Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer (1933)
When Frank Amberley happens on a young woman standing beside a car on a dark road he stops to help, but her rude assertion that there is nothing wrong sends him on his way. But then the lights of his car illuminate a different scene. A “small hole in the windscreen” and a girl with a chalk white face, and a dead man at the wheel of the car. She’s insistent she had nothing to do with it. When Amberly informs the police he neglects to tell them all the facts, like the presence of the woman, because for whatever reason, Amberly believes her. Amberly finds himself drawn into the investigation, following a trail of complicated events that lead to further crimes and more deaths.
Like most, I only knew of Georgette Heyer through her Regency romances (and what teenage girl in the 70s didn’t?), so when I discovered her mysteries (reprinted by Sourcebooks in 2009), they came as something of a surprise to me. And a pleasant surprise they are.
What makes this one stand out for me are several of the characters. The primary protagonists Frank Amberley and Shirley Brown—each have their own motives, and methods, for reaching the truth, resulting in a combative, cat and mouse sort of relationship. Amberley’s uncle Sir Humphrey, the harrumphing Squire who finds his nephew’s inquiring disturbing in that they to often disturb his sleep. His aunt Lady Matthews, who gives the impression of vague indifference, yet has an intuitiveness that will surprise. And Sergeant Gubbins, as Amberley’s willing assistant in a car chase through the night, is a hoot.
The mystery is not incredibly mystifying (to tell the truth, none of Heyer’s mysteries are), and the culprit is very easily picked out. But it does have a number of complications, red herrings, and a bit of light romance. Heyer doesn’t take it too seriously and provides the reader with some fun distraction.
My Judgment – 4/5
Previous Rulings – Sergio @ Bloody Murder
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2013 Scattergories – #23 The Butler Did It…Or Not
Calendar of Crime – August #2: Author’s birth month
Grey Mask by Patricia Wentworth (1928)
Charles Moray left England to wander the world after his fiancé, Margaret Langton, broke off their engagement without a word of explanation. Four years later he returns to claim his inheritance, including the house he grew up in. One night, drawn by memories to the empty house, he finds it being used by a gang of criminals and overhears snatches of conversation regarding a planned crime involving a will, and certificate, and “Margot”. Intent on going to the police with what he has heard, Charles is stopped when shockingly, Margaret Langton arrives and delivers something to the conspirators. Charles is determined to discover how and why she is involved, and seeks the help of Miss Silver, the best “sleuthess” around.
I have long been a fan of Patricia Wentworth and Miss Silver. I first discovered the series in the mid 90s when they were reprinted by Harper Collins under their Harper Torch label. Luckily, I’ve kept most of them, and like old friends, I’ve revisited them many times over the years since.
Grey Mask is the first of the series, and there is not really that much of Miss Silver in it. We get only a bare outline of her appearance, learn nothing of her history, and much of her detecting is done in the background. We do learn something of her principles though. First she insists she will only take on a client if they tell her the truth. And second, she will not break into a property, but if someone else breaks in and invites her in—well that’s okay.
The story revolves principally around Charles’ attempts to uncover the secret that Margaret is hiding, while protecting both she and Margot from a dangerous criminal conspiracy. There is romance, prideful misunderstandings, a missing heiress, masked villains, and danger. While the mystery is pretty slim, there are some very interesting characters and quite a satisfying ending.
This is a delightfully charming mystery perfect for those times when you need a lightweight diversion.
My Judgment – 4/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – 2020 – Vintage Mystery Extravaganza: Commandments/Rules/Common Devices – #16.There must be but one culprit, no matter how many murders are committed. The culprit may, of course, have a minor helper or co-plotter; but the entire onus must rest on one pair of shoulders. (Van Dine #12) Secret societies, camorras, mafias, et al., have no place in a detective story. (Van Dine #13) A professional criminal must never be shouldered with the guilt of a crime in a detective story. (Van Dine #17)