False Colours (by Georgette Heyer)

When I want a comforting read that has a little more substance than one of my favourite children’s books, I usually turn to Georgette Heyer. I was introduced to her historical fiction by a relative when I was in my late teens, and over the years have collected most of her works, re-reading them regularly.

It was ten years since I had last read ‘False Colours’, so it was well overdue for a re-read. I recalled the overall plot, of course: Kit and Evelyn are twins in their twenties; Evelyn has inherited a title from his father, and also his estate. Kit, as younger brother (albeit by a small margin) has had to find a career, and has been involved in the diplomatic service abroad.

The story opens when Kit arrives home late at night, to be greeted by his beautiful but somewhat fluffy mother, who at first mistakes him for his brother. And he quickly learns that Evelyn has an urgent appointment the next day, which will cause a great deal of stress if he misses it… but he’s been missing for over a week.

Events quickly spiral into what could be chaos in the hands of a less talented writer, but - while reading the book - feel entirely believable and, indeed, possible. Kit, using all his diplomatic skills, takes on a role he would really prefer not to.

The heroine, the honourable Cressy Stavely, is one of Heyer’s calmer young women, with a delightfully ironic sense of humour. She’s not feisty or even staggeringly beautiful, nor is she determined to right the wrongs of the poor. She has been keeping house for her father, and has turned down some offers or marriage, but now is struggling to cope with her new stepmother who is not much older than she is.

While I recalled the outline of the plot, there were many scenes I had forgotten, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book over the past week or so, dipping into it at odd moments as well as reading before going to sleep. There’s a sense in which re-reading a book like this feels like spending time with old friends; Heyer not only constructed clever plots, but created three-dimensional and extremely likeable characters.

There are undoubtedly caricatures amongst them: Kit and Evelyn’s mother is so clueless about finances that she’s quite amusing in places, and the enormously wealthy Sir Bonamy is a figure of fun - yet they’re not malicious caricatures. Both are kind-hearted and generous, and through the eyes of Kit (mostly) and Cressy, to some degree, we see their good points as well as their bad ones.

I particularly liked the fact that the romantic declaration takes place about two-thirds of the way through the book, rather than on the final pages, as is so common with Heyer’s books. But there’s plenty of plot left afterwards, confusions to iron out and problems to solve, which happen, as I knew already, with the author’s usual aplomb.

Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys light-hearted regency romance novels. First published in 1963 and almost constantly in print, though widely available second-hand too.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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