Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: A BLUNT INSTRUMENT (1938) by Georgette Heyer


Georgette Heyer, as most of you know, is the anointed queen of Regency Romance (though several of her books take place a bit earlier towards the end of the Georgian period). I've talked about her often enough since I am a slavish fan-girl. Heyer's brilliance, elegance, wit and charm and her often laugh out loud humor just cannot be duplicated. She combines all that and more in her best Regency books which I am given to re-reading when I'm down in the dumps.

But Heyer also wrote a bunch of mysteries which rival the Golden Age distinction of Agatha Christie and the rest of the talented dames who glorified the country house murder genre I love so much.

While not as lavishly enhanced with wit, charm and humor as her Regencies, Heyer's mysteries are, nevertheless, worth finding and reading because at heart, they are excellent whodunits in the British Golden Age style. And if you love that very particular sort of writing and tomfoolery, you will love these.

A BLUNT INSTRUMENT begins typically:  a bludgeoned body slumped over a desk in a study. The local bobby, a bible quoting misery named Glass, is on the scene from the first page on (in fact he provides part of the timeline), and soon it's up to Superintendent Hannasyde and his henchman, Sgt. Hemingway. (Heyer, I note, has a thing for the letter H - see further evidence in her other whodunits.)

The dead man, of course, is more than at first appears and several convenient suspects are immediately in the running for head murderer. One is a devilishly waggish nephew, Neville Fletcher - the heir apparent -  and the other is Helen North, the loathe-to-tell-the-truth wife of a man who handily enough is away from home at the time of the murder. Or is he?

It seems that the aforementioned wife was terrified of having her hubby (they are currently estranged) finding out that the dead man, Ernest Fletcher, had in his wall safe, a clutch of I.O.U. gambling vouchers belonging to Mrs. North. Mr. North frowns on that sort of thing.

Then there is Mrs. North's pragmatically inclined sister Sally Drew, (she wears a monocle and chain smokes - well, I tell you, it's 1938 after all). Sally is a mystery writer and is naturally enough intrigued when a real murder lands, as it were, on her doorstep.

There are also a couple of  men (obviously fond of calling on potential murder victims late at night) of the lower sort who were apparently up to something or other with the dead man.

There are motives galore, much mis-direction (the whereabouts of the weapon for one) and a long ago suicide to be factored in, but I suspect that experienced readers of mysteries will figure out whodunit before the last page, but still continue reading just to see how Hannasyde and Hemingway finally get to the truth of the matter.

I've been re-reading Heyer's mysteries lately and enjoying them again and again. (Thanks to old lady memory, my re-readings are often almost the same as if I were reading the book for the first time.) I also have several in audio versions which are very well done and fun to listen to. (Most especially THE UNFINISHED CLUE read by Clifford Norgate, a narrator I wish had done more of Heyer's books. Though he did narrate Heyer's Regency tale, FREDERICA, quite fabulously.)

During these days of wretched political strife and horrendous doings around the world, I am so very grateful for my favorite books - how they help soothe my often frazzled nerves. There is just nothing like re-visiting the wonderful worlds created by certain authors. Thank goodness.

Link: a full list of Georgette Heyer books.

Since it's Friday, we once again turn to author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

14 comments:

  1. I've read one of her mystery books but was not impressed! I am a fan of her Regency romances and have almost all of them. This one though sounds intriguing.

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    1. Yes, not all her mysteries are equally good, but I'd say read another before you judge them completely not for you. Sometimes too it all depends on the mood of the moment. :)

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  2. I agree with you, anything to help steady one's nerves in times like these is a good thing. I have been reading a lot of John Dickson Carr of late for the same reason. You and Moira have both been talking a lot about Heyer so I will try again with her mysteries, I really will. A few more Carrs to read first though :)

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    1. Because of you, dear Sergio, I began re-reading Carr's books. I recently reread and loved, 'SHE DIED A LADY' and now I've gotten my hands on; AND SO TO MURDER and THE EMPEROR'S SNUFF BOX. In comparison, Heyer's mysteries are rather less frenetic and of course, they are of the cozy school of mystery writing. But very well done. I just began NO WIND OF BLAME (an Inspector Hemingway book) which I somehow seem to have overlooked over the years.

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  3. Thanks for the review. :) Do you have any Heyer mysteries you would especially recommend? I confess that her reputation for Regency romances make me slightly suspicious that her mysteries would veer towards good 'cosies' rather than clever puzzles...

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    1. Well, they are cozies but at the same time they are clever puzzles. You'll just have to try one or two (two is fairer) and see if you like them. Heyer's Regencies are exceedingly clever and well plotted, so it is not surprising to me that she gave mysteries a try. The mysteries I liked are DEATH IN THE STOCKS, BEHOLD, HERE'S POISON, A BLUNT INSTRUMENT, THE UNFINISHED CLUE and, I think, DETECTION UNLIMITED (which I have to reread soon). I'm reading NO WIND OF BLAME now and so far so very good. Avoid PENHALLOW which is a horrible aberation and not worthy of Heyers. I also don't like ENVIOUS CASCA though everyone else loves it and some consider it her mystery masterpiece. It's up to you. :) Thanks for dropping by.

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  4. i'm due for a reread re GH; i more than enjoyed Envious Casca but like the others almost as well... and i read No Wind a few weeks ago for the first time and liked it... actually i was led on to read some of her romances as well, some, not all, which i greatly enjoyed...
    it's wonderful to find a blog celebrating some of the good old reads in these parlous times...

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    1. These books are my refuge, Mudpuddle. Though I do also read more contemporary authors, lately I'm indulging my vintage gene. :) I'm not a big fan of ENVIOUS CASCA, but I know I'm in the minority.

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  5. To be honest, Yvette, the closest I'm likely ever to reading one of these mysteries are your highly enjoyable reviews of them. And, who knows, they might just wear down my resistance one day!

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    1. Oh, I suspect these books are not for you, Mathew. But thanks for reading my reviews and commenting anyway. Much appreciated.

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  6. I keep planning to read some Georgette Heyer mysteries and then never actually get to them. I have read some of them, but like you, I won't remember much at all. I do plan to get to at least one of them before the end of the year.

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    1. Luckily they are not heavy duty and make for idyllic beach or swimming pool side reading. :)

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  7. Yvette, I couldn't agree more. Authors like Georgette Heyer are a splendid tonic for "frazzled nerves." We need books to keep our wits and sanity.

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    1. Absolutely, Prashant. If I didn't have my books to 'hide' in I don't know what I'd do. They are my refuge.

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