When I was looking for something to read for the 1938 book club I though it might be interesting to see what Georgette Heyer produced in that year and what it could tell me about 1938 generally. Luckily one of the two books she published in 1938 (the other is 'Royal Escape' which I might get to later in the week) was a contemporary crime novel.
Heyer's detective fiction aren't generally as well regarded as her historical romances but I've always enjoyed them, albeit uncritically. Even so 'A Blunt Instrument' isn't necessarily one of her best, there are a couple of romances thrown in but I couldn't really warm to any of the protagonists. It's also hard to care much for the victim or the eventual culprit - and it does help if you can care about the characters a little bit.
On the other hand, even though I had remembered who did it the fun Heyer has with bible quotations and her general lightness of touch still made it an enjoyable re read and the puzzle she creates for her detective to solve (it's all about timing) is enjoyable too.
What it tells me about 1938 is how many servants people still had. The background is a wealthy London suburb, nice houses in big gardens owned by business men who routinely employ butlers, cooks, house maids, boot boys, valets, ladies maids, and presumably gardeners. I assume this would have read as enviable but quite feasible at the time but it sounds like a lot of household help to me.
There is also a troubling to the modern reader streak of anti-semitism. Thete is a corrupt Jewish broker and what's bothersome is the way that his hand gestures are referred to as betraying his race, and a description of him having a certain oily quality to his skin. It betrays a deep seated prejudice that I'm perfectly aware my grandparents shared, but which is disturbing to read now, probably because I find the descriptions de humanising. Something more deliberately offensive might not be as shocking as this implication that readers naturally shared these prejudices.
Finally there's lots of talk about travel - business of some sort in Berlin (what could that be I wonder) and travel for pleasure to Bulgaria and Yugoslavia which to a child of the Cold War era seems terribly exotic.
If anything I'm surprised this book was written as late as 1938, it looks back to older certainties of the social order, and Neville and Sally strike me as characters who would be more at home with the bright young things of the previous decade than the rather more serious 30's. Now I need to find something to compare it with.