29/06/2008

The Unfinished Clue (by Georgette Heyer)

I've loved Georgette Heyer's Regency romance novels for years, and re-read them all regularly. But it's only in the past few years that I've started reading her detective stories, which are similar in genre (and period) to Agatha Christie's better known books. They're not so easy to find in charity shops as the Regency romance novels, but I'm slowly gathering a collection, and recently bought three more from Abebooks.

'The Unfinished Clue' is a typical murder mystery. The unpleasant Sir Arthur is host to a weekend gathering of people, most of whom he wishes were absent. His wife is timid and rather scared of him; her sister Dinah is a bit bossy and dislikes him. His nephew Francis is there to scrounge money from his uncle, and Sir Arthur's son Geoffrey - whom he dislikes and despises anyway - has just got engaged to a highly unsuitable Spanish dancer.

Then there's Stephen Guest, who's in love with Sir Arthur's wife, and the Hallidays - casual friends, but Sir Arthur rather fancies Mrs Halliday. And if that's not enough characters, there are a few extra people invited to a dinner party over the weekend.

After various stresses and strains, one of the party is murdered - and it seems as if any of several people could be responsible. The local police are baffled, so the rather nice Inspector Harding of Scotland Yard is called in to help.

This novel, more than other Heyer mysteries I have read, is very similar to Agatha Christie's style in the structure of the investigation. Each person is interviewed, so that times and other details can be compared, and the Inspector discusses each stage with the local Sergeant, pointing out where anyone is obviously lying. 

However, unlike Christie, there is no rambling or repetition. Moreover, all the characters feel three-dimensional rather than caricatured, albeit in a 1930s Upper Class British sort of way!

I thought the plot was very cleverly done - one of Heyer's best from the 'whodunit' point of view. There are lots of red herrings and other pointers which I could see, but I didn't guess the guilty culprit.

Since it was written as a contemporary novel in 1934 it's also interesting from a social history point of view 70+ years later. There's even a low-key romantic thread. Recommended. It is still in print on both sides of the Atlantic and can be found second-hand online, even if it's not so common in charity shops.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 29th June 2008

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