45) Georgette Heyer – Footsteps in the Dark
One of Heyer’s mysteries, this one a stand-alone rather than part of a series. The Fortescue Siblings, Peter, Margaret and Celia, have inherited an old house which was built in part around the ancient priory it’s named after. They have come to spend a few weeks in it, along with Celia’s husband Charles Malcom and their aunt Lilian. But nobody has lived in the house for years, and it’s reputed to be haunted. Things do indeed start going bump in the night, and investigation finds priestholes and secret passages galore, some equipped with dry bones. But some of the party are more inclined to believe that the strange happenings are down to something much more prosaic than ghosts. Someone wants them out of the priory, probably the same someone who made an unsolicited offer to their solicitor to buy it when it wasn’t on the market. Someone who is prepared to kill to keep a secret when the hunt for clues leads to a potential witness to the real identity of the Monk.
While there’s a genuine and good murder mystery as the scaffolding of the story, a lot of the fun of this one is that it is indeed fun, with some sparkling dialogue between nicely drawn characters. I think the characterisation isn’t as strong in this one as in some of Heyer’s other mysteries, but it does the job.
There’s also a romance sub-plot, which cuts some of the tension because it’s obvious from the way the attraction between Margaret and one of the suspects is written that he’s going to be a Good Guy. But it doesn’t detract too much from the story, which is strong enough to offer pleasure in re-reading even once you know the solution.