Monday, April 06, 2020

Footsteps in the Dark

Footsteps in the Dark / Georgette Heyer
BBC Audio, 2008, c1932.
During this strange work at home time, I have discovered that I like audio books after all. They've never worked all that well for me in the past, but if I listen while sewing I find that I can do it. And what do I love most? Mostly classics and old mysteries, things I don't have to concentrate too hard on. 

I came across this Georgette Heyer mystery in my library's collection and despite the ridiculous cover, it was quite entertaining. Of course, Heyer is much better known for her Regency romances (which are wonderful). But she also wrote some more contemporary mysteries, of which this is one. 

Like a proper gothic influenced mystery, there is a big old house, presumptive hauntings, and women in danger. The Priory at Framley village has been inherited by siblings Peter, Celia and Margaret. Along with Celia's husband Charles, they head to the Priory to check it all out and see what they should do about it. For some reason, their old aunt comes with them -- she's the best kind of older English woman who is indomitable and generally fearless. 

Once they arrive, they realize that they aren't all too welcome in the village, and that people are afraid of The Priory. They dismiss this as nonsense, being modern urbanites. But then they actually see the apparition known as The Monk, and find a skeleton tumbling out of the priest hole at the top of the stairs. 

There are many suspicious townsfolk - from a harmless seeming entomologist, to a drunken French painter, to a man who skulks around their grounds and is actually known by the name of Michael Strange. Charles is urbane and witty, never taking much seriously, and Peter is slightly more stolid: together they approach the police and try to solve the mystery of what's happening. Celia is rather weak and helpless, and Margaret is a little less so although she conducts a rather secret affair with one of the suspects who she has immediately fallen for despite knowing nothing about him (although he does turn out to be a hero, which the reader can predict early on). 

There are ghosts, betrayals, money, criminals, history, deaths, romances, hidden passages, misunderstandings, melodrama, and more. This story is much of its time, and Heyer brightens up the melodrama with her usual wit and interplay between characters. Unfortunately, it is an adequate book at most; compared to her shining Regencies it does not stand out. There were so very many mysteries being written by English women in the 30s. This one is about middle of the pack, not brilliant but still readable, unlike some other lesser names I've tried in the past. If you are looking for a quick entertainment and not expecting anything too grand, this is worth a try. 

The audio version that I listened to is narrated by Maureen O'Brien, who does a fine job with only a couple of stumbles in voices for different characters. It was entertaining, and a fun one to listen to and try to puzzle out (not too hard to guess the villian before the ending, fyi). 

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