Thursday, November 12, 2009

Laughter Reviews: NO WIND OF BLAME

Georgette Heyer

Classic Mystery

Sourcebooks, 2009

Host of country house party dies unnaturally; all present have reason to welcome this development.

Very pretty. Great chartreuse color, not overdone. Don't entirely comprehend the title but it is irrelevant, anyway; it is the famous author readers come for, and her name is understandably more prominent than the title. The cover girl looks like a quintessential flapper with her marcelled hair, sleeveless dress, and smoke-curling cigarette from the days when smoking was still considered sophisticated. The only surprise is that she holds it barehanded rather than in a cigarette holder or with elbow-length gloves.

What Works
This was Apprentice Writer's first Heyer mystery, and what fun it was. The assembled characters and how they bounce off each other were wonderful: Russian prince, disingenuous daughter, belligerent schemer, neglected wife, husband on a tight leash, noble admirer, sensible poor cousin, irate villager who refuses to accept supposed innate superiority of the rich and titled - all encountered by the mystery reader before, but all well done, and all deserving of the question 'Or is he/she?' following description of their surface persona. This means the question "Who had the motive and possibility to do the deed?" transforms into "Who of the plentiful supply of people with motive and possibility was the most likely?"

The country house, the grounds, the dower house tucked away out of sight, the household rituals and pets - all can be easily visualized. But it is the character descriptions and little bits of interaction between them that typify the story most and where it shines:

"Mrs. Carter stretched out a plump arm to the toast rack She was a large woman who had enjoyed, in her youth, the advantages of golden hair and a pink-and-white complexion. Time had committed some ravages with both these adjuncts...Artificial light was kinder to her than the daylight, but she never allowed this tiresome fact to worry her...she never put on her corsets until fortified by breakfast. (Her niece) had never been able to accustom herself to the sight of Ermyntrude's flowing sleeves trailing negligently across the butter dishes and occasionally dipping into her coffee..."

What reader could dislike a character called Ermyntrude? Certainly not this one.

"Vicky came in some little time after the tea table was spread. Mary had little patience for poses, but had too much humor not to appreciate the manner of this entrance. Vicky was sinuous in a teagown that swathed her limbs in folds of chiffon, and trailed behind her over the floor. She came in with her hand resting lightly on the neck of the dog, and paused for a moment, looking round with tragic vagueness. The dog, lacking histrionic talent, escaped from the imperceptible restraint of her hand to investigate the Prince."

Etc. If this type of description appeals to the Gentle Reader, by all means pick up this story. If it makes the Gentle Reader impatient and long to get on with the clues and crime instead of the crumpets, it may be that a different sort of mystery may be better for them. But for Apprentice Writer, the mix was right.

What Doesn't
The copyright of this book was registered in 1939, and reflects a bygone social system and language. Some readers may need more time than others to become accustomed to dialogue saturated with class consciousness and putdowns of varying subtlety aimed by almost everyone at almost everyone else, linked to focus on appearance, lack of it, wealth, lack of it, intelligence, lack of it, social ambition, lack of it, conformity to gender stereotypes, lack of it.... The Gentle Reader gets the picture.

Taken literally, it presents a picture of a world the modern reader (or perhaps, simply the non-British one) would find difficult to relate to. It is AW's understanding, however, that the author is known for her satirical skill; viewed in that light, the characters' relentless snippy comments towards others coupled with utter certainty of their own superiority becomes a very telling criticism of such attitudes, and thus in reality, a strength of the novel.

A most entertaining story for a rainy afternoon with a pot of tea. Great for fans of British house parties, Oscar Wile's zingers, and the era of Hercule Poirot.


Julia Smith said...

'and paused for a moment, looking round with tragic vagueness'

I am certainly going to affect a look of tragic vagueness from this moment on. Can't think of anything better than that.

I haven't read any Georgette Heyer yet, but this taste of her style is extremely enticing.

raidergirl3 said...

Isn't the cover gorgeous? I just picked up a different Heyer mystery last week, and the beautiful cover stood out on the shelf of dark mysteries. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, and Christie mysteries are a fav. of mine. I'm looking even more forward to reading my book now.

M. said...

Julia - I'd love to see your tragically vague look. I'm sure it will be masterful.

Raidergirl - Long time no see! Welcome back!