I got very excited a few weeks back when Amazon recommended 'A Christmas Mystery' by Georgette Heyer, thinking for a moment that it was a new (rediscovered? previously suppressed?) title. It then transpired that it was a re titled, repackaged, edition of 'Envious Casca'. Natural disappointment lasted as long as it took me to remember it's years since I've read any of her detective fiction and I could have my pick the moment I got home.
Naturally I chose 'Envious Casca', it being in my mind and all though it took more than a moment to get round to reading it. It also turned out to be long enough since I had last read it to have become hazy about the plot, though to be fair it's easy enough to work out who did it, and how is also sign posted. The suspense comes from wondering if the police will work it out too.
Heyer's detective fiction was never as highly regarded as her historical romances, but I've always enjoyed them. The plot for the murders were apparently supplied by her barrister husband, though the inevitable romance in each one is presumably all Heyer, and her characterisation is what makes these so much fun to read.
In 'Envious Casca' we get a locked door mystery. Nat Herriard is persuaded by his brother, Joseph, to throw a Christmas party. The guests will be Nat's business partner, a distant cousin, Mathilda Clare, his niece and nephew, Paula and Steven, and their respective partners, both of whom Nat dislikes. There is of course also Joseph intent on playing jolly old uncle, and his curiously inexpressive wife, Maud. It doesn't look like it's going to be a particularly happy party, and when Nat is found dead, stabbed in the back, locked in his room with the keys in the door the stage is set.
For anyone who knows a bit of trivia about Elizabeth, Empress of Austria (or who watches Sherlock Holmes) the how is clear enough, and by a simple process of eliminating the obvious red herrings it's clear who's done it to. Even the title serves as something of a clue. But how you pin it on the culprit - that's the mystery, and it's not entirely clear how it'll be solved.
Meanwhile, Maud is a much more intriguing character than I had remembered; the Herriard's are a somewhat over the top dramatic family, sailing perilously close to melodrama and cliche, but Maud is a perfect counterpoint with her flat refusal to be drawn into any of it and her sensible advice on the topic of liver salts. She also gets the last word, hinting yet again at hidden depths. She's an excellent example of Heyer's craftsmanship, as is Sturry the butler (though with him we're back in cliche territory).
Altogether it's a good old fashioned murder mystery with enough humour and romance about it to help me unwind at the end of a trying day, or to be a self indulgent treat over a rainy weekend. The new cover does a good job of summing up the general mood (it's certainly better than the one on my copy, or the last stock image used) and right now this is exactly the sort of book I feel in need of. If I didn't already have it, it would have been top of my holiday wish list.