Sunday, April 21, 2024

They Found Him Dead - Georgette Heyer for the 1937 Book Club

I'm sneaking in under the wire for the 1937 book club with a book that I've read a few times before in the distant past, but apparently don't really remember at all - it's familiar in the same way a town you visited for an afternoon years before might be; occasionally you recognise a landmark and there's a sense of having had a pleasant time there before but that's about it. This is excellent news for all the other crime fiction I have, it seems I've reached an age where I really don't need to buy anymore books. Naturally I will continue to buy new books at a faster rate than I can possibly read them.

Fantastic Fiction confirms that Heyer had two novels published in 1937, 'An Infamous Army' is probably nobody's favourite, deals with a set of characters it's hard to like, and goes into a great deal of information about the battle of Waterloo - there's a Jenny Colgan quote on the cover of the current edition that says "Heyer will not let you down" - unfortunate as it's one of the very few books she wrote where you might feel exactly that. It would probably have been the more interesting choice in terms of 1937 though, with interesting parallels for a pre-war Europe and its new fascist dictator.

They Found Him Dead is more fun (and an admission, I'm currently only half way through with a quick reminder of how it finishes). It's fair to say that Heyer's romances are better than her detective fiction, and fair to say that there are better golden age crime writers - but that's a very high bar to set. On the whole, I don't think her detective fiction gets enough credit or appreciation.

The plotting is good enough - plots were allegedly provided at least in part by her husband, I'm not entirely sure I believe this unless it was a sort of game to come up with ingenious solutions for crimes between them. His career as a barrister is cited, but he wasn't called to the bar until 1939, and there's little evidence of his earlier careers in any of the plotting. Not that it matters much, the pleasure of a Heyer novel is in the characterisation and the dialogue. 

Reading They Found Him Dead I'm struck by how modern it feels - the mother who insists on what we'd think of as gentle parenting now, the woman who reads for all the world like an insta influencer, a host of amusing characters - including the lady explorer who has hot-footed it back from Africa to stand as the conservative candidate in her constituency because she won't have a socialist in the role - and found herself a possible suspect in a murder investigation. I'm also struck by how well this would adapt for television, better I think than the romances. 

Altogether it's a lot of fun, which I'm now off to finish before it becomes impossibly late. It doesn't tell me much about 1937, except that in this version at least it's unexpectedly modern. The only thing missing is smartphones.


  1. Yes, I enjoy this one and the pos WWII sequel Duplicate Death quite a lot, probably my favorites of her mysteries, good review

  2. This sounds like a good one - thanks for taking part!!