Friday, January 11, 2019

Footsteps in the Dark - Georgette Heyer

It's been a long week, got through with gritted teeth, but I'm now officially on holiday. I'm very much looking forward to not getting up before around 8.30 (maybe 9 if I'm feeling decadent and not to hungry), watching old films, catching up on some reading, having a bit of a tidy up, and generally catching up with myself. There might even be some jigsaws - I found one when I was putting away the Christmas decorations, and found it was an even better companion to catching up on podcasts than knitting is.

I wanted to re-read 'Footsteps in the Dark' after pairing it with a Dolly O'Dare in December's books and booze series, which in turn had been inspired by the smart new hardback edition. I haven't got the smart new edition, and probably won't update my tatty old paperback, partly because the book is actually set in the summer so the snowy scene on the cover has the air of a particularly cynical marketing ploy. Mostly though it's because it's far from Heyer's best work.

More of a thriller than a murder mystery (although there is a murder, and a policeman detecting things) it starts promisingly enough when 3 siblings inherit an old priory. The sisters fall in love with the house, the brother with the fishing and the decent ale in the village pub, so along with the older sisters barrister husband they decide to keep it as a weekend place.

Soon after they move in things start going bump in the night - skulls roll down the stairs, secret passages and priests holes appear, and the figure of a hooded monk starts haunting the place. The brothers in law are fairly sure that the hauntings have a perfectly logical and human explanation, and are increasingly determined to get to the bottom of it.

So far so good, the plot doesn't always make a lot of sense, and it's overly melodramatic - but that's the fun of a thing like this. The problem is that it's all a bit heavy handed. The romance doesn't really come alive, the red herrings are a bit much, and the whole thing is clunky. Heyer can do much better than this, even in her crime fiction (not generally considered as good as her romances, but on the whole pretty good). I think the problem with it is that it lacks the sense of humour that makes the majority of her work such a delight to me.

One thing it did mention however was a 'Bronx' which one of the sisters orders in her London club whilst she waits for a friend. It's basically a classic Martini with added orange juice - and very drinkable. I'd have enjoyed the book for that alone, never mind the gothic trappings of the priory - especially the unexpected and unwelcome skull appearing on the stairs which is just the sort of nonsense that winter nights are made for.


  1. When I read Footsteps, I imagine it in my mind as a period black and white movie. I do find much of it very funny. AND, it was the first "modern" thriller/mystery she ever wrote. She had to start somewhere.


    1. True. When I read it in my teens I wasn't at all critical, and there's still plenty to enjoy in it, but she does get a lot better. I re read Envious Casca, I think about this time last year, and by contrast was surprised at how good I thought it was.

      I think there's an Edgar Wallace with a similar plot to 'Footsteps in the Dark' which I must see if I still have, I'd like to compare them. In 1932 it would have been black and white, but I think I see this in vivid technicolor, and with a definite Hammer horror atmosphere.

  2. This was the first of her mysteries that I read, and I thought it was a bit fluffy - but now that I've read the rest of them, I also think it's the most fun.

    1. It is fun, I think some of the others are better, but it may be me. Work in December is so stressful that it makes me far more critical of everything. My love for Heyer remains undimmed though.