RogerBW's Blog

They Found Him Dead, Georgette Heyer 14 March 2017

1937 detective fiction; third of Heyer's novels of Detective Inspector, later Superintendent, Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway. Silas Kane is found at the foot of a cliff on the morning after his sixtieth birthday party; obviously he slipped. But then his heir is quite blatantly shot, and attempts are made on the life of the next heir.

There's the usual cast of suspects: the woman having a blatant affair, the owners of the other half of the business (who have big plans for expansion), and so on. More interestingly, there's a lad of fifteen who's very much one of Heyer's "younger brother" archetypes, but here his enthusiasms are less for dancing bears and more for detection:

"Ah!" said Timothy with deep meaning. "Well, do you know what I think?"

"Yes," said Patricia.

"What, then?" demanded Timothy, put out.

"You have a sort of instinct that Mr Kane was murdered," said Patricia calmly.

Timothy was disconcerted and said rather lamely: "Well, I have. What's more, I bet I'm right. Don't you think I'm probably right? Honestly, Miss Allison, don't you?"

"No," said Patricia. "And if I were you, I wouldn't talk about it any more. It sounds silly."

His narrative deployment is perhaps bloodless but efficient: he gets in the way of the detectives, and is nearly the victim of one of the attempts on the life of the next heir.

There's also a pleasing sense that he (or she) parents best who parents least. Betty Pemble is always talking about or doing things for or forbidding things to her children, but meanwhile young Timothy and his older half-brother (and second heir and romantic lead) Jim have been encouraged to go off and make their own mistakes. When Sir Adrian, Jim's stepfather, looks as though he might be accused of one of the attempts on Jim's life:

"Well, it's very funny, no doubt; but I'm not going to have such nonsensical things said of my husband!" announced Lady Harte. "It annoys me very much indeed, for no one could have been a better father to Jim than Adrian!"

"I utterly refuse to subscribe to that," said Jim. "He never came the father over me in all his life."

"Thank you, Jim," said Sir Adrian, touched.

Lady Harte, of course, "had developed in her thirties a passion for penetrating into the more inaccessible parts of the world"; everyone here has multiple aspects to them, which while it's no substitute for a fully-developed character is certainly better than the one personality trait per person that seems to satisfy some authors.

The actual mystery has plenty of suspects, and Hannasyde keeps his options open until the end; if one contrivance seemed particularly obvious to the extent that I was surprised nobody thought of it before the dénouement, well, it was a more innocent age. Someone is belaboured as the most obvious suspect well beyond what's reasonable. (Though I thought several of the suspects would have produced more interesting endings had they in fact been the guilty parties.) The romantic element is perhaps a little forced, as we never really learn what attracts hero to heroine (or indeed vice versa).

I'm an enthusiastic fan of Heyer's historical romances, and of golden age detective stories. If anyone should be primed to enjoy this book, it's I. And it's not bad, but compared with other works from this year – Busman's Honeymoon, Dancers in Mourning, Vintage Murder, even The Case of the Late Pig it's frankly minor. Followed by A Blunt Instrument.

Read for Past Offences' 1937 month.

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