Tuesday, July 5, 2011
The Unfinished Clue: Review
As per usual in Georgette Heyer's country house mysteries, Sir Arthur Billington-Smith is not your usual genial, bluff country squire. He is a mean-spirited, autocrat who seems determined to make everyone he meets dislike him. He belittles his wife, bullies his son, refuses to play Lord Bountiful to his nephew, has frequent skirmishes with his sister-in-law, and has no problem giving his unsolicited and shocking opinion to anyone else who comes to his home. His one pleasure will be to flirt outrageously with one half of a couple that he and his wife met abroad...or so he thinks. His plans go awry when several unexpected guests arrive for a weekend holiday--including his son and his newly betrothed. Sir Billington-Smith is incensed when he is introduced to his prospective daughter-in-law who just happens to be a Mexican cabaret dancer. The weekend becomes unbearable as the lord of the manor takes out his wrath on every available person.
Thus, no one is surprised when Billington-Smith is found murdered in the library, stabbed with the Chinese letter opener he kept on his desk. The only surprise is whether the police can find anyone who didn't have a motive to kill the man. It doesn't take long for the local constabulary to decide that there are too many people involved with too many motives and their request to Scotland Yard brings Inspector John Harding to the scene. Harding must pick his way through the minefield of family discontent to find the guilty party.
This is a pretty standard Heyer mystery. Lots of stock characters--the difficult patriarch, the nephew in need of money, the son out of favor, the flamboyant woman. What makes this one are the characters of Inspector Harding and Dinah (Sir Billington-Smith's sister-in-law). Dinah is just about the only who can stand up to Billington-Smith and Harding is a very human inspector. It's a shame that Heyer didn't make him a frequent character like Hemingway and Hannasyde. There are also plenty of red herrings that kept me guessing until the very end. I was just sure that I had cleverly spotted the murderer when Heyer gave the plot one final twist to prove me wrong. I enjoyed this romp through the 1930s--not her all-time best, but still a delightful country house murder. Three stars.