29/02/2008

Footsteps in the Dark (by Georgette Heyer)

Although I've been reading and re-reading Georgette Heyer's light romantic historical fiction for about thirty years now, it's only relatively recently that I've discovered her crime fiction.

I began reading 'Footsteps in the Dark' a couple of years ago, but for some reason didn't finish it. So I decided to start it again recently. It's the story of a family who unexpectedly inherit an old country mansion, and decide to use it as a sort of holiday home. It's not in the best condition, and the grounds are like a wilderness. Moreover, it's reputed to be haunted by a monk...

Peter, Margaret and Celia are siblings who are all fond of each other. Celia is married to Charles. Neither Peter nor Charles is particularly impressed with the house, but the women think it has a lot of potential and they decide to spend a few weeks there. They get to know some of the neighbours, and also meet some slightly odd people: M Duval, a French artist who is frequently drunk or drugged; Michael Strange, who Margaret finds very attractive, who seems to behave very suspiciously; Mr Fripp, an even more suspicious man, who whispers to his associates in dark corners of the local pub.

Peculiar noises are heard in the evenings, and footsteps. Nobody really believes in the ghostly monk, until Mrs Bosanquet, aunt to the main characters, comes across him one night when she pops downstairs. Thereafter he makes a few more appearances, and it becomes clear that he's no ghost, but someone involved in nefarious activities who is in disguise as a heavily cowled monk.

It's quite an exciting story, with - as is usual for Georgette Heyer - some good characterisation, and even a ilttle light humour. There are some very tense moments too, and one extremely unpleasant (though hardly unexpected) one. There are various mysteries to be solved - who is the monk? Why does he apparently haunt the place? Who works with him, and why?

I had not guessed what was going on until it was all revealed; however I did work out the identity of the monk several chapters before he was unmasked; I also guessed correctly about the occupation of another of the significant characters. Heyer wasn't as good as Agatha Christie at laying false trails and surprising her readers - her talent was, instead, in making the people three-dimensional. That's perhaps a disadvantage in crime fiction, since it becomes clear from people's characters whether they are 'baddies' or not!

It's a good story; recommended if you like light crime fiction. Still in print in the UK, and readily available second hand in the UK and USA.

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