|Sourcebooks Casablanca, 347p, ISBN: 1402238835|
And when he begins to fall for his half-brother's sweetheart, his chilly reception goes from unfriendly to positively murderous.
Yes, this is a sort of a murder mystery, my dear Heyer fans. Or rather attempted murder, I should say (that's not a spoiler, for I'm sure you guessed the hero can't be murdered - right?). I feel the real mystery lies in the romance part of it, for till the end the reader is left wondering who exactly will end up with whom. Not at all the usual sort of fare we've come to expect from this wonderful romance author of yester years, but one which she writes surprisingly well.
Before I explain all that, let me begin by telling you about our hero, Gervase. He's not at all a typical Heyer hero, for he's soft-spoken and a little dandified with perfect manners. If his stepmother and stepbrother believe they can rule the roost over him, they're mistaken, for they soon discover, it's a case of an iron hand in a velvet glove with Gervase. He ultimately always get his own way, whether he cajoles others into it or mood failing, simply gives a soft but firm statement which everybody comes to respect and has to obey. It's great entertainment to see him get the upper hand again and again, whether in a battle of swords or of wit and words.
And if he's the least bit careless of others' feelings, why Miss Morville, a girl with more common sense than beauty, informs and sometimes takes him to task about it. She even expertly smooths over troubled situations with her expert ways, if the opposing parties prove too stubborn for their own good. This is something the Earl (aka Gervase) soon comes to rely on and even be amused at.
Martin, the jealous stepbrother, is the perfect suspect in the murderous plot as he keeps butting heads with the Earl, over many things, the chief being the interest of a local beauty. This beauty is one of the sillest characters around. What scenes she's in are almost always full of romantic tension, but I could form no clear understanding of her motivations. The Dowager, with her self-absorption and a habit of instantly negating any proposal put forth by anyone other than herself, is a character who provides some comic relief time and again. It's sheer amusement to see how she's cleverly managed by both Miss Morville and Gervase. I had high hopes of Mr.Clowne, the chaplain who resides in the house, but he's pretty uninteresting, more an echo of the Dowager than anything else. Theodore Frant, a penniless cousin who serves as estate agent, comes across as a man of solid character with great loyalty towards Gervase. Little else can be discovered about him.
Major Spoiler alert!
The overall story is entertaining, but the parts where Martin's jealousy gets him in trouble are so frequent that I began to tire of them. The attempts on the Earl's life, on the other hand, are always unexpected and come in so many forms that it's not always easy to predict them.
Miss Morville unexpectedly turns out to be the heroine, instead of the local beauty, and this is a little hard to digest. She's there in practically every other scene, but always in the background, coming out in the limelight only to dispense a few wise words or expertly handle a difficult character or situation. Only in the last quarter does she really shine and there's an outburst of explanation about her growing feelings for the Earl. I was quite surprised by it. As I was when the Earl returns her feelings. An unlikely pair they make for sure!
Apart from this romantic tangle, the book is in fine form. As I've mentioned before the murder mystery is the main attraction and while not complex, Heyer maintains the suspense beautifully.
All in all, a good, if not great read. 4 stars out of 5, but no more.
PS - Below is a photo of Georgette Heyer that I found via Google and an original cover of this book, from http://www.georgette-heyer.com/. Click on the book cover to see a bigger version.
Note - This book was received for review/feature consideration.
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