Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Books of 1939: No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer

published 1939








[A rather grand dinner at a country house]

Hugh… demanded to be told why the notorious Miss Fanshawe was not present.

‘She’s going to make an Entrance,’ replied Mary gloomily. ‘I had one or two things to see to after I’d changed, so I hadn’t time to find out what her role is for tonight. She was a femme fatale last night, but I shouldn’t think she’ll repeat herself quite so soon.’

She was right. Vicky, entering the room five minutes later, was dressed in a wispy frock of startling design, and still more startling abbreviations. She displayed, without reserve, a remarkably pretty back, her frock being suspended round her neck by a plait of the material of which it was made. Her curls stood out in a bunch in the nape of her neck, but were swept severely off her brow and temples. A diamond bracelet, begged from Ermyntrude’s collection, encircled one ankle under a filmy stocking, and her naturally longer lashes were ruthlessly tinted with blue.

‘One of the Younger Set,’ said Mary knowledgeably.


observations: For the second time this month: Rich Westwood, Mr Past Offences himself, does a roundup each month on his blog of Classic Crime in the Blogosphere, a meme in which Clothes in Books is proud to make regular appearances. In June, he suggested that prospective participants do a 1963 book – see the fascinating results here. The July year (chosen by ME) is 1939: I covered a John Dickson Carr book a week ago, and this is my second entry for the month.

This is a good, entertaining, Golden Age mystery – very funny and clever. It is not too difficult to guess who committed the murder (once a certain legal point has been cleared up) but the method would be much harder to guess, and seems extraordinarily unlikely. But never mind: the main reason to resurrect the book is the character above, Vicky Fanshawe, who is hilarious. She is the daughter of the big house, with an ex-actress mother, and a considerable fortune in her future. She is not the heroine: that is sensible nice Mary, who gets rather annoyed with Vicky, whose life, as you can see above, is one long succession of roles: Sonia the Spy, Tennis Girl, A Notorious Woman. Vicky enters into her roles with gusto, and it is pure joy for the reader. Heyer resisted the temptation of making her a nitwit – she is actually very clever, manages everything very well, and is a kind good person. She is a wonderful creation. The scene where she plots (three steps ahead of everyone else) to stop her mother considering a foreign Prince as her next husband is an epic masterpiece. As Vicky says, in one of her typically fabulous turns of phrase, she had to do it because ‘it would be fatal for [Mother] just to trickle away to some frightful person on the boundary.’

Heyer is best known for her Regency romances, and sometimes while reading this you half-expect the entire cast to move to Bath, have an attack of the vapours or give each other sharp set-downs. But what occurs to the reader of both her series, is that her romance books often had strong plots with crime, clues and jeopardy involved, while her murder stories (see another one here on the blog) contain romances. One can only hope that Vicky’s eventual partner will appreciate her many elaborate roles.

Highly recommended, but more for the cleverness and comedy than the detection. And there is nothing in the book, not one word, that relates or limits it to 1939. It could have been produced any time in the previous 20 years, has no political or international content at all, and you would never guess from reading it that the world was about to fall into a giant pit....

The picture is from Dovima is Devine.


12 comments:

  1. Moira, every review that I read of a Georgette Heyer novel (and I have read quite a few) is one more reminder that I ought to start reading her books right away. Someone very familiar with her work once told me that her books had many elements that one would find in various genres of fiction, mentioning which would be stating the obvious. But, I believe humour is one of them.

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    1. Prahsant, I think you wluld like the murder stories for their picture of contemporary England - I know you have a cosmopolitan interest in such settings and time periods.

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  2. Moira - your crystal ball was unerringly accurate. Not one for me thanks. I hope to start my 1939 read next once I'm done on the current book.

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    1. the month is ticking on Col, you need to get on with 1939!

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    2. I'm cautiously optimistic, I think my mojo has returned (end of World Cup maybe?)
      I even tried to prise out of Rich yesterday what August was going to bring, but he wasn't forthcoming ......perhaps you haven't told him yet?

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    3. I like the idea of being the woman with the Power, but I think he'll probably get someone else to choose next time....

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  3. Moira - I know just what you mean about the cleverness and wit in Heyer's work. I like the way she does dialogue. And even if Vicky isn't exactly sensible all the time, she does sound like a lot of fun. Glad you featured this one.

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    1. I think Heyer had a real gift for creating characters, and she was very witty.

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  4. Surely an anklet would go outside the stocking?

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    1. I thought exactly the same - there was too much to say about this extract, I couldn't fit it all in. Also, I said on another entry, ankle bracelets were seen as a sign of great immorality when I was growing up, their status must have changed.

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  5. I almost read this one for my 1939 book. Have been meaning to get back to Heyer's mysteries and can't remember which ones I read. Sounds like fun, although it wasn't the type of thing I was in the mood for at the time. I have a friend who loves the Regency romances, and I have read good things about those books, but too many other books to read.

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    1. I used to read the Regency romances when I was a teenager: they were good fun, well researched and cleverly plotted. I like the detective stories for their characters as much as anything.

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