Originally published in July 2004, on my original 52 Books blog. Edited to remove spoilers.
Author: Georgette Heyer
Year published: 1951
Genre: Romance, historical (Regency period)
Where got: Public library
Soon after Gervase arrives at Stanyon castle to take up his duties as the Earl and landowner, it becomes apparent that someone wants him dead. The most likely suspect is Gervase’s passionate younger brother and heir, Martin, but Gervase is not ready to believe that without further evidence. Complicating the matter for the would-be killer is Drusilla, a practical young lady who is staying with the dowager Countess, and who always seems to be there when Gervase needs protection from the would-be killer.
Technique, characterisation and plot:
The book is absorbing and funny, not just chuckle-chuckle funny, but laugh-aloud funny.
The romance was subdued - in fact neither hero nor heroine gave any indication of being in love until the last 20 pages or so, and the romantic antics were left to the support cast, whose escapades provided an interesting counterpoint to the phlegmatic relationship between hero and heroine.
The book is well written and the use of language is brilliant. The description of Stanyon castle and all the additions to it over the centuries had me laughing out loud, so wonderfully evocative and sarcastic was it.
The mystery is engaging and the hints very subtle, although an experienced mystery reader will see the villain a mile off (I had the villain and his motive figured out long before anything bad happened.)
Most of the main characters are believable, well-rounded and three-dimensional, with the exception of Drusilla, who comes across as flat. This is unfortunate, since she is the heroine of the book. Gervase is a seemingly calm and submissive dandy, but underneath his placid demeanour there is a will of iron, a quick intelligence and a great sense of humour. His brother, Martin, is equally well written, a young man who has never learned to check his temper or his passions and is quick to anger, but can also be compassionate and caring. His love-interest, Marianne, is a shy, retiring and immature girl who learns a lesson about the dangers of flirting. The least interesting characters are Drusilla, the practical and seemingly unemotional heroine, and Theo, the aloof cousin who is the financial manager of the estate and always seems to be hovering in the background without taking direct part in events.
The love between Drusilla and Gervase is not at all believable - it just appears suddenly near the end, even though Drusilla has supposedly been enamoured of Gervase ever since they first met right at the beginning of the book. It’s almost as if Heyer suddenly realized “hey, I forgot there’s supposed to be a romance between those two” and tacked it on as an afterthought. Other than that, I liked this book very much, so much that I have ordered another of Heyer’s books from an online bookstore, and fully expect it to be just as good, if not better than this one.
A charming mystery and romance. 4 stars.