08/08/2011

They found him dead (by Georgette Heyer)

Having read and re-read Georgette Heyer's regency novels for over thirty years, I was pleased to discover, rather more recently, that she wrote some detective novels too. Most of them are in print despite having been written seventy or eight years ago, but since I don't find them as enjoyable as the historical fiction, I prefer to pick them up second-hand.

So I was pleased to discover a copy of 'They found him dead' in a local charity shop for a euro, some months ago - a Heyer book I had never read.

As with her other crime fiction novels, it's in what I think of as the Agatha Christie genre. This one is set in the 1930s, so was contemporary fiction at the time of writing, although many of the issues and people seem quite modern.

The story begins with a sixtieth birthday party, as observed by Patricia Allison, who is the paid companion to a elderly lady of over eighty - mother of Silas who is celebrating. We meet various family members and business associates in the first chapter, which was a little overwhelming; knowing that it would be a mystery, I even went back and wrote down notes of who was whom. I need not have worried; unlike Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer was always excellent at characterisation and those who have a part to play in the story are re-introduced as the book progresses.

Unsurprisingly, someone is found dead the following morning, having apparently fallen off a cliff. The verdict is that it was an accident... until someone else is discovered shot through the head a few days later. Superintendent Hannasyde of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate in his quietly astute way, helped - or otherwise - by the more cheerful Inspector Hemingway, and mostly hindered by Timothy Harte, a fifteen-year-old amateur sleuth who finds the whole scenario rather thrilling.

The plot is not as cleverly written as many of Agatha Christie's books; I had guessed 'whodunit' long before the criminal was revealed. False trails did not quite add up, and although I had not worked out how the second crime was done until the gun was discovered, I suspected the correct person from early in the book. However, that really didn't matter; I was alert for nuances that confirmed that I was on the right track, and there was still a great deal of tension involving a third person who was, apparently, likely to be next in line to be killed.

There's a low-key romance running through the book, and some light humour, mostly involving the teenage Timothy and his wonderfully eccentric parents, who appear on the scene mid-way through. The writing is good, as I expect with Heyer's novels, and while it's perhaps odd to talk of 'enjoying' crime fiction, I found it a satisfying read overall.

Recommended to all who like this genre. Note that Amazon UK has a Kindle edition of 'They found him dead' as well as a paperback version.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 8th August 2011

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