? seems to be the earliest published of the three, and almost Exactly What It Says In The Title.

This is on the melodramatic thriller side of mystery, with hidden secrets and car chases and kidnappings, oh my!

But actually the secret is pretty easy to guess and gives you the motive, which leads the reader to the whodunnit fairly quickly. While it's an okay story, the book is actually more interesting for having in it a character type which Heyer mercifully relegates to the background in future mystery stories.

Of course, the brilliant and eccentric socially unconventional amateur detective who considers himself superior to everyone else and shows up the incompetent local police whom he holds in contempt which he barely troubles to hide when they come begging for his help in solving a case and supported by a sympathetic professional who's an okay backup and a good listening-post, but naturally nowhere near his own calibre of competence and has to be led along with explanatory circles, arrows, and underlinings, has been a staple of mystery fiction since Sherlock Holmes.

But the thing that people writing pastiches of Holmes kind of forget is that in addition to his eccentric habits and general arrogance regarding his forensic learning and detective skills, he was actually a reasonably decently-behaved guy to most of the clients and had a humanizing influence via Watson whom he often admitted humility and being out of his depth in non-expertise fields to, and would occasionally acknowledge exceptional persons as his equals or better.

However, if you happen to think that those sorts of things are in a detective strong and pure weaknesses to be shunned and abhorred, then be not afraid! For Mr. Frank Amberley happens to be ye parfit gentil knyght (s)nob, sans peur but with plenty of reproche for all those regular folk who couldn't possibly live up to his lofty standards of excellence and breeding and delights in making mock of and being generally rude to those people he's determined to help whether they want it or not (as well as anyone else in the vicinity).

Except for his aunt, who's pretty much the only person he actually respects and considers his equal because she's sensible and clever, though in case you were wondering, he doesn't actually
kill his uncle and surprise-propose to his aunt out of the blue, having suddenly discovered he loved her all along because she was the Only One he was marginally better behaved to than anyone else despite her expressing well-bred irritation at his regular irritating habits
, like the pattern in the other Heyer mysteries. Although that would have made the book more interesting, in my opinion.

Mind you, it's not all a slog of Snobbery With Violence, as you might otherwise think. There's a fair amount of Our Hero having his wheels spiked by trying to maneuver people into acting as his useful puppets, which of course they don't, leading to entertaining wails of "Why must I be surrounded by such incompetent fools?! Must I do everything myself?!" as Plans Go Awry, and people being really rude right back to him (though not nearly as often as he deserves, IMHO).

I don't think I'd want to read too many volumes with this particular sleuth in it (it's implied in the backstory that he has an entire file full of Helping The Local Police, Those Bunglers, Solve Crime), but this one was a fairly entertaining one-off with a good enough story and some fun scenes within. I actually consider a more fun read than Penhallow, which is admittedly better-written, but really kind of depressing.

Now currently on Lucifer's Crown by Lillian Stewart Carl, which is another UK-set mystery/thriller of more modern vintage.

* Even though apparently the beautiful yet outrageous Lola de Silva may have been intended to represent a stereotype of the low-class foreigner who is Not Our Kind, along with her apparently meant-to-be-Jewish commercially-minded stage-manager, I really enjoyed her gyroscopically self-centred frankness, especially considering the faux-martyr nervousness of some of the other standard Stiff Upper Lip characters.

† Like Alfred Hitchcock's description of mystery vs suspense being that mystery was not knowing whether or not there was a bomb under the table and suspense being knowing the bomb was there, but not knowing when it was going to go off.
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