21/05/2018

No Wind of Blame (by Georgette Heyer)


I started acquiring Georgette Heyer’s historical romance books about forty years ago, and have re-read most of them several times. But it was only around twelve years ago when I realised that she had also written some light crime fiction set in the early and middle of the 20th century, somewhat in the Agatha Christie style. I have gradually acquired eleven of them at charity shops. About eight months ago, I discovered that there was just one missing from my collection, ‘No Wind of Blame’, so ordered it from Amazon’s second-hand marketplace.

The book has sat on my to-read shelf since then, but I picked it up a week or so back, and have been reading it at odd moments. Unlike most of Christie’s novels, the crime doesn’t actually take place until about a third of the way through; several chapters are taken up with establishing the people and their personalities. Heyer was very good at creating believable characters, and has quite a cast here, set in a rural area with the mansion known as Palings at the centre.

Ermyntrude is a wealthy lady, rather larger than life in every respect, married to the easily-led (and appropriately-named) Wally. The main viewpoint character is Wally’s cousin and ward, Mary; she’s a sensible, kind-hearted young woman who manages to be polite and caring to even the most foolish of people. Ermyntrude’s daughter Vicky is a little younger than Mary, and likes to play different dramatic roles…

The story opens as this rather unusual family are preparing to welcome a Georgian Prince as a house guest. Ermyntrude, who is not generally recognised by the upper classes, has used him as the bait for a dinner party which she is about to hold.

If this were an Agatha Christie, someone at the dinner party would no doubt be found lifeless at some point, but this book doesn’t follow that formula. Instead we see various characters relating to each other, giving insights into their personalities, and also some low-key ironical humour. I was not very impressed with one couple who have developed pseudo-evangelical ‘God-following’ zeal, and are generally considered annoying by everyone else; they feel fake and out of place, and indeed seem to vanish from the cast list as the book progresses.

However, in the young man Hugh (a barrister), the doctor Maurice Chester, and the irritating Harold White, among others, Heyer created memorable and interesting people whom I had no trouble telling apart. Vicky’s histrionics provide some light diversion; Vicky, on the whole, is a likeable person so the inevitable teasing is mostly in good taste.

Inspector Hemmingway, who features in other Heyer crime fiction novels, appears in this book once crime has happened and has bewildered the local constabulary. He’s always good value, with a dry sense of the ridiculous, and plenty of humility about his abilities.

The plot, too, is nicely done. There aren’t as many red herrings and other false trails as Agatha Christie generally employed, but Heyer manages to make almost all the characters seem potentially guilty, with motivation of some kind. When alibis prove false, I had worked out in advance that something dubious was going on… all but that of the eventually discovered perpetrator.

The eventual unravelling of the criminal deed is a tad more complex than I liked. The method is not something I could possibly have guessed, although there are some subtle clues, most of which I failed to notice. Character-wise, however, the ending is, in my view, entirely satisfactory.

‘No Wind of Blame’ was published in 1939, and written as a contemporary novel for that era. It went out of print for a while, but in recent years Heyer’s crime fiction novels, as well as her historical ones, have been re-printed regularly and can often be found second-hand.

Recommended if you enjoy light crime fiction set in the years between the world wars.  Don't, however, read the blurb on the back since - at least in my edition - it gives far too many spoilers.

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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