Hazel McHaffie

More Georgette Heyer

Remember what I said a few weeks ago about wanting to read Georgette Heyer‘s mystery novels? Well, as if by magic, here they are – all except one. A treat in store. Well, one shouldn’t judge such an author by a single book.

All we’ve got is a bunch of classy people, all moving in the best circles, all to be handled carefully, and only one of them known to the police.

So says one of the lead policemen in Duplicate Death, my second dip into this series.

Daniel Seaton-Carew is called to the phone in his hostess’s boudoir shortly after 11pm, there are 43 people in the building, playing bridge. When he doesn’t reappear, the lady of the house, Mrs Haddington, sends Sir Roderick Vickerstown to remind him that the card players are waiting for him. He discovers the man has been murdered, strangled with a tourniquet of picture-wire there at the telephone table – wire bought that very morning by the secretary, Miss Beulah Birtley, at Mrs Haddington’s instigation, in order to secure some unruly flowers.

The said secretary was the one to take the call in the first place so it’s not surprising her finger prints are on the telephone. Only two people from the party had opportunity to kill him:
the hostess, Mrs Haddington
and one guest, Sydney Butterwick.
Ah, well, no … two other men left the room briefly:
Mr Godfrey Poulton
and Mr Timothy Harte.
Oh, and of the servants, the butler and the parlourmaid are unaccounted for. The list lengthens; the plot thickens.

Three people are known to have had angry exchanges with Seaton-Carew earlier in the evening:
Mrs Haddington – because he was openly flirting with her exquisitely lovely daughter, Cynthia.
Mr Sydney Butterwick – always jealous of Seaton-Carew (the object of his own affections) paying attention to other men or women.
And Miss Beulah Birtley, who has her own dark secrets.

When a duplicate murder takes place shortly afterwards, the police are quick to note that it’s only a carbon copy on the surface. Mrs Haddington was strangled elsewhere and then dragged into a position resembling her late paramour’s ugly end. This time too, there are hostile exchanges between the victim and three other people before the murder. The most recent visitors to Mrs Haddington’s boudoir are instantly in the frame:
Mr Godfrey Poulton
Mr Sydney Butterwick
Lord Lance Guisborough
Miss Beulah Birtley.

The plotting is such that the reader could never solve it faster than the police since certain facts are withheld, but it’s an entertaining tale and the dialogue is both amusing and of its time. Though I live in Scotland, I personally found the Gaelic littering Inspector Grant’s dialogue impenetrable, and his accent unconvincing and irritating. Lawyer Timothy Harte has a nice line in sardonic banter but his endearments, like ‘ducky’, ‘my child’, for his sweetheart, don’t ring true today. And, as with the first one I read, I seriously take issue with ‘he expostulated’, ‘ejaculated’, etc, instead of a simple undistracting ‘he said’ or ‘he replied’. Oh, and to the excessive use of exclamation marks. Which all goes to show that the rules of writing may change over time, but a story can be enduring in spite of it. And I’d forgive this author much, purely on the grounds that she was a hero of my youth … or should that be ‘youth!’? …?!

To date the most enjoyable read has been The Unfinished Clue. The murder victim is a thoroughly unpleasant man; the characters are plausible suspects; the actual murderer invites sympathy. And best of all, there are fewer irritating foibles in the style of writing.

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