When I was eleven I was lucky enough to get a really excellent English teacher, she managed to make her subject come alive for me in a way that none of her successors ever did, and she introduced me to Georgette Heyer, for all of which I am very grateful.
Heyer became and has remained my favourite author, her books have been there to escape into whenever I’ve felt in need of a lift, and have never yet let me down. A quick check suggests I own about forty nine titles all but one of which I bought in my early teens. That one is ‘The Unfinished Clue’ which doesn’t seem to have been in print back then. I stumbled across it about a year ago in the new arrow editions and couldn’t quite believe I had found something unread from such a favourite writer, but so it was.
‘The Unfinished Clue’ turned out to be a nice cosy sort of murder mystery with the typical country house setting and Heyer cast of characters, it was thoroughly satisfying, and I loved every moment of it, but it’s not her very best work. A little bit of research revealed that there are a handful of titles that Heyer had repressed in her lifetime, either because she felt they were too personal or not up to scratch. I wondered if ‘The Unfinished Clue’ was originally one of these, I see that she intended to repress another crime novel ‘Footsteps in the Dark’ which is arguably a better book.
Heyer’s first manuscript was written when she was 19, and since it was published in 1921 I don’t think she’s ever been entirely out of print. Still writing up to her death in 1974, she must have produced on average a book a year. Her earnings supported herself, her husband and her younger siblings so there would have been tremendous pressure to keep on publishing, despite this all her research is meticulous; people, places, things, events, slang, costume, it’s all spot on. The level of detail was criticised at the time, but I think it’s what makes the books live and breathe now.