Saturday, August 11, 2007

In Georgette Heyer's "Footsteps"

After doing just a couple of quick Google searches, it looks like I may be one of the few diligent readers on the planet who did not know the name, Georgette Heyer. Mea culpa to her many fans.

But I’ve made up for it -- a little but anyhow -- first by reading one of her books and second, by surfing around this very detailed tribute site. Both were enjoyable experiences and lead me to consider trying another of her novels sometime soon.

Heyer (1902-1974) was an extremely popular novelist, especially in the romance field. In fact, she is credited with creating a whole genre, the Regency England romance novel. Her devoted fans have not only bought her books but also thousands of figurines based on her characters. Because she was so popular and prolific (she had more than 50 titles in print at the time of her death), it is hardly a surprise that the critics generally panned her work. What else is new? But, Heyer must have had quite a lot going for her as a novelist and, if the book of hers I read the other night is at all representative, I think I know what some of it might be: accuracy, clever plots, interesting situations, the ability to create tension and other moods, humor, and quality entertainment.

Admittedly, the book I read was not one of her Regency England romances but was, in fact, one of the dozen or so “classic” mysteries she wrote in the 1930’s. The book was published in 1937 with the great title Footsteps in the Dark, and it served to provide just about everything the fan of Gothic mysteries could ask for: a haunted old mansion in Sussex, young amateur detectives who must solve the mystery to save their own skins, an appropriately eerie “ghost” called the Monk, midnight alarms, secret passages, a skeleton in the priest’s hole, strange acting locals, surprising twists that make you want to make sure you’ve locked your doors, and yet enough humor, romance and clues to puzzle over so that you are distracted from actually getting up and doing so!

So, I don’t know if I’ll brave one of Georgette Heyer’s romances, although Jane Hodge’s essay at the web site I mentioned is persuasive enough that I may someday try Friday’s Child. But I’ll most certainly look for her other mysteries. I suggest you do the same.