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Archive for the ‘Golden Age of Detective Fiction’ Category

Description from Goodreads:

Tragedy befalls the Carter family following an eventful visit from a Russian prince and a scandalous blackmail letter. The murder of Wally Carter is a bewildering mystery — how does one shoot a man crossing a narrow bridge without being near the murder weapon when it is fired? The analytical Inspector Hemingway reveals his unnerving talent for solving a fiendish problem.

My review:

Last year during the month of August, Sourcebooks put all of the electronic versions of Ms. Heyer’s books on sale for $1.99 on Smashwords, which Amazon quickly price matched. As a result, I ended up buying around 30 books. A number of them were her Regency style romances, but included in them was some historical fiction and two separate mystery series of 4 books each. I read some of the romances, then got sidetracked until last week, when I was looking for a mystery novel to read while I was working through The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, from my classics club challenge.

No Wind of Blame is my first Heyer mystery, and is also the first in her Inspector Hemingway series. Overall, I enjoyed it, although I don’t think that her mysteries are as charming as her regencies, and I don’t think that she meets the standard of quality of some of the other writers of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, most particularly Dorothy Sayers.

But, in any event, this is a very light-hearted book. There is a murder that occurs about a quarter of the way into the book, and then Inspector Hemingway himself isn’t introduced until about halfway into the book. It is in the English Country House tradition of books, with a puzzle solution that has to be unraveled by our fine inspector from Scotland Yard. Because Inspector Hemingway is introduced rather late in the book, he remains a bit of a cipher. There is definitely not the same type of character development of the main detective in this book as would be seen in a book featuring Hercule Poirot or Peter Wimsey.

Many of the common themes from this era of detective fiction are found in this book. There is foreign royalty (a Russian Prince), a spendthrift, unfaithful husband, an unethical hanger-on, and a flighty drama queen. There is also a side story related to a romantic attachment between the handsome and somewhat staid young solicitor, Hugh, and the heroine of the book. Ms. Heyer does do a bit of bait and switch with this storyline, although it is fairly easy to see that coming. I would actually have liked to see more of the romance, since I really liked Hugh. The solution of the mystery is clever, but not very realistic.

This book would be good for fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, and although I can’t say that it is quite up to their standards, I did enjoy it enough that I followed it up by reading Envious Casca, Heyer’s second Inspector Hemingway mystery.

Star Rating: 3 stars

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“You’ll feel better after a nice cup of tea, m’m.”

English tea

In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie introduced Hercule Poirot, one of literatures most recognizable characters. Poirot was small, neat, and a bit affected. He owes a great debt to Sherlock Holmes, who, although the two character’s appearances are entirely different, share the trait of using impersonal objectivity and logic in the solving of crimes.

Also introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Hastings, who fulfills the role of Watson to Poirot’s Sherlock – the slightly dense assistant.

Growing up, my father was a great fan of Dame Christie, so I read probably dozens of her books. Even the solutions are mostly left to the dimness of history, though, so rereading them is a pleasurable exercise. One of the things that I enjoy most about Christie is her engaging characters. She frequently wrote about bright young things, as in this description of one of the characters: Mary Cavendish – as seen through the eyes of Hasting.

“I shall never forget my first sight of Mary Cavendish. Her tall, slender form, outlined against the bright light; the vivid sense of slumbering fire that seemed to find expression only in those wonderful tawny eyes of hers, remarkable eyes, different from any other woman’s that I have ever known; the intense power of stillness she possessed, which nevertheless conveyed the impression of a wild untamed spirit in an exquisitely civilized body – all these things are burnt into my memory. I shall never forget them.”

Reading Christie is like dropping into post-world war I English society. It feels vaguely Edwardian – an idealized period of peace and prosperity amongst the upper classes, but she will often obliquely acknowledge the tension that provided an undercurrent to British society during this time period. The Mysterious Affair at Styles is no exception to this idea, as all of the major players in the novel are members of the British leisure class. Major financial pressures on this class are alluded to throughout the course of the novel – things like whopping death duties (known in America as “estate taxes), and the immense costs of upkeep on giant estates that are relics from a rapidly disappearing era present significant burdens on the characters. The setting of Ms. Christie’s books is enjoyable and populated with well-dressed characters having tea, and playing vigorous games of tennis or taking long country walks.

Agatha Christie excelled at the puzzle subset of mystery novels, and was a master of the whodunit and the locked room mystery. Misdirection abounds, and the reveal is always a primary point to her books. No spoilers here – the journey is about 75% of the fun, but revealing the solution to the mystery in a book discussion is just plain mean. If people want to know whodunit, they should read the book.

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After reading The Moonstone, something a little bit easier makes sense. I was able to download:

for free on amazon. Apparently this is one of Ms. Christie’s few public domain titles.

I do plan to read more Agatha Christie. A lot of her work will be rereads for me, but they are so bloody fun, and it’s been so long since I read them, that it will excellent to reintroduce myself to her writing.

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