I did not know that Georgette Heyer wrote mysteries. I picked the book from its place on a crowded shelf in the mysteries section for its clever title – Why Shoot A Butler? And finally ended up buying the book for its author. A murder mystery by Georgette Heyer, I had to read it.
Think of Agatha Christie meets P. G. Wodehouse and a dash of Sherlock Homes thrown into the mix. There is a good balance of levity in the storytelling without losing the sinister backdrop, which is often the problem with a number of “cosy” mysteries. Also, there is more than one murder! That’s my bar for a mystery with possibilities..
Frank Amberley is late to a dinner at his aunt’s country estate. He has taken a wrong turn on the winding narrow country lanes and lost his way. It is dark, wet and deserted. No one around to ask for directions.
Until he finds a car parked off the side of the road and a girl standing next to it. The girl is visibly shaken and blatantly defensive. She carries a loaded gun. In the car is a man shot dead. A man who is later identified as a butler from another estate nearby.
Mr. Amberly is an eminent barrister and shows surprising aptitude in handling the situation. So how does he handle it? He gives the beautiful defensive girl the benefit of doubt. Sends her away. He then walks nonchalantly into the local police station to report a dead body and conveniently forgets to mention the suspicious girl found on the scene of the crime.
Beyond this wildly unpredictable start, the rest of the mystery was easier to predict. One of the trickiest pieces in mysteries are the number of suspects. Too many and the reader is left flipping pages trying to figure out who is who. Too few and you end up in a situation where as soon as one or 2 more suspicious deaths occur its easy to spot the murderer. After all, who else is really left alive amongst the cast of characters? Here I can proudly say I guessed the murder right.
Still, there were 2 aspects of the book that had me hooked.
The side characters in Lady Mathews and Sir Humphery. Sir Humphery disliked guests and interruptions and voiced his opinion loud and clear. Georgette Heyer introduces Frank Amberly’s aunt, Lady Mathews, as the amicable unworldly aristocrat. She then takes the archetype and flips it into an astute woman who can calmly accept the improbable.
Other characters from the local police have all my sympathy. The blundering, simpleton and mostly incompetent police force might be a stereotype that is expected, but they play out beautifully across the pages of Why Shoot A Butler. They act as the perfect foil to Mr. Amberly who gives them such a hard time that I had to feel sorry for the whole lot of policemen popping up in the story.
Which brings me to Mr. Amberly. It’s a Georgette Heyer book because of the romance. The hero is devilishly rude and disconcerting in his efficiency. Even when he is impatient and dismissive of everyone and everything, I had a lovely time swooning over his scathing remarks and scornful wit. If you think the guy sounds awful, just read Why Shoot A Butler and Georgette Heyer will have you convinced that guys like these are the exact heroes you need as you get caught standing with a gun near a dead body on a lonely road.
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