Envious Casca (by Georgette Heyer)

Although I’ve re-read most of Georgette Heyer’s historical fiction many times, over the last few decades, it’s only in the past fifteen years that I learned that she had also written some crime fiction, set in the middle of the 20th century. I gradually managed to find and buy most of these novels second hand, and since it’s been over ten years since I read them, it was more than time to start re-reading.

‘Envious Casca’ was the first Heyer crime novel I tried, back in 2003. I had completely forgotten the story, and also the resolution, although I was aware that - in best Agatha Christie style - the scene would be set with a large cast of suspects before somebody, preferably an unpleasant character, would be bumped off. Experts would be called in and the crime would eventually be solved.

This is, indeed, exactly what happens. In the first chapters we meet grumpy Nat, who owns a stately home, and his more sociable brother Joe, who is a retired actor. Joe and his rather dull wife Maud live with Nat, and Joe has decided to invite a few family members to a Christmas house gathering for a few days. He decorates the house and does his best to spread peace and light, while Nat becomes more and more irritable…

Where Heyer shines in crime writing is the depth of her characterisation. Each of the people in the party are clearly distinguished, with characters well-established, and plenty of believable interaction. I had an inkling of who the victim was going to be, but did not recall - or work out - who the perpetrator was until almost the end. The clues and red herrings were not as cleverly plotted as Christie would have done, but the storyline holds together nicely, and there are some unexpected moments of low-key satirical humour here and there that made it very enjoyable to read.

Inspector Hemingway, the Scotland Yard expert called in to solve what appears to be an impossible crime, appears in some of Heyer’s other crime fiction novels, and is a particularly pleasant and intelligent man.

I read a few chapters each night for a few days, but then felt that I wanted to find out ‘whodunit’ and finished the last hundred pages or so in one sitting.

Definitely recommended.

This book has been re-published many times in several different editions since its initial production in 1941. Although quite rare twenty years ago, it's now back in print again on both sides of the Atlantic, and much easier to find second-hand.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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