Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Georgette Heyer : The Unfinished Clue (1934)

The novel is a typical example of the British mystery, the mystery that I call simply "at the manner of Agatha Christie": pastries, charity parties, concerts, galas, conversations lovable or not, envy, jealousy, repressed hatred, blackmail, heritage and so on .. and of course a nice murder. That in everyday reality it never is. Indeed, seeing a person in flesh and bones dead, murdered, always makes sense, but, to attend a murder of paper, emulate the detective in the logical reconstruction of the event and contribute to solving the case, arguing that it is vital, is other thing . Now, the British mystery, usually looks like this, and the blood is almost entirely absent, so little it lingers on the dead. Rather, the novel has always focused on the rest.
However this is not a novel of Agatha Christie: in her novels there is more malice, cynicism, meanness, and often the murderers kill
planning the murder, premeditating it or otherwise being in a favorable condition by enforcing the conditions because it is very difficult (but not impossible, otherwise Poirot or Miss Marple, what they would be doing?) be discovered, here, or at least in novels of this writer, all the wickedness of Christie's.
Georgette Heyer is famous at home as in the historical narrative as in the detective fiction: an extraordinarily good writer.
The mystery of Heyer, was designed in such a way that reflected his conception of order and respect for the rules, not only at the romance but also in the society : social groups small, closed, in which the various roles are fixed and rigid, as if whenever you were to recite a script whose background was, if not equal, at least strangely similar in concept.
So when I approached the Heyer novels, I confess, I've been very cautious: they have got a very strong psychological characterization, and the clues are found, if sought, into  conversations invariably turn: so you have to put up with all dialogues, all right, no skipping, when reading a mystery novel, and generally paying attention to other scenarios here, one must be very careful. And then, Heyer's novels, in my humble opinion, although interesting they are also very demanding, in the mere reading.
This is not our case: The Unfinished Clue (1934), the third list of Heyer mystery after Footsteps in the Dark (1932) and Why Shoot a Butler (1933), is for me a delightful little masterpiece. The novel is both very light and it has extraordinary capacity for introspection, dialogues that seem unnecessary, if not contained, appropriately screened, important clues, which in turn can only identify the hound. In our case, he is the Scotland Yard Inspector Harding, called into question after the murder of an old retired military officer, the rude, grumpy and even despotic General Sir Arthur Billington-Smith. The General was found in his study, stabbed by a knife, but it seems that in the moments immediately preceding the death, have tried to write something, a syllable, in this case, "LA", but that probably meant nothing more: a name perhaps?
At the time there were several people in his country mansion, “The Grange”, and many felt something against him: his son Geoffrey, son of first marriage, disowned by its union with Lola, a dancer of Mexican local second 'order; his nephew, Captain Francis Billington-Smith, so amoral, cynical, and desirous of its assets; Lola, Geoffrey’s ruin, and fierce opponent of the way to see things of General;  the General’s cousin, the indecipherable Stephen Guest, failure in love, even though for two years from Lady Smith Billington, to the provocative Camilla Halliday, a guest with her husband and stolid Emily Chudleigh, devoted wife of the Vicar Chudleigh Hilary, proud opponent of the moral standards of the General and divorce. So quite a large group of potential murderers. Among them could be Therese E. Lamb, first Lady Billington-Smith, and mother of Geoffrey.
What must be said, and that happens regularly in this novel, it is that the murderer or murderess, in short who kills, he/she does not premeditated the murder, but because it happens any accident that drives the action, the lack of which would mean the salvation of the victim. What then isn’t told that the victim really is victim, how it isn’t said that the murderer really is the personification of evil in its various shades (greed, avarice, sloth, jealousy, envy, etc.etc.). As in many other novels. So, in this novel, as well as in other Heyer’s novels, nothing is safe.
As if the motive is uncertain, imagine how difficult it is to identify the liar
”! The murderer frankly, I think in this context he would be saved if he didn’t chose to save an innocent.
To be honest, the plot of the novel is based on time and.. on the hedges that surround the road: the clue is connected with the time and place where he says he saw the innocent. I must admit that the outcome of Heyer something that is astonishing: a stroke of genius. I say no more: I will not take away the pleasure of reading this wonderful novel
The Inspector must unravel a skein unusually intricate, and in the meantime that brilliantly solves the case (but the murderer/murederess, who is a credible character, in the round he/she will have time to commit suicide "classically" with cyanide of potassium), falls in love, reciprocated, even the young sister of the general, Dinah Fawcett.
Moreover, by Georgette Heyer what it would be expected at the end if not a love story?

Pietro De Palma


  1. Heyer's detective novels are so much what people think of as the classic country house, genteel English mystery. This one owes something to a 19th century Victorian sensation novel in one respect, but I will say no more!

  2. Heyer expressed on several occasions his preference for the environment historic medieval, characterized by clear rules and roles, respect of the classes, characterized by a company which is very exhausting but at the same time rigid, definite, is evident that the mystery of Heyer, was designed in such a way that reflected his conception of order and respect for the rules, and social groups small, closed, in which the various roles are fixed and rigid.Are you referring to this, also?

  3. Yes, Heyer's Regency characters seem to be behave a great deal like her Regency characters, even though it's over 100 years later. The women a little losser though!

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