REVIEW: Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
What begins as an adventure soon becomes a nightmare…
Locals claim it is haunted and refuse to put a single toe past the front door, but to siblings Peter, Celia, and Margaret, the Priory is nothing more than a rundown estate inherited from their late uncle-and the perfect setting for a much-needed holiday. But when a murder victim is discovered in the drafty Priory halls, the once unconcerned trio begins to fear that the ghostly rumors are true and they are not alone after all! With a killer on the loose, will they find themselves the next victims of a supernatural predator, or will they uncover a far more corporeal culprit?
I had never read a Heyer mystery before and saw this on offer for review. What the heck, I thought. It’s very much a product of its time in language and details with a touch of post WWI séance and gothic overtones tossed in. There’s also a fair amount of Heyer’s class distinction as well. Our heroes and heroines are all upper-class (though not aristocrats) and the bumbling police constable as well as the local inspector are obviously considered working class.
The actual mystery isn’t that complex or hard to follow despite the sprinkling of red herrings and possible suspects. Once clues begin to be dropped, I guessed who the major villain was though not what he was actually up to. The location of the country house and its past history are important but it was still fun to watch everyone suss out what was going on and how it was accomplished. The style is a bit slower than modern stories allowing the details to be built up at a leisurely pace. One thing that interested me is how Heyer doesn’t hold onto all the plot cards until the end but reveals some key things all along the way.
I enjoyed the couples – Celia and her unflappable barrister husband as well as her brother and sister Peter and Margaret – who is pluck to the backbone. There’s even a quick romance with a hilariously understated British engagement scene – please, hold the emotion, we’re English. The Bowers – butler and housekeeper who have known the three siblings since the cradle – take no guff from them and keep the gormless constable in line.
It ends up being a bit of a country house, cozy, amateur sleuth, police procedural coated with historical details and complete with a teensy bit of class snobbery expected for the early 1930s. It’s fairly well thought out if a bit convoluted towards the end. Seriously, Margaret’s love interest was hesitant she would marry him because he’s with the CID? Yep he was. So roll down your stockings, kick back with a Bronx cocktail darling, enjoy the witty and charming banter and sink back into days gone by. B
Oh you should read Envious Casca if you ever get a review copy. That was my first Heyer. Mystery is not a focus as it was obvious but the snark and humor in that book was loads of fun. It’s known that her mysteries were never complex. I didn’t care for A Blunt Instrument though. It was sorta uneven and forgettable.
I thought I had all the Heyer mysteries, but I don’t remember this one at all. But $11 for the ebook, when I paid $1.75 for my paper copies back in the day?
@Sandra: Sourcebooks does sales and for a while, some of these books were available to read with KU. Maybe a library has a copy? Mine has the audiobook which I want to check out at some point.
@Keishon: Thanks for the rec; I’ll keep it in mind when I’ve got a free spot on my reading schedule.
I think this might be the only Heyer mystery I haven’t read, and yes, you read them more for the humour and the social history than the mystery. As for the romance (which is an element of most if not all of them) well, Heyer doesn’t seem to go in for gushing declarations, even in her classic romantic novels, judging from the few I’ve read so far. The latest was Cotillion (which I loved) and it surprised me with a scene at the end which was positively fulsome for Heyer.
The best romance in Heyer’s mysteries is in Behold, Here’s Poison, which plays around with the detective story format in a very funny way. Maybe I should read some of these books again; it’s been at least ten years now……
Coming late (I somehow missing seeing this review) but I wanted to note that this was the first of Heyer’s “thrillers” and she wasn’t happy with it. She suppressed the republication in her lifetime and it was only after her death that her husband or son reconsidered this decision.
That said, being by Heyer, it still has its fun elements and is worth the read. (The audiobook we listened to wasn’t great.)
Why Shoot a Butler, her next thriller, was better. My favorites are Envious Casca and Death in the Stocks because of the wonderful characters.
@Kari S.: My library has an audiobook but I didn’t get far with it. The narrators were trying (I think) for the brittle Bright Young Things style (understandable, given the setting of the book) but it got on my nerves before too long.