20/07/2016

Why Shoot a Butler? (by Georgette Heyer)

I’ve read, collected, re-read and mostly loved Georgette Heyer’s historical novels over nearly forty years now; so it was quite a shock to me to learn, only about twelve years ago, that she had also written a dozen detective novels set in the middle of the 20th century. I was pleased to be able to find several of them second-hand and was given others as presents. So now it’s time to start re-reading some of them.

I first read ‘Why Shoot a Butler’ in 2003; I actually read it aloud to my sons who were teenagers at the time, and it worked very well. While Heyer’s settings and situations are reminiscent of some of Agatha Christie's prolific crime novels, her characters are rather better developed.

This one features Frank Amberley, a barrister who is also a very good amateur detective. We first meet him driving along a lonely road, trying to follow convoluted instructions from his cousin. He sees a parked car with someone standing nearby and stops to ask directions; the meeting is rather stressful, all the more so when he realises that the passenger in the car is looking very peculiar…

As with this genre, the unpleasant details are left to the imagination; Amberley draws his own conclusions despite apparent evidence to the contrary, speaks to local police, and eventually reaches his cousin’s home. He’s quickly drawn into the society of local friends, and also caught up in the ongoing saga that starts with the crime he discovered in the first chapter.

Heyer doesn’t leave such good clues and false trails as Christie; I had entirely forgotten the story, and didn’t have much idea where the plot was going. I wasn’t particularly surprised when the unveiling takes place towards the end, but the accompanying motivation and underlying plot was a bit surprising, and not something that I think a reader could possibly have guessed.

Still, it doesn’t matter because this is as much a character-based novel and low-key thriller as a classic logical whodunit. There’s a very exciting and tense scene towards the end, where I could hardly put the book down. Amberley’s character is complex, with a dry sense of humour and abrupt manner which hides a compassionate man with a good sense of intuition and a brilliant mind.

Recommended to anyone who likes the light crime fiction genre.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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