04 December 2011

Re-reading: Georgette Heyer x 2

These days, where fiction's concerned, I do more re-reading of what's already on my shelves than anything newly acquired.

While that's very unadventurous of me, I'm not really being drawn to any of the new stuff - and I do still look, especially when I'm in South Kensington or Harrow. On the plus side, it's a significant economy of shelf space - I still have books stacked on the stairs for lack of anywhere else (despite having taken at least six boxes' worth to charity shops recently), and I'm still buying non-fiction.

So, what's been re-read recently? A couple of Georgette Heyer's 'Georgians' for a change: The Talisman Ring and Devil's Cub. And (always a test of re-reading) did I still enjoy them? Yes I did, despite having a preference for her 'Regency' titles on the whole. In fact I was surprised at just how much I did enjoy The Talisman Ring: it's a very adroit mixture of a lot of Georgette Heyer's interests , writing genres and favourite character types and situations, many of which she went on developing. The book was published by Heinemann in 1936 (to my further surprise, my copy is not only a hardback but a first edition), and somehow I can just see it sitting in a late 1930s sitting room, even if only as a library copy.

Anyway, to the book itself - a historical detective story, with strong elements of romantic and social comedy. The book opens with the last days of Sylvester, Lord Lavenham, who has been a most outrageous rake in his younger days and is now a most outrageous old man bravely giving death a hard time. In fact he steals the show, for my money, and I much regretted the necessity of his, er, departure so that the plot could proceed.

Sylvester's dying wish is that two of his young relatives, his great nephew Tristram and grand-daughter Eustacie, should marry each other, which looks unlikely to be successful if only because the characters have no real respect for each other. Tristram is one of Heyer's Corinthian heroes, dark, taciturn, intelligent, judicial and more than a bit handy with his fists and firearms - now that's a proper hero, as I and I don't doubt many other female readers have murmured while turning the pages. Eustacie is flighty, emotional, wilful and irritating, rather like her cousin Ludovic (see below) - Tristram would be wasted on her, so it's fortunate that he encounters Miss Sarah Thane, who is tall, venturesome, resourceful, and actually punches an assailant in the face at one point .

Most of the difficulties, however, arise from another grandson, Ludovic, tenth Baron Lavenham on Sylvester's death, whom I have to say I found rather a rather tiresome young person too. Ludovic is on the run from the law, accused of a murder two years previously and needing to prove his innocence and find his missing talisman ring which was the cause of the situation. As if this wasn't enough he is also a smuggler and has been injured in an encounter with the local excisemen. Naturally everything is sorted out in time for a happy ending, largely down to Tristram and Sarah's efforts, but also aided by Sarah's brother Sir Hugh (a marvellous comic character who is clearly related to Lord Rupert Alastair in Devil's Cub) and a supporting cast of The Lower Orders, notably the wonderfully lugubrious Mr Bundy.

Devil's Cub, sequel to These Old Shades, was written four years earlier than The Talisman Ring, and I think it shows. It's still a good enjoyable read, with an attractive heroine in Mary Challoner (set off to great advantage by her avaricious mother, frankly idiotic sister Sophia and spoilt friend Juliana Marling), but I feel it's a little less polished than The Talisman Ring; the 18th centuryisms, carefully researched though they are, I found a little intrusive in this book. The heroine spends most of the second half of the book repeatedly running away from the hero, which I got a little bored with in the end, and a certain amount of skipping set in. Once again the older generation are the scene stealers, especially His Saturnine Grace the Duke of Avon (dressed to kill, in silver lace over black cloth, oh my!), his lovely and volatile wife Leonie and his brother Rupert (whose enthusiasm for alcohol masks a dry wit).

At one point I had most of Georgette Heyer's historical novels, but there are some I found I didn't want to read any more, such as Bath Tangle, which seems to be written between exclamation marks. Those two titles are certainly for the keeping, though.

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