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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Why Shoot A Butler? Georgette Heyer. Redwood Editions (1933)


A sparkling country house murder mystery, sharp and engaging. Frank Amberly encounters a woman standing by a car containing the body of a man who had been shot. He reports the crime without including the presence of the woman. The dead man was the butler at a nearby country house, Norton Manor, where a school friend of Frank Amberly's is staying. Frank Amberly is requested by the police to become involved in the investigation and a second, possibly accidental, death occurs. The plot unspools with very clever reveals and increasing tension. The conclusion is smart and gripping, the revelations well worth the wait.
Georgette Heyer assembles all of the required elements for a classical country house mystery, a rural location, a limited pool of suspects, mysterious outsiders and servants acting suspiciously. Added to the presence of an amateur detective and a struggling police force and all the pieces are present for an arch game of snobbish murder. Georgette Heyer avoids any whiff of staleness with a wonderfully witty and sharply written story that breathes vital and engaging life into the formula. She has a lightly sarcastic tone which frees her cast to be lively and forceful.
The cast are busy keeping their secrets and pursuing their aims, the way they overlap and misunderstand each other creates many opportunities which Georgette Heyer happily takes to develop the cast and cunningly advance the story.
One of the great pleasures of the book is that the very smart plot at its heart gets its momentum from the natural actions of the cast. It does not feel as if they are acting as they do because they have to to satisfy plot requirements, they drive the plot forward by being themselves. Beautifully written, beautifully constructed, a treat.

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