Tuesday, September 4, 2012

No Wind of Blame, by Georgette Heyer


Wally Carter is a jerk. He cheats on his wealthy wife Ermyntrude, squanders her money on shady schemes, and even asks her to pay off his pregnant girlfriend (and then moans about how much it sucks for him that he's so broke he has to ask for her help with said blackmail). He's ill-tempered, greedy, and lecherous. He's an indifferent guardian to his adult ward (and heir) Mary, and completely uninterested in his stepdaughter Vicky, a young would-be actress with a penchant for making scenes and a fierce desire to protect her foolish mother from harm. In fact, pretty much the only person he gets along with is his ne'er-do-well neighbor/distant cousin Harold. So when Wally winds up dead, it's a bit of a mystery who did it--after all, there are so many choices! Was it his wronged wife, Ermyntrude? The strong, silent farmer (aptly named Steel) who dotes on her and hates to see her treated so poorly? The impoverished Russian prince who's been staying with the family and making eyes at the wealthy Ermyntrude? Or someone else altogether? When the local constable is at a loss to makes heads or tails of the matter, it becomes clear that this is a  case for Scotland Yard . . . and the delightful (and insightful) Inspector Hemingway.

As with many Heyer mysteries, the murder takes place at a country manor, and the list of suspects includes pretty much everyone staying in the house, along with a few interested neighbors.  The solution is, perhaps, a bit more convoluted than is strictly necessary, but it's still a fun story.

I've mentioned before that I have a very soft spot for Ms. Heyer's mysteries (and her delightful characters), and this book is no exception. However, it does include a bit of a change-up from the usual Heyer fare.  See, Heyer favors female characters with good minds, sharp tongues, and a lively sense of humor. They're not always downright witty, but they are usually possessed of common sense. You can usually identify the heroine of the story right from the get-go. She may not be the only female with a romance arc, and she may not be the only likable one, but you know which one you're supposed to like best--which one the story revolves around.

In this story, it seems at first that Mary--good, down-to-earth Mary--will be our heroine, the character through whom we perceive the events of the story (not to say that we only see what she sees, but that her view of the characters informs our own; we like the people she likes and dislike those she hates).  Surely she will be paired off with our leading man.

Similarly, we think we know what to think of Vicky--the lovely, frippery heiress who loves to be the center of attention and views all of life as merely a stage upon which she can act out any scene she desires. She seems shallow and spoiled and rather annoying. Perhaps Heyer will pair her off with someone, but no one too wonderful.

However, Mary is fundamentally incapable of appreciating the ridiculous events around her. Her sense of humor is, well, negligible. There is no sparkle in her eye. Meanwhile, under all that drama, Vicky has a fairly sharp brain and a lively sense of humor, as well as a genuine desire to shield her mother from mistreatment. She may use rather unorthodox means, but her ends are largely sound, and though she's undoubtedly a handful, there is a certain charm to her impossible antics. And then there's the voluptuous Ermyntrude--quite foolish, as it turns out, and highly sensitive and amusingly prone to overreacting, but good-hearted, generous, and exceedingly fond (and protective) of the two young women in her charge. She, too, is a heroine of sorts--she is likable, and we can't help wanting her to be happy.

So instead of just one heroine--one female who endears herself to the readers, one leading lady we just know will get to live happily ever after--we have three. Heyer does sometimes employ two heroines in her romances (as in Bath Tangle and arguably The Grand Sophy and The Masqueraders), this is the first time I've seen her do so in a mystery--and certainly the first time I've seen her present fully three female protagonists.

Other than that, it's fairly standard Heyer mystery fare, which is to say: the mystery isn't great, but the characters are a hoot. Definitely worth reading, particularly if you're a fan of Jane Austen and/or Agatha Christie (or Heyer herself).

No comments: