Duplicate Death (by Georgette Heyer)

In general, I love Georgette Heyer's books. I rank her as one of my favourite writers, and re-read her romantic historical fiction regularly. It's only in the past few years that I've also started reading her crime fiction, and was pleased to pick up a few of these, second-hand, from Abebooks during the summer.

'Duplicate Death' - as with all Heyer's crime fiction - is somewhat reminiscent of the Agatha Christie genre, set in a similar period with the same kind of people.

This book features Mrs Haddington, a wealthy widow, who hosts a duplicate Bridge party, and invites fifty guests. During the evening, one of the guests is murdered with some picture wire, and it seems that any of half a dozen people could have done the deed. Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard is called in, along with Inspector Grant. They attempt to unravel the mystery in the traditional style, interviewing various people and building up a clearer picture of what happened during the evening.

However, part-way through their investigations, another murder takes place, using the same method, which both shocks and surprises everyone.

It's a complex plot for a short novel, with a huge number of characters who are introduced in the early chapters. Unfortunately, most of them are not all that interesting. I don't think Georgette Heyer can produce a really flat or badly-written character, but the majority of them in this book simply aren't memorable at all - instead they feel like caricatures of a type of person rather than the believable, three-dimensional people who usually populate Heyer's novels.

Having said that, there is some enjoyable light badinage between Hemingway an the Scottish Grant, and there's a very low key romance between Tim Harte and Mrs Haddington's secretary. Unfortunately, the secretary has some rather unsavoury secrets in her past, which make her fearful.

However, Mrs Haddington herself is so selfish and cold that it was hard to feel anything for her; her daughter Cynthia is beautiful but heartless, and pretty much brainless too. Neither of them were at all appealing, and it was thus quite a struggle at times to feel any interest in the story. When the mystery is - inevitably - solved, it didn't feel particularly satisfying.

Having said all that, it's really not a bad book for a quick read, if you like this genre of crime fiction. I was perhaps expecting too much: it's nowhere near the standard of Georgette Heyer's others. But probably worth reading at least once. Still in print in the UK, over fifty years after publication, and widely available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 19th July 2008

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