Sunday, April 25, 2021

Behold, Here's Poison by Georgette Heyer - for the 1936 Club

Title: Behold, Here’s Poison
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication: Sourcebooks paperback, 2009 (originally published in 1936)
Genre: Mystery
Setting: 1930s England
This is a final review for 1936 Club, hosted by Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings.

Description: Gregory Matthews is a tyrant who is disliked or feared by everyone in his household, which includes his sister Harriet, widowed sister-in-law Zoe, niece Stella, nephew Guy, and various servants. Mr. Matthews has quarreled with the doctor who lives next door and is engaged to Stella, although he tolerates the Rumbolds on the other side because Mr. Rumbold plays decent chess. When Mr. Matthews is found dead in his bed, another sister, Gertrude Lupton, demands a post-mortem, and by the time Inspector Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway arrive to investigate death by poison, it is clear everyone has a motive, including the doctor and Gregory’s primary heir, the annoying Randall Matthews, who says he was in London when the murder happened. By this time, the crime scene is long tidied up so it requires old-fashioned sleuthing to find the murderer.
My Impression: Georgette Heyer is best known for her historical romances, of which I am an enormous fan, but her mysteries are uneven and I had not read this. In her previous book, Death in the Stocks (1935), she introduced the two detectives who feature in this book, Superintendent Hannasyde and Sergeant Hemingway, as well as Giles Carrington, an attractive solicitor whose role in Behold, Here’s Poison is to read Gregory Matthews’ will to his disgruntled family and provide a sounding board to Hannasyde. This book is entertaining as all the relations are gleeful about revealing everyone else’s transgressions to the police and Heyer generously gives the reader many murderers with motives.
However, the real amusement for me in reading this book is noticing how many of the 20th-century characters resemble those from her Regencies! Zoe Matthews is a lot like the not-as-fragile-as-she-pretends Mrs. Dauntry in Frederica, which would not be written until 1965, while Gertrude Lupton resembles Alverstoke’s sister in that book, and the relationships are similar. Randall Matthews, the annoying heir, made me think of Basil Lavenham in The Talisman Ring, also written in 1936. They both have a feline quality and take things into their own hands, rather than confiding in anyone. And Randall is delightfully rude to everyone:
He walked forward, graceful and rather feline, and bent to kiss his aunt’s cheek. “My dear aunt! You look so nice in that hat.”

“Do you think so?” said Mrs. Lupton unresponsively.

“I’ve thought so for years,” he said gently, and passed on to Miss Matthews. “You must none of you bother to say how pleased you are to see me, “ he said. “I can read it in all your expressive faces.”
I wonder if it entertained Georgette to create two such similar characters just a few months apart, one as a Georgian beau with a quizzing glass and a contemporary man about town who takes great pleasure in annoying all his relatives (no reason is given for his gratuitous rudeness but his relatives are annoying) or if she did not realize she had certain stock characters. Superintendent Hannasyde surprised me with the solution to the case, and I think I will check my shelves to see if I own the other mysteries in which he appears. Jane Aiken Hodge says the duo never took off like Hercule Poirot or Roderick Alleyn (well, obviously, although Heyer’s mysteries seem to have stayed in print) and she prefers Heyer’s mysteries with gentlemen sleuths.
Source: Library. This is my tenth book for the Cloak and Dagger Challenge.


Cath said...

Footsteps in the Dark is the only one of GH's mysteries I've read. I loved it but for some strange reason have not read any more. I suppose that there are only a certain amount of different types of people you can write and suspect most writers duplicate characters. But you'd know more about than me with your publishing experience... do you think that's so? Also given how prolific Heyer was it would've been 'extra' hard not to write different versions of the same character. I must admit I loved her Regencies so much I never noticed. LOL

CLM said...

I suppose that's true and in this instance, it felt like a treat, not a criticism because of my fondness for the Regencies. The only times her duplication really bothers me with Heyer are that Black Sheep and Lady of Quality are too much alike and Charity Girl is my least favorite and is too much like Sprig Muslin, a much better book.

I often think there are some readers who just want the same book again and again. That is why they ask for the new John Grisham or new Nora Roberts (both of which I enjoy but they aren't my favorites). And sometimes you wonder why a really talented author hasn't taken off and it is sometimes because each book is so different: you and I probably value and appreciate that but not everyone does. Especially those who read one or two books per year and want that known experience.

Then there is an author who does produce not identical but reliably similar books but has never reached a wider audience. Sometimes the publisher thinks, "Ah, this is *the* book that can take her to the next level," and occasionally a marketing plan or fate makes that happen - I am thinking of The Shell Seekers. Pilcher had been writing much shorter versions of that for years. I should find an old interview and discover what made her write that longer, richer book because her bigger books were better and changed her life. And they were partly popular because of the storytelling and because people like my sister could safely buy them for a mother-in-law who enjoyed reading but didn't want gratuitous sex or violence. It became *the* Christmas and Mother's Day gift that year and built a brand. Hmm, I feel like a reread!

Lory said...

Another pleasurable read from 1936! A horrible year in history, but a great one for books it seems. I appreciated your comparison to the Regency characters and will definitely look up this one. Oddly enough, the next club (1976) I looked at a list and can't see a single title that I would actually want to read. The changes that took place in 40 years are mind-boggling.

CLM said...

Lory, I agree re 1976. There were only two possibilities I saw that appealed: one was a DJW but although I don't really remember it, I don't think it was a favorite, and one was a book by Mary Burchell, a romance writer I am partial to. But both would be rereads and it is more fun to try something new (even better to find something unread in this house that would be suitable). I should start adding a Year of Publication field when I acquire a book as that would help identify some obscure ones.

Katrina said...

For me the main similarities between Heyer's crime and Regency books is the witty dialogue which I really love. I think it was Footsteps in the Dark that reminded me of an episode of Scooby Doo! I agree with the 1976 choice of books, I thought there would be loads of good ones to choose from as for me it was a great year - but it's fairly dire book wise.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I'd read this recently, and while it was entertaining, I didn't think it was all that great. You've called her mysteries "uneven", and I think I agree with that description. Yes, I do like her characterizations, but they do seem a bit hallmark, in the sense that she's used the same types of characters in her other mystery books too. I hadn't noticed the crossover with her historicals, but you're right, of course!

Chelle said...

The Unfinished Clue is my favorite of her mysteries. It's not quite so uneven as the others, with an intelligent heroine that wears smart little suits (as I remember). As I remember from the Joan Aiken Hodge bio of Heyer, her husband created the mystery plots, and Heyer then populated them with her characters.

TracyK said...

I had considered reading this book for the 1936 club, but didn't. I hope to read it soon. I did read Death in the Stocks, a couple of years ago, another Superintendent Hannasyde mystery, and liked it a lot.

I have several books on my TBR pile from 1976 that I will be happy to read for the 1976 Club. Also a few that I have already read and liked a lot. All mysteries, though.