Book review: Georgette Heyer — The Unfinished Clue

Country house murder mystery written and set in the early 1930s. Great fun, with an entertaining cast of suspects and some cunning red herrings.

Dinah Fawcett arrives at her married sister’s house for the weekend, only to find Fay’s household in turmoil. Fay’s stepson has arrived home with his fiancee, a famous and extremely flamboyant cabaret dancer from Mexico. Fay’s husband has taken this as well as you’d expect from a bullying martinet of a wealthy retired army officer. General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith has always despised his highly strung son, not least because years ago his mother ran away with another man.

This would be bad enough if there were just family present, but Sir Arthur has invited guests for the weekend, and naturally is now blaming Fay for their presence. There are other weekend guests too, some self-invited, others not. And then there are the neighbours who drop in, with or without an invitation…

Sir Arthur proceeds to give almost everyone staying in the house motivation for killing him, so it’s no surprise when he’s found dead in his study the next day, stabbed with his own paper knife. It’s up to Inspector Harding of Scotland Yard to sift through the assorted stories the potential suspects have to tell. Not an easy task, given the mix of attention-seeking and attention-avoiding to be found at the house party, as the various participants try to paint their own actions in the fashion most congenial to them.

Dinah takes charge of the household, being possessed of both common sense and an unimpeachable alibi. These two things also make her a useful source of information for Harding about the people at the house, even if he has to allow for her having a vested interest in protecting her sister. The novel is primarily told from Dinah and Harding’s viewpoints, and there’s a nice romance sub-plot in the background that adds to the story without being allowed to overwhelm the main mystery plot.

The book was written in the 1930s and it shows in the attitude to class and race, with some of the characters being very stereotypical; but Heyer also deftly uses assumptions in those stereotypes to lay false trails. And for all the stereotyping, there are some lovely characterisations here. If 1930s country house cosies are your thing, this is a stylish and witty example of the genre.

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