Friday, July 6, 2018
Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: BEHOLD, HERE'S POISON (1936) by Georgette Heyer
One of Georgette Heyer's more entertaining Golden Age country house mysteries featuring her usual stable of rich or semi-rich English lackwits. While not as engaging as Heyer's Regency Romances, her mysteries are well worth looking for. Had she written more than just a few, I think she might at some point, have achieved mystery immortality. Not that everything she wrote was gold, but on the whole, most everything she wrote sparkled.
BEHOLD, HERE'S POISON is topnotch, plotting-wise, ambience-wise and character-wise. Though there is no deep characterization and most of the characters are not exactly likable - they are close enough to parody to be amusing. Plus the unlikely 'hero' Randall Matthews, despite having a slightly slithering serpent-like manner, is hilariously intriguing when he's not being mysterious. Almost everyone in this cast of characters is eccentric in some way or other and most are the sorts of people one enjoys laughing at. Oh, okay, okay, I do have a soft spot for Randall. Big deal.
Now and then, it's fun to sneer at nobs with money.
The Mathews are a repellent family. Even the young heroine of the piece is not someone to root for - the most one can say for her is that at least she's not as annoying as the rest. Stella is an ingenue whom one dreads seeing out in the world on her own. She is pretty much hapless, as is her brother Guy who, unlikely as it seems, is an interior decorator - there is a slight hint that he and his partner in the biz are more than partners in the biz but one never knows with books written at this time. At any rate, he is in danger of being shipped off to South America (?!) because the head of the family, Gregory Mathews, is fed up with Guy's constant need for money and besides - interior decoration? But the kids' mom, Zoe, a dragoness, is not about to let her baby boy be shipped off anywhere. Uh oh.
Not the sorts of people one would want as friends unless one likes people who are constantly sniping at each other and worse, serving unpleasant meals like mutton and rice pudding for lunch. I mean, ugh.
But said head of household, Gregory Mathews, is already dead as the story opens, though we don't know it until the maid finds his body, stiff and cold one morning as she goes about her duties. Naturally enough, the clan is thrown into an uproar.
Not that anyone really mourns the very unpleasant Gregory. But still, appearances must be kept up.
Gregory's oh-so-finicky elder sister Harriet is thrown into more of a tizzy than usual. A miserly spinster who, despite there being no necessity for it, counts and begrudges every penny spent on the upkeep and management of the family house, she is given to sobbing hysterics and serving particularly dreadful meals. And oh, by the way, this bizarre pinch penny-ing will be her undoing, but I'm getting ahead of myself as usual.
Also living in the house is Gregory's widowed sister-in-law, Zoe the dragoness, a tiresome passive aggressive sort of woman who spends her life 'languishing' in fanciful airs and graces and speaking in sanctimonious 'quotes.' The death of her brother-in-law gives her every opportunity to expound and emote then rush off to London to buy funereal clothing. Her grown children - the aforementioned Stella and Guy, roll their eyes at their mother's heavy duty pretentions but will defend her to the death if need be, especially when it looks as if she's up to no good.
The dead man's married sister, Gertrude, a pontificating mass of a woman whose husband Henry goes about in terror of her sharp tongue arrives on the scene and declares she will not accept that Gregory died of a stomach disorder as per the local stick of a doctor, Deryk Fielding who happens to be engaged to Stella. Gertrude demands an autopsy.
...and sure enough, the dead man was poisoned.
Inspector Hannasyde is on the case.
But with snakey but well-dressed cousin Randall (who is now head of the family upon Gregory's termination) insinuating himself into the investigation and causing minor headaches for the police, skeletons who had been lurking in several closets will be revealed not to mention that a second inexplicable death will throw the case into a tailspin. In the end, it's a miracle that the killer is finally flushed out into the open. More or less.
"Oh, Deryk!' murmured Stella, 'we're a dreadful family."
Sad, but true.
And it's Friday once again - time to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.