You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘romance murder mystery’ tag.

To date I dont know why the book is called by this particular name. But it is an enthralling book. Though Heyer is known as a Regency author, this is one of her few books that are pre-Regency.

This book is set in the late 1700’s, and mainly in France. This was the time France and not England was the main center for fashion and relations between France and England were not strained yet – the Napoleanic Wars had not yet started (they started in 1803). Thus the British still travelled a lot around Europe, partied in France and frequently stayed for long durations in France/ Paris if they were well-off owing to the aggregation of high-society and better food as well as social entertainments.

Fashion was opulent and men as well as women decked out in loads of jewellery – diamonds, emeralds, sapphire etc. in every form possible. Right from shoe heels to scarf pins. This was the time faces were covered in white paint and rouge, and extravagant powdered white wigs were worn by all, if the hair was not powdered. Womens clothes had hoops and mens clothes had whaleboned skirts. Lace was popular, and cravats and hessians as we read in other books, is totally absent.  Beau Brummel had not yet entered the fashion scene and any colour, design and extravagance was allowed to both sexes. It was the time when all was well, or so it seemed.

These Old Shades - G HeyerOne such upholder of fashion, Lord Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon, is found residing in Paris and on a certain evening picks up a boy Leon from the streets and saves him from his brothers beting. Leon has big violet eyes, red hair (‘Titian’ as Heyer calls it) , aristocratic features, good bearing and is small for his age. Avon buys “his soul for the sum of a Diamond” from the lace at his neck. And Leon certainly gives him his soul, and not just thanks or appreciation.

Avon likes Leon’s unconventional looks and makes him his page decked out in black with a sapphire necklace and is taken to all places around Paris to show off his red hair and blue eyes, even to the court where he observes The King. Everyone, of course, is curious and startled by the unusual picture this sober small person painted, expecially when the reader considers the highly colourful dressed-up people with powdered white hair.

Soon Avon realises Leon is a She, i.e. Leonie. And then the mystery begins. Avon takes up her guardianship and sends her off to London, to his beautiful sister Fanny, where she is ‘taught to be a girl again’. But why is Avon doing all this? Avon, the person who is called Satanas because of his absence of any humane-ness. Avon, the man reputed to have lost all his fortune, and re-made it by gambling another man till the other man lost all of his and committed suicide. Avon is all that is proper in society, and all that is evil. He is heartless and passionless. He is extremely shrewd (known to be Omniscient) and does not believe in anything except himself and fashion.

“I never have intentions. That is why mothers of lovely daughters eye me askance. I am constrained to return to England.” He drew from his pocket a fan of dainty chicken-skin, and spread it open. “What constrains you?” Hugh frowned upon the Duke’s fan. “Why that new affectation?”

So why is he going into all this trouble for a boy/girl he picked up off the street? Avon is known not to care for anything but the nobility, hence this particuar indulgence is even more marked.

What is the ulterior motive guiding Avon? Is he in love with her? But then Avon has no heart, and even more than that, he will never marry beneath his rank. Why is the family of Sain-Vaire so interested in Avon’s new page?

Meanwhile, Leonie is reconciled to being a Lady but is still a spitfire, charmingly French and unusually beautiful. Living in the country residence of Avon she strikes up friendship with her neighbours – people whom Avon has not been on speaking terms with for years. She also becomes close to Avon’s younger brother. On returning to France she shows her more feminine side, indulging in dressing and going to all lengths to ensure she is admired. Of particular mention is the time when she prepares for her first ball, ensures that all the men are waiting at the bottom of the staircase and makes a Grand Descent, only to see no one notices her. In her characteristic style she then says:

“But Look at me!

And is rewarded. Leonie thus we see is someone who demands, and gets what she wants. Except from Avon. Almost.

The plot twists and turns as Avon tries to uncover the real identity of Leonie and prove it to the world, and Leonie meanwhile braves a kidnapping and murder attempt.

With lots of action, deception and acting the main cast reach back to Paris where the final drama unfolds. And what a drama. This book keeps one on tenterhooks, never knowing what the next page will bring. Will social proprietery manage to keep Leonie safe? Or is the villain bad enough not care about what is acceptable?

Leonie’s devotion and unshakeable faith in Avon is irritating and endearing at the same time. The only person to see him as human, and in fact better than anyone else in the world makes him undergo a change and turn less selfsih. The villain is everything a villain should be yet only human.

The book is as grand and stylish as the setting allows it to be. Excesses define the book and all its characters. No one is mild, and no one is boring. Not even the poor tenant of Avon whose horse is ‘borrowed’ for a chase sequence. The dialogue is entertaining and short. Unlike other Heyer novels where some characters tend to talk in paragraphs, here there are short sentences full of meaning.

“Remind me one day to teach you how to achieve a sneer, Hugh. Yours is too pronounced, and thus but a grimace. It should be but a faint curl of the lips. So. But to resume. You will at least be surprised to hear that I had not thought of Léonie in the light of a beautiful girl.”

“It amazes me.”

“That is much better, my dear. You are an apt pupil.”

The end is all that one could wish for.  And the book totally re-readable.

Here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Larger than Life. Even the villain.

Side Characters: Few and all of them wonderful!

Plot: Interesting, complicated, and full of intrigue and action! It is the true story of a villanous Hero, a true-blue villain and an enchanting girl who is almost a tomboy.

Environment: Intrigue, action and suspense!

Regency Information: The book touches upon the pre-Regency customs and dresses. It gives a good idea of the social entertainments available (poetry parties, court parties, gambling excesses etc) as well as country environment in England and France. Fashion is well described including the introduction of Fan usage for men and importance of powdered hair. Economic occupations of all strata of society is covered, right from countryside to town to the rich. In short, it is rich in historical information.

Recommendation: Recommended for any book reader who likes a light mystery and a throwback to Olde England.

Rating: Five on Five!

A Corinthian was probably the term used to denote the best that Nobility had to offer in Regency England in terms of men. These men were fashionably dressed (not necessarily Dandy’s), had interest in sporting and were generally considered good at it, were of good birth and usually rich. This also meant they had access to the best places and clubs and socialized in the best settings. By virtue of being interested in sports – which meant boxing, hunting, riding and driving their curricles – they were muscular and well built. Nothing could suit Regency lifestyle better!

(My ratings at the bottom of  this post)

the corinthianAnd so this book revolves around poor Sir Richard Wyndham, 29 years old, bored, jaded, extremely eligible for marriage, and yet unable to like a single woman enough to wed her. Deemed to be a cold-hearted person by everyone around him, the reader is allowed to realise that there is a Romantic lurking in his depths.

And so his Family (mother and sister) force him to offer for Melissa Brandon, the eldest daughter of Lord Saar. Unimpeachable birth, beautiful, yet extremely cold a lady. By offering for her he will also repay Lord Saar’s and his son’s debts while winning a wife promised to him when he was just a babe.

Like his sister explains:

“‘If he doesn’t wish to marry Melissa, I’m sure I should be the last person to press her claim,’ said Louisa. ‘But it is high time that he married someone, and if he has no other suitable young female in his eye, Melissa it must be.’”

The notion is enough to make him give up hope on life, drink himself silly and wander off in the middle of the night. Poor Sir Richard.

And then he meets Pen Creed hanging from a window. Penelope Creed, a pretty blonde, is a 17 year old heiress (and hence still not launched into society), living with her aunt who is forcing her to marry her cousin against her wish. Her answer to this force? Running away disguised as a boy (since single women were not allowed to travel alone, she has to dress up as a boy). Her intention is to run off to her childhood friend with whom a pact had been made earlier in her life to be married to, in case they did not like anyone else.

Since Sir Richard has not yet offered for Melissa, her plan to run away from the evils entices him as well. Plus, being a very correct Gentleman he has never done anything so imprudent ever before and the Romantic hidden within him emerges. He embarks on the journey with Pen, acting as the young “boy’s” tutor/cousin -without leaving a message with anyone.

“‘Do you know, Pen Creed, I fancy you have come into my life in the guise of Providence?’
She looked up enquiringly. ‘Have I?’ she said doubtfully. ‘
That or Disaster,’ said Sir Richard. ‘I shall know which when I am sober. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t care a jot!
En avant, mon cousin!’”

And so the adventures of Pen and his tutor begin in a common stage coach – a very lowly vehicle shared by poor people while traveling long distances. They meet many interesting people, including someone whom Sir Richard suspects of being a robber.

Meanwhile, Lady Saar is robbed on her way by highwaymen of her famous Brandon Diamond Necklace, from a hiding place in her carriage known only to the family. Not only is the family now on brink of definite financial ruin, but suspects a robber amongst them.

Sir Richard and Pen are also embroiled in deep trouble, being chased by Bow Street Runners, traveling in carriages meant for peasants, narrowly escaping the need to share rooms and having to lie to all and sundry. If that was not enough, Sir Richard averts getting robbed, but Pen finds herself in possession of the Brandon Diamonds. Soon they are witness to a murder, are retained in a town because of the same, and, to top it all, get inadvertently involved in the love story of an idiotic couple.

So what happens to our couple? After having traveled a long distance in the company of a single man without a chaperone, will Pen be accepted by her friend? Who is the murderer? What is the danger befalling our Hero and Heroine? Will they be caught for robbery, or murder? Or worse, will Pen be found by her evil Aunt before she reaches her friend, and married off to that horrible cousin before she ends the journey?

All this and much more lie in wait for the reader of this eccentric and highly entertaining book. Sir Richard is all a Hero should be, not to mention lovable at one moment and haughty at another.

“Sir Richard’s hand sought his quizzing-glass, and raised it. It was said in haut-ton circles that the two deadliest weapons against all forms of pretension were Mr Brummell’s lifted eyebrow, and Sir Richard Wyndham’s quizzing-glass. Captain Trimble, though thick-skinned, was left in no doubt of its blighting message.

We don’t see Penelope Creed in a woman’s garment even once in the book, but the trials Pen has to go through to achieve a cravat that meets the basic requirements of Sir Richard, to pass off as a boy, make you sympathise with her.

“His gaze travelled slowly over her borrowed raiment. ‘Horrible!’ he said. ‘Are you under the impression that you have tied that—that travesty of a cravat in a Wyndham Fall?’”

And if this book does not make you look up the recipe of the perfect Rum Punch to be made and drunk on a winters evening, I will be surprised!

The characters are eccentric yet real, and have the qualities wanted in the best of protagonists. A dashing, intelligent, much admired hero. A pretty, intelligent, fearless heroine. Together, their adventure is one that is too short for just one read!

So, here are my Ratings:

Protagonists: Likable.

Side Characters: Very few side characters are involved, and when they step in, they are completely believable and real. Sly, menacing or plain idiotic – all of them are just as they should be.

Plot: Interesting, complete with forceful marriage, robbery, running away disguised, murder.

Environment: Fun and intrigue!

Regency Information: The information available focuses on the traveling mechanisms of the times, and the reader will get a very good notion of how difficult and tedious it was, and what the hotels were like, and what the social strata translated to in terms of traveling more than a few miles.

Recommendation: Recommended for any Heyer fan. Also recommended for those who enjoy mysteries, irrespective of the Romance angle, which is  quite subtle.

Rating: Four on Five!

This Blog

I had read Georgette Heyer first as a schoolgirl, on the sly, even on days before exams.
And loved every moment of it.
Today, more than a decade later, I am revisiting each book of hers and all the Romance and Adventure the regency period can offer through her.

This blog is a list of all the books as I read them, with my ratings for it.
I wholeheartedly suggest Heyer to any avid book reader! Not just for the stories, but her inimitable writing style.

-D Chaudhury

submit to reddit