Thursday, October 4, 2018

Georgette Heyer's Footsteps In The Dark

"The sweat stood out on Duval's forehead. 'Truly? Yes, yes. I see. Yet for a moment there I could have sworn I saw something."
In Georgette Heyer's Footsteps In The Dark (1932) three siblings--Margaret, Peter, and Celia--inherit the abandoned priory of Framley. Together with Celia's husband Charles, they go to visit, with the thought that the priory will make a nice country estate getaway, even if it's a little lacking in all the mod cons. But as soon as they arrive in the local village, they're warned: the priory is haunted. By the Monk!

Well, our new owners pay no attention to the superstitions and attribute everything to rats behind the wainscotting. But it's not long before they hear groans from the cellar, a skeleton tumbles out of a priest's hole, and then Margaret sees the Monk in belted robe and with burning eyes beneath his cowl. It's getting a little harder to accept a purely rational explanation, especially for the superstitious Celia.

Harder, but never really impossible, though they do resort to a planchette at one point to discover what's needed to lay the ghost. But there's never much doubt this is more Arthur Conan Doyle (think The Hound of the Baskervilles) than Matthew Lewis, and a rational explanation is found in the end. But there's Gothic scenery and plenty of suspense. Throw in the book's romance and humor and you've got what I found a very successful mix.

This is the first Georgette Heyer I've read. Her mysteries often get a bad rap. She's distinctly not one of the four Golden Age queens of crime, and seems to be considered an also-ran. My 80s paperback reprint had never been read, or if it had, somebody had skipped pages 134 and 135, because I had to cut them. But I thought it was fun and I'd certainly read another.

Its weakness I suppose was lacking the usual Golden Age misdirection. There are plenty of odd ducks running around the priory grounds at night, useful as suspects: a fisherman (named Strange!) on vacation, a vacuum-cleaner salesman, an ex-India Colonel, a moth-hunting entomologist, the drunken French painter Duval, and the bumbling local constable. Presumably one of them is the Monk, but which? Well, it was pretty clear, and pretty early. But if you don't mind a weaker puzzle, it was very enjoyable.

Good for a couple of challenges:

Just the Facts, Ma'am Vintage Mystery Challenge. Golden Age. How. Death by strangulation.


Readers Imbibing Peril XIII

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