Monday, November 22, 2010

Footsteps in the Dark: Review

Footsteps in the Dark is a very welcome return to Georgette Heyer's usual breezy, comic mystery style--far removed from the dark and brooding Penhallow which I just recently finished.

In this one, Peter, Margaret and Celia inherit a rambling, run-down old house from their uncle. Despite its lack of modern conveniences, they think it has a certain charm. At least they do until the locals start telling them stories of The Monk who is supposed to haunt the ancient priory mansion. And then they start hearing uneartly groaning in the cellars and find skeletons in the most unlikely places. Is it a real ghost or is someone just trying to scare them away for nefarious reasons? There are also all sorts of suspicious characters lurking about...from the French painter Duvall to the late-night moth hunter to the strange man named Strange who haunts their garden at midnight. And what about the commercial salesman who doesn't seem to be able to sell a thing? There are plenty spooky happenings and plenty of suspects. There are priest's holes and secret passages. But what is at the bottom of it all?

This is a fun little 1930s romp. Not quite a true country house mystery. In those, you have a set cast of characters all trapped in the house due to storm or snow or what-have-you. In Footsteps it seems that anybody and everybody can pop in and out of the house at will. There is plenty of witty by-play between the three heirs and Celia's husband, Charles. Lots of hearty English village types who make you want to say "What ho" and "I say." A bumbling country bobby who means well, but just can't quite manage to get a handle on a real criminal. And, of course, it wouldn't be complete without an attempt to contact the spirit world via the planchette board. Just good clean fun from the Golden Age of mysteries. Not the most intricate of detective novels--I spotted the culprit fairly early, but given Heyer's adept handling of the characters and atmosphere that didn't spoil it at all. Three and a half stars.

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