Thursday, August 30, 2012

Duplicate Death, by Georgette Heyer


Murder! At a bridge party, no less! The cast of characters includes a barrister, a Lady, a secretary, a spoiled debutante, a Communist, a businessman, a ballet aficionado, a wealthy widow/parvenu, and a charming gentleman with no visible means of support. When one of them winds up strangled at during an evening of duplicate bridge, it's up to the brusque-but-intelligent Inspector Hemingway (with an assist from his Scottish assistant Grant) to figure out who done it!

Man, I forgot how fun Georgette Heyer books are!

Heyer is best known for her meticulously researched historical romances, and is generally credited (at least according to Wikipedia) with inventing the genre. In addition to her thirty-some historical romances (and historical novels), she also wrote a dozen or so modern mysteries, which, though admittedly less popular than her romances, are still worth checking out--less because of the plots, which are rather run-of-the mill, and more because the characters are full of Heyer's usual wit and humor.

Heyer mysteries have a distinctly Agatha Christie feel, often taking place at a country estate or in an upper-class home (and, in this case, during a bridge game). The list of suspects is limited to a handful of guests, and all of the players are at least moderately genteel. However, the humor and dialogue are reminiscent of Jane Austen. For one thing, she plays up the romantic angle a bit more than Christie usually does. Not the passion, mind you, but the romance--by which I mean the witty repartee between two strong-minded and usually intelligent young people who are, of course, destined for each other. But it's not just the romance that evokes Austen; Heyer's tone is full of affectionate amusement and gentle mockery as she plays up the more ridiculous qualities of her characters. Some are undoubtedly more likable than others, but by and large she writes very genial and good-natured books, in which all but a few true villains are guilty more of foolishness or frivolity than actual malice. The end result is, almost invariably, a very pleasant--and occasionally downright delightful--read.

This particular installment is set some time after the conclusion of World War II, and is chock full of modern scandal: Secret betrothals! Shady pasts! Blackmail! Drug dealers! Embezzlement! Forgery! Ex-Cons! Multiple murders! Who knew high society was so seedy? Fortunately, Inspector Hemingway labors under no misapprehensions regarding the behavior of the upper classes, and he's determined to solve this murder one way or another.

It's not my favorite Heyer mystery (that honor goes to Envious Casca), but it's still a lark, and fans of Christie, Austen, or Heyer herself would do well to check out this fun and frothy mystery.

[A very small nitpick: For some reason, the blurb on the back of the book mentions a character named Timothy Kane, when the name in the book is Timothy Harte. Kane is the surname of his half brother. I realize it's not a huge mistake, but it seemed kind of a weird one to make.]

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