I’m delighted to be welcoming The Classics Circuit once more.
And I’m particularly pleased to welcome such a popular and readable author – Georgette Heyer.
I’ve read, and enjoyed, a few of her Regency romances over the years, but I’d never tried her crime fiction. I thought that I was bound to be disappointed. That she would suffer in comparison with her illustrious contemporaries – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh – all authors I love. But a quote on one of the covers caught my eye and made me pick out a few books to take home.
I picked up No Wind of Blame first, and I loved it.
Now back to that quote. It was from Dorothy L Sayers.
“Miss Heyer’s characters and dialogue are an abiding delight to me…I have seldom met people to whom I have taken so violent a fancy from the word ‘Go”.”
Now I’ve read the book I have to agree with her. So, let me introduce you to those characters.
First there’s Ermyntrude Carter. Ermyntrude was on the stage as a young woman and inherited the a country estate and a fortune from her first, husband. She’s little more loud, a little more brash than the norm, but she is a warm and hospitable lady. Her second husband, Wally Carter, sadly was not a good catch. He wastes his wife’s money on wine, women and song, his business dealings seem dubious to see the least, and he is not well-regarded by local society. Poor Ermyntrude! But she has her daughter’s support.Vicky, shares her mother’s love of theatrics, casting herself as a variety of different characters as he drifts through life. She’s lovely and infuriating in equal measures. And then there’s Mary, Wally’s quiet and sensible ward, who is saddened by his behaviour and supportive of his wife and step-daughter.
That’s the household, and it’s a highly entertaining one, but there are more people to meet. There’s Prince Varasashvili, an exiled Russian prince and admirer of Ermyntrude who is coming to stay. Of course Ermyntrude is having a house party to show off her unusual guest. The neighbours are intrigued. The Derings, on the neighbouring estate, wouldn’t usually accept such an invitation, but curiosity gets the better of them.
Just a few more introductions before we get to the house party and the mystery. Wally’s cousin, Gilbert White, lives with his son and daughter in the lodge, and seems to have some sort of hold over Wally. Bob Steel is a local farmer, as down to earth as they come, and he holds Ermyntrude in the highest regard, And an uninvited guest, accusing Wally of impropriety with his sister.
It’s quite a cast. A few stereotypes maybe, but they are so engaging, their exchanges are so delightful, and so you really can’t help loving them, and turning the pages.
The house party is a riot – and then somebody shoots Wally as he walks across the estate.
Of course there are plenty of suspects, red herrings galore, twists and turns galore, and just a touch of fun and romance along the way before things are tied up nicely in just the right conclusion.
The style is quite different from those contemporaries of Georgette Heyer. It’s slower, much more driven by the characters, their interactions, and their dialogue. And the detective, Inspector Hemingway is both wise and witty, but he’s low-key and plays second fiddle to the house party of suspects.
Those differences stopped me making the comparisons I feared, but now I have finished reading I realise that, even if I had, this book would have stood up well. It’s a cleverly constructed mystery and a fine entertainment. And I’m very glad that I didn’t just bring home the one!