Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Title: Crossed Skis
Author: Carol Carnac
Published in 1952

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Crossed skis means danger ahead


In London’s Bloomsbury, Inspector Julian Rivers of Scotland Yard looks down at a dismal scene. Here is the victim, burnt to a crisp. Here are the clues – clues which point to a good climber and expert skier, and which lead Rivers to the piercing sunshine and sparkling snow of the Austrian Alps.

This was a recent purchase for me – I have been collecting mysteries from the British Library Crime Classics as they capture my fancy. Because I am shallow, a not-inconsequential element of their appeal is the beautiful covers and this was no exception. Both the title and the cover really appealed to me.

I grew up skiing during my childhood and youth, so a mystery with a winter sports element, especially one set in the Alps, really captured my interest. I was obsessed with the Alps and the alpine countries as a young woman – if I had been able to choose anywhere in the world to live, Switzerland and Austria definitely would have been at the top of my list.

So, I was primed to enjoy this book. And I really did enjoy it.

Martin Edwards provided the introduction to my edition. Carol Carnac is another pen name of ECR Lorac, whose Fire in the Thatch I read a few years ago. That was a three star read for me – I liked Crossed Skis quite a bit better, landing on four stars as my rating. I liked it enough that I will be buying the other Lorac reissues.

Crossed Skis takes place in two different locales – a ski village in Austria and London. The premise revolves around a party of 16 young Londoners who have all arranged to go on skiing holiday together – 8 men and 8 women. They are all connected to one another in various ways – friends of friends, etc – but they don’t all know each other. Simultaneously with the sixteen of them boarding the train and leaving London, a fire at a boarding house occurs and the body of a man is found inside. Leading up to the front door of the boarding house, Inspector Rivers notices an impression of a ski pole basket (or ski stick, as they apparently call them in England) in the mud. From that tiny clue, the investigation springs.

The two primary investigators, Chief Inspector Rivers and his subordinate Lancing are well drawn and engaging. As described within the pages of the book:

I asked Hammond what those two officers were like, the ones who went to the club. She said they were both ‘perfect gentlemen’ – she would. One was a big fair fellow with a quiet voice, and the other was much younger, a dark boy with lively eyes, very coming on.

I liked the descriptions of the holiday party as well. According to the introduction, the author was a huge fan of skiing and that came through in her descriptions of the wintry fun. When the Londoners arrive on the station platform, after making their by now bedraggled way across Europe, she describes it thus:

It was lovely: even on the railway track and on the long low platform they were conscious of the snow peaks rising gloriously into the soft blue of the afternoon sky, of the crisp powdery dryness of snow which had a totally different quality from the squalid soiled snow of London streets. In the intense light, reflected back from white ground and roofs and slopes, everybody look different: dark was darker, fair was fairer, colour was brighter. Clearly defined, sharp cut, brilliantly lit, everything had a quality of vividness and vitality which was exciting, so that fatigue was forgotten and laughter bubbled up in a world that was as lovely as a fairytale.

A few pictures of the setting:

And at night!

As the mystery unfolds, we get to know several of the holiday makers, although some of them remain inscrutable. Among the girls, the organizer Bridget and the sensible Kate are highlights, and the medical man, Frank Harris, are highlights. There are shenanigans around the theft of some money within the party, so some of the members of the London party begin engaging in some amateur investigation of one another. There is dancing and a bit of flirtation and lots of ski-related fun.

The two mysteries, of course, converge and then culminate in a hair-raising mountain run

Lancing knew that he would never forget that ski-run. The conditions were as foul as they could be so far as the atmosphere was concerned: snow and wind together were like raging furies”

after a murderer.

During the Christmas season, I enjoy reading golden age Christmas mysteries. This one isn’t really a Christmas themed mystery, but it is definitely Christmas-adjacent with its focus on winter sports. It was a perfect mystery to start off the holiday reading season for me!

Reading plans for 2021

It’s that time of year again – I start thinking ahead to next year’s reading plans and goals. I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I had hoped in this year of reading, although I read a lot. I started with a goal of 150 books, and have increased it to 200 books. I am sitting at 187 right now, having just finished rereading Gaudy Night.

I’m really excited about my plans for 2021. My favorite Goodreads Group is trying something new with some selected quarterly “authors-in-residence.” The schedule is:

First Quarter: Alexandre Dumas & Stella Gibbons
Second Quarter: John Steinbeck & Ursula LeGuin
Third Quarter: Virginia Woolf & Philip Roth
Fourth Quarter: Mrs. Oliphant & Isaac Asimov

In addition to the authors-in-residence, I will be reading a number of books by John Steinbeck, since I have adopted him as my next author study. I am still not quite finished with Willa Cather, but I’m so close that it’s time to pick a new one. Fortunately, he managed to make it into the second quarter author-in-residence slot, so I can do double duty.

I will also be continuing with my Agatha Christie monthly reads:

January: 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit
February: 1925 The Secret of Chimneys
March: 1926 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
April: 1927 The Big Four
May: 1928 The Mystery of the Blue Train
June: 1929 The Seven Dials Mystery
July: 1930 The Murder at the Vicarage
August: 1931 The Sittaford Mystery
September: 1932 Peril at End House
October: 1933 Lord Edgware Dies
November: 1934 Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
December: Murder on the Orient Express

On the Agatha Christie Centenary Celebration group on Goodreads.

I am not sure if I will be doing any blog challenges or not. For years, I did the Back to the Classics challenge on my blog, and I’ve sort of gotten out of the habit. I’m not even sure if the challenge will continue in 2021, but I’ll try to track down the information when it gets a little bit closer.

I will update my plans as I develop them further!

2020 Reading Journal and other thoughts

If you aren’t interested in my personal thoughts on the U.S. Presidential election and the pandemic, skip to where it says TL/DR for the book commentary.

Like many people in the U.S., I’ve been struggling a lot with the two (related) calamities of 2020: the pandemic and the Trump administration. I am not a fan of President Trump (to put it mildly) and watching him weaken, and in some cases dismantle, government institutions that I naively believed to be bulletproof has been extremely disillusioning. The last few months have been a roller-coaster ride. I had hoped for a resounding and thorough pummeling of the authoritarian agenda being pushed by a Republican party that is in thrall to the maintenance of power over all other agendas, including that of saving American lives.

There was no resounding and thorough pummeling, although there was a solid Biden win that has, since, been continually undermined by Trump-style Republicans in the weeks since the voting concluded. My obsession with the election results and my dismay over the behavior of professional men and women who have decided to prey on the partisan gullibility of a group of Americans in an effort to overturn a legitimate election is just overwhelming. And the utter failure to meaningfully address the pandemic on a national scale is frankly unforgiveable.

This isn’t a political blog and I don’t want it to become a political blog. I will delete comments posted in an effort to defend Donald Trump because I’m not interested in a political debate here – there are a lot of places I am happy to engage in political debates. This isn’t one of them. I’m only including these first two paragraphs by way of a lead-in to the rest of this post and to explain my state of mind. Because my state of mind is…not good.

I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with my negative state of mind. A plan to completely ignore the world is both unrealistic and, while it would be possible for me to do this, is only a possible plan because I am an incredibly privileged person. So, I will not be taking this route. Having said this, I cannot continue to mainline dysfunction. I’ve put into place the following guardrails for myself: I have set up monthly donations to various organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Stacey Abram’s Fair Fight organization in Georgia which is working to turn out voters for the Senate run-off elections in January, and the Yellow Hammer Fund, which is an abortion access fund in Alabama; I have renewed my subscription to The Washington Post, and I read The Guardian as well, to get an overseas perspective. I am going to be turning off television news, and I am stepping away from social media for a few months. I did this last year and it dramatically helped my mental health.

TL/DR: the state of American politics and the unrestrained community spread of Covid is getting me down.

Now, on to books. My plan is to engage in some bookish hibernation this winter. Every year in September and October, I focus my reading on books that are atmospheric for the spooky season – mystery, suspense, horror, and supernatural. That time of year is over, however, and I’m ready for some bookish comfort reading. So, I’m going to indulge myself.

Right now, I’ve decided to revisit the Harriet Vane cycle of the Peter Wimsey books. Gaudy Night, third in the sequence, is one of my favorite books of all time! I started Strong Poison last night, and it’s already provided me with a figurative shot in the arm. I’m not sure I’ve ever read Busman’s Honeymoon – if I’ve read it at all, certainly I haven’t it read more than once.

My comfort reading is older fiction. So my plan includes reading some titles that have been published by Dean Street Press and that have been sitting on my kindle for a while.

In addition, I plan to dive into a few new projects very soon, including a Stella Gibbons project. This is fortuitous because, as it happens, DSP is reissuing five previously out-of-print books in January. One of the wonderful things about DSP is the price of their kindle editions. The typical price point is $3.99 a book, which is just incredibly affordable. I literally want to buy them all.

Look at those beautiful covers!

On top of those Furrowed Middlebrow titles, I will be dipping back into my collection of vintage mysteries, which are also comfort reads for me. There are a number of British Library Crime Classics that I am excited to read. I am also want to get back into my collection of Patricia Wentworth mysteries – I’ve read the first 18 Miss Silver mysteries, and I’m ready to move onto The Ivory Dagger. I have several of Wentworth’s standalones available on my kindle as well. And, of course, Agatha Christie’s mysteries are a perennial source of comfort for me – it’s all rereads at this point, but when all else fails, the Queen of Crime usually succeeds.

Posting to this blog can be very helpful to my emotional well-being, and when I stop posting for long periods it is usually a sign that things are not going particularly well with the various aspects of my life. We’re all struggling right now. I hope that everyone who reads this is finding a way to cope.

Mr. and Mrs. North and their glam and fab murder life

A few years ago, I read The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. I had never seen the movie with Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles, but I had a mental picture that led me to believe that I would love this book. It would be fabulously glamorous, with sparkle – both in the champagne and the banter – to spare, and a side serving of crime detection.

Unfortunately, that’s not really what I experienced when I actually read the book – although that may well be the aesthetic of the movie.

And then I met Jerry and Pamela North.

First published in 1940, this is the book that I thought I would be reading when I read The Thin Man. Jerry and Pamela are a young couple who live in a Greenwich Village apartment. Jerry ostensibly works, and Pamela ostensibly does not. They don’t yet have children, although there is a cat who figures in the book. Being young, fabulous, moderately financially secure, and otherwise ordinary young people living in 1940’s New York, they like a good cocktail party. Pamela decides that the empty upstairs apartment provides a perfect location for a soiree, and when they jaunt upstairs to check it out, they find a dead body in the tub.

Jerry is fine, but Pamela is a delight – a total firecracker. The Norths meet Detective William Weigand, who inexplicably goes by Loot, and they make friends and commence investigating. I really enjoyed this book.

According to Wikipedia, Charles Silet, in his article Married Sleuths, states as follows:

“The Mr. and Mrs. North novels contain carefully crafted puzzles and the Lockridges usually play fair with their readers. The series also features Pam and Jerry’s warmly humorous domestic environment and the couple’s witty exchanges with the duller members of the police force. Although the Norths remain the focus of the series, the books contain a good deal of political and social commentary, a richly detailed look at the changing life in New York City, as well as glimpses of the outlying suburban counties. Also, the North’s stable marriage relationship presents a marked contrast—and a welcome one—to the traditions of the lone detective characteristic of much other American mystery fiction. Even though the Mr. and Mrs. North novels now may appear overly deliberate in their pacing, they still prove wonderful reading as mysteries, and the glimpses they provide of our past social history give them a nostalgic and authentic period flavor. Aficionados of classic crime fiction have always appreciated this long-running series, and new readers should be encouraged to discover this witty and charming couple.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Following up on The Norths Meet Murder, I checked out the second book in the series, Murder Out Of Turn, which takes place at a summer hideaway in upstate New York, where Jerry and Pamela vacation at a rustic cabin with their friends. We are reintroduced to many of the characters from the first book. The Norths have become quite good friends with Detective Weigand, so they invite him to join them for part of their summer holiday. Naturally, murder ensues, when a friends ends up with knife in the back.

There is a lot of tennis playing, canoeing and other recreation going on in this book, as well as quite a bit of back and forth between the city. Detective Weigand meets Dorian Hunt, who catches his attention and, possibly, also his heart. It was still delightful, although not so delightful as the first book.

The third book in the series steps outside of the North’s close circle of friends – which is good, because otherwise they probably wouldn’t have any friends left. Detective Weigand is trying to figure out if Dorian Hunt, whom he met in the last book, is as interested in him as he is in her, and, simultaneously, gets pulled into the poisoning murder of a socialite that happened on the ever so glamorous rooftop bar of the Ritz Carlton. Pamela, once again, proves that she is as quick-witted (more quick-witted) than any of the men in the story by working out the motive and the murderer before anyone else has it completely solved.

I’ve heard that the fourth book, Death on the Aisle is a terrific mystery. I have it checked out, so I’ll be finding out as soon as I finish up a book or two, so I can continue my acquaintance with the Norths and their very murderous life.

The Secret of Greylands by Annie Haynes

Title: The Secret of Greylands
Author: Annie Haynes
First published in 1924

Plot Summary from Goodreads: “There’s no dirty trick he wouldn’t play—it’s my belief that he wouldn’t even stop at murder!”

Her husband unmasked as a scoundrel, Lady Cynthia Letchingham seeks refuge at her cousin Hannah’s north-country home Greylands. But on Cynthia’s arrival, she finds Hannah an invalid, having recently suffered a mysterious paralysis; the house is devoid of servants, and Hannah’s husband, charming and sinister by turns, keeps watch over everything and everyone. Only the presence of charming Sybil Hammond and a darkly handsome neighbour relieve the atmosphere for Cynthia – but then a dark red stain appears mysteriously on the sleeve of her coat…

This was the first golden age side read for an Agatha Christie group that I started on GR, where we will be reading all 66 of Christie’s full length mysteries in publication order, starting in October in honor the Christie centenary. Prior to nominating Annie Haynes for our first side read, I had never heard of her – I happened upon her when I was googling for information about Christie’s first publisher, Bodley Head, and then I saw that Haynes had been picked up by Dean Street Press, one of my favorite small presses that is reissuing golden age mystery fiction. A little bit more research, and I was in.

If you are in the US, and are so inclined, you could purchase all 12 of her mysteries for your kindle for under $12.00, as they are all priced at .99. I’m not saying that I’ve done that, just that a person could do that. If they wanted to. OK, I confess. I did. I bought them all.

Which is why it’s excellent that I really enjoyed this book – because now I have 11 more to read! It had a wonderful gothic flavor and was just pure entertainment. Set on the well-trod ground of the English moors, it owed a lot of its sensibility to the Bronte sisters, with the mysterious manor house, the creepy husband and the inexplicably ill relative.

The main character is one of those swooning-and-blushing ingenues that we see a lot in early golden age fiction – so desperately dim that she can’t see what’s right in front of her face. She’s the 1920’s version of the cheerleader in the horror flick, who, instead of running away, hides in the shed behind the chainsaws, as Geico so hilariously points out in this commercial.

Drive away in the running car? Terrible idea! Let’s hide behind the chainsaws in the creepy barn!

Anyway, Cynthia’s dim-bulbery notwithstanding, this book is a whole lot of fun. It’s unlikely to fool very many modern readers for even one minute, but the setting and tone are fantastic and it’s a very fast read. I was strongly reminded of some of Patricia Wentworth’s mysteries, which also frequently seem to feature this same sort of young woman with no instinct for self-preservation, particularly The Case is Closed and The Black Cabinet. It felt like a precursor to the gothic romances of the 1960’s and 1970’s written by authors like Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney.

What else can you buy for .99 that will provide 3 or so hours of enjoyment? Nothing. That’s what.

Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather

Title: Sapphira and the Slave Girl
Author: Willa Cather
First published in 1940

Plot summary from Goodreads: A novel of jealousy set in pre-Civil War Virginia.

One of Willa Cather’s later works, this story of Sapphira Dodderidge, a Virginia lady of the nineteenth century who marries beneath her and becomes irrationally jealous of Nancy, a beautiful slave, is considered by many one of her best novels.

“Sapphira and the Slave Girl ranks with Death Comes for the Archbishop, My Antonia and A Lost Lady.” -Commonweal

“In the beauty of line and the almost perfect selection of detail, this novel does Miss Cather proud.” -Atlantic Monthly

I think that this only leaves me with 2 more novels, and the collected short stories, to read in Cather’s oevre. It’s going to be a bittersweet ending – she is one of my favorite authors of all time.

Happily, though, she’s one of those authors that I can read again and again and get something out of the experience each time.

Plot summary notwithstanding, Sapphira and the Slave Girl isn’t considered as one of her best books. I have to admit that it is really uncomfortable to read a book that includes slavery as an element. She doesn’t glorify it, and Cather’s sentiments are very obviously abolitionist in nature, but there are many times that the “n” word is used by the characters, and this is extremely uncomfortable to read, so, even though I liked the book, “enjoyed” doesn’t seem to be the right word to use to describe the experience of reading it.

It had a really intriguing ending, though, that included a final chapter self-insert by the author as a small child. The novel itself is apparently based on an incident in which a young woman is assisted in escaping from slavery by the daughter of the slaveholder (who is a woman, by the way, which is pretty interesting). The young woman – her name in the book is Nancy – escapes to Canada, where she becomes the maid of a very wealthy family and gains a measure of affluence and independence that, at the end of the day, almost outstrips that of the slaveholder she left behind. This is apparently based on a real event in Cather’s history, when she was a child, and the freed slave returns to the county she ran from after the Civil War so she can visit her very elderly mother.

It’s a very uncomfortable read, and I would have a hard time recommending it because the subject matter is so difficult. The fact that it was written by a white woman in 1940 makes it even more uncomfortable to read. It’s not apologia for slavery – there are several characters who are openly abolitionist and, as I said above, Cather is not defending slavery, but it is told primarily from the perspective of the white characters, some of whom believed that slaveholding wasn’t wrong.

And, when Cather uses the voices of the slaves as narrators, I was left to wonder how accurate she could possibly be – how can a free white woman, almost 100 years later, create realistic slave characters given that she has no experience from which to draw in understanding the life and thoughts of an enslaved person pre-Civil War? And isn’t it presumptuous of her to even try? And, of course, isn’t it presumptuous for me to even ask the question of myself? I also have no real understanding of this part of history from the perspective of the enslaved. Just writing this has made me uncomfortable.

Anyway, I think that I need to read 12 Years a Slave: A Slave Narrative and some additional slave narratives in order to put history into a more accurate perspective.

Triple Play: Clare Darcy

I’m 54 years old. I mention this because I came of age as a reader long before the YA publishing explosion. Someone, astutely, realized that there was a lot of money to be made in marketing books directly to young adults (especially young women), which has spawned a hugely successful boom in YA lit.

However, back when I was a tween, in the late 1970’s, it was pretty much Nancy Drew, Lois Duncan and Judy Blume. Once a girl outgrew those authors, it was time to move onto greener pastures. In my case, the greener pastures were my parent’s bookshelves. My dad was a fan of espionage, which meant Helen MacInnes and Len Deighton, and my mom had a weakness for gothic romance, like Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. At some point, she also picked up an omnibus edition of Clare Darcy’s regency romances.

I can’t be sure that this is the edition that I read, although those are the three books it contained, and I’m pretty sure that it is. I read the book into tatters. I really don’t remember which of the three that I liked the best, but Clare Darcy was my gateway drug to Georgette Heyer and, even, to Jane Austen. I remember reading, and rereading, and rereading again.

A few years ago, I noticed that a lot of backlist authors that I had read as a girl were publishing their books for the kindle. I’m a kindle user, and while I understand the issues with Amazon, and I do still very consciously buy books from non-Amazon sources, A lot of these backlist books are most readily available on kindle.

In 2011, Sourcebooks published most, if not all, of Georgette Heyer’s backlist for kindle, and then put them on sale in August, 2011, for her birthday, for $1.99 each. I bought 50 of them while they were on sale, which was $100.00 that I have never regretted spending. I’ve been reading through them for the last 9 years.

This all triggered my memory of that old, tattered, omnibus edition that I had read as a young teen and I climbed down the internet rabbithole to see if I could find it. I didn’t remember the author’s name, but I did remember the names of the books because, in particular, Lydia and Georgina remind me of Pride and Prejudice. After some searching, I was able to track down the name of the author and I checked to see if her books were available for kindle. They were not. I continued to check back from time to time, until this week.

Which brings me to the triple-play. It looks as though all of Clare Darcy’s backlist has been digitized and is available to borrow from the Kindle Unlimited library. After the aha moment, I borrowed three of them and began reacquainting myself.

The first one I read was Lydia, which I thought I remembered from the book. The titular main character is a young American who has arrived in London for the season, with the express intention of catching herself a wealthy husband.

Lydia is the heir of Sophy, from Heyer’s The Grand Sophy. She’s a bit madcap, as well as bright and frank about her ambitions. Her family is well-connected, but poor, and she is the only one with the ability to restore their fortunes. The love-interest, Lord Northover, is nice enough. There are a lot of regency tropes, but it’s an enjoyable, and even adorable, read.

Next up was Cressida, which features a slightly older hero and heroine. Cressida was jilted by Rossiter when she was just a dreamy, unsophisticated girl because they were both poor. Six years later, they are both rich – she has inherited a packet from an aunt, and he made a fortune with Napoleon’s defeat.

I liked the characters, but I found the reliance on the misunderstanding trope to be somewhat annoying. There is also a cartoon villain who is trying to ruin a young charge of Cressida’s that is straight out of Heyer. I haven’t read Bath Tangle, but several of the reviews argue that this one is basically the same plot.

Last up was Lettice, or Letty. This one takes place mostly in Vienna, which is a nice change from most regencies which take place in London. Letty is the most ingenue of all of the heroines and enters the story when she flees from marriage to Mr. Sludge and is rescued by Harry. She has a notable singing voice, so Harry, who has a reputation for being a disreputable card cheat, swoops in and carries her off to Vienna to restore his fortunes.

You can guess what happens next.

Again, I enjoyed this one. I did notice more issues with the digitizing process with this one – in particular, Letty was sometimes rendered as Lefty, which is an unfortunate, but hysterically funny, error, since Lefty brings to my mind the cauliflower-eared villain of a noir mystery as opposed to the slender, adorably innocent heroine of a regency romance.

So, what’s my verdict from this walk down nostalgia lane? Darcy isn’t as good as Heyer – her characterizations are slighter and she’s making use of the tropes that someone else perfected. But regency romance is a genre with well-defined conventions, and she’s playing by the rules. Overall, I enjoyed them even if I was ready to move on after finishing Letty. These are fast reads – I tore through all three of them in less than 7 hours. However, given that they are free, I’m confident that when the time is right for something that is frothy and as insubstantial as a soap bubble, I will turn to Clare Darcy again.

#Throwback Thursday: The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

For this throwback Thursday, I’m going to repost some old reviews of Georgette Heyer books that I wrote six years ago. They’ve been sitting in draft since I started moving things over to this blog and this seemed like a good time to get them published.

Previously published December 23, 2014

Title: The Talisman Ring
Author: Georgette Heyer
First published in 1936

Summary from Goodreads: A long-lost family heirloom, a young heir falsely accused of murder, a band of smugglers, two utterly delightful Heyer heroines, a taciturn, but highly resourceful older gentleman–all play their parts in a tale funny enough to have you laughing aloud.

I finished this one back in October, and have delayed writing this review for reasons I can’t entirely explain. Actually, I have two more Heyer posts to write, and I won’t allow myself to post the third – The Marriage of Convenience – until I get the other two up. That is probably the only reason I am forcing myself to do this . . . I have a lot to say about The Marriage of Convenience, and don’t want to forget!

The Talisman Ring is actually one of Heyer’s Georgian romances, set in 1793. It was published in 1936, during what I would call the end of the earliest part of her writing career. It is also as funny as hell.

Basically, The Talisman Ring is a triple threat: mystery, romance, and farce, and is actually really quite successful at all of them. Some of her earlier farce, notably Powder and Patch really didn’t work for me at all. I found those elements of that book to be more obnoxious than funny – the reductive nature of her treatment of Cleone really annoyed me. In addition, her mysteries, at least the two I have read, are not nearly as charming as her romances. In The Talisman Ring, she combines them, and the result is clever, funny and winsome.

There is a murder, and an heir who has been unjustly accused. The “talisman ring” is some sort of an heirloom ring that is, apparently, well worth the trouble of murder. And, there is an arranged “romance”, between Eustacie, a French ward who is meant to marry her much older cousin – Tristan – but Tristan is all together too even-tempered for her. This arrangement is inflicted on both of them by one of Heyer’s more irritating domestic tyrants, who puts together the arrangement without either Eustacie or Tristan being overly enthusiastic about it, and then promptly kicks the bucket. Thankfully for everyone. Because Tristan and Eustacie are not well-suited in the least.

Sir Tristram looked her over in frowning silence.

‘You look very cross,’ said Eustacie.

‘I am not cross,’ said Sir Tristram in a somewhat brittle voice, ‘but I think you should know that while I am prepared to allow you all the freedom possible, I shall expect my wife to pay some slight heed to my wishes.’

Eustacie considered this dispassionately. ‘Well, I do not think I shall,’ she said. ‘You seem to me to have very stupid wishes – quite absurd, in fact.’

When Eustacie flees, after deciding that she will become a governess – a job for which she is entirely unqualified – because it will be more romantic than marrying the prosaic (and let’s be honest, OLD), Tristan, she promptly runs into Ludovic (oh, goodness, what a horrible name) the dashing, wrongly accused heir turned smuggler who is shot by a pair of utterly incompetent Bow Street Runners. She is taken under the wing of Sarah Thane, who is travelling with her brother, Sir Hugh, who doesn’t stir unless there is a fine glass of brandy in it for him at the end.

Hilarity ensues. It’s like one of those lovely plays where no one ever really knows what is going on, and the characters are coming and going and nearly running into one another, and there is intrigue and people are furtively running about and making utter fools of themselves, but in the best possible way. Sarah and Eustacie set out to clear Ludovic of the murder, and there is a lot of sneaking about the countryside and breaking into drawing rooms and libraries in search of the talisman ring.

‘You won’t find yourselves in half such danger as you would if I let you have my pistols,’ said Ludovic, with brutal candour.

This unfeeling response sent Eustacie off in a dudgeon to Miss Thane. Here at least she was sure of finding a sympathetic listener. Nor did Miss Thane disappoint her. She professed herself to be quite at a loss to understand the selfishness of men, and when she learned that Eustacie had planned for her also to fire upon possible desperadoes, she said that she could almost wish that she had not been told of the scheme, since it made her feel quite disheartened to think of it falling to the ground.

In the end, of course, the feather-headed Eustacie, who isn’t nearly as feather-headed as she seems, marries the dashing Ludovic. And wonderful, fearless Sarah and the steady, secretly romantic Tristan, equally, fall in love. As is typically the case in these books of Heyer’s that include a younger couple and an older couple, it is the older pair that win my heart completely.

‘But, Sarah consider! You are romantic, and he is not romantic at all!’

‘I know,’ replied Miss Thane, ‘but I assure you I mean to come to an understanding with him before the knot is tied…Either I have his solemn promise to ride ventre à terre to my death-bed or there will be no marriage!’

‘It shall be included in the marriage vow,’ said Sir Tristram.

Eustacie looking from one to the other, made a discovery. ‘Mon Dieu, it is not a mariage de convenance at all! You are in love, enfin!’ she exclaimed.

There are a lot of similarities in the romance between this one and Sprig Muslin, which I read earlier this year. I love them both.

#Throwback Thursday: Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer

For this throwback Thursday, I’m going to repost some old reviews of Georgette Heyer books that I wrote six years ago. They’ve been sitting in draft since I started moving things over to this blog and this seemed like a good time to get them published.

Title: Faro’s Daughter
Author: Georgette Heyer
First published in 1941

Summary from Goodreads: An insult not to be borne
When Max Ravenscar offers her a fortune to refuse the marriage proposal from his young nephew, the beautiful Deborah Grantham is outraged.
A passionate reprisal
She may be the mistress of her aunt’s elegant gambling house, but Miss Grantham will show the insufferable Mr. Ravenscar that she can’t be bribed, even if she has to marry his puppyish nephew to prove it

This will be the one that ends up as my go to recommendation for people who are starting out with Heyer. It used to be The Grand Sophy, but there is that unpleasant anti-semitic streak that runs through it which has led me to be increasingly uncomfortable with recommending that as a first experience with Heyer.

Faro’s Daughter, for me, is as close to a perfect Heyer as I think probably exists. It is as sparkling and effervescent as Sprig Muslin, Deb is as strong-willed and honorable as Sophy, Phoebe is as adorable as Arabella, although not so headstrong. The romance between Ravenscar and Deb is as satisfying as Sir Tristram and Sarah Thane in The Talisman Ring.

Like Sprig Muslin & Talisman Ring, Faro’s Daughter is a double ring romance, with a pair of younger characters and a pair of older characters. And, like both of those books, I absolutely loved the romance between the more mature characters.

Deborah Grantham is the titular faro’s daughter, a moderately impoverished woman of four and twenty, which makes her a bit older than the heroine of the average Regency romance. She and her aunt have opened up a card room in an effort to stave off bankruptcy, which is really not going very well because her aunt sort of sucks at money management, and Deb’s brother is – as is so often the case in these Heyer romances – a drain on the family finances.

Adrian is the young Lord Mablethorpe, who fancies himself in love with the delectable Deb. There’s also a lecherous older character, Lord Ormskirk, who has bought up all of Deb’s aunt’s bills in an effort to force Deborah into becoming his mistress. She is having none of that, of course, but she rather likes Adrian and doesn’t want to hurt him.

The book begins when Lord Ravenscar decides that it is incumbent upon him to save the callow youth from the clutches of the fortune hunter. He badly underestimates Deb’s integrity and kindness, and jumps to all kinds of conclusions. He is a huge conclusion jumper, which is the cause of the misunderstanding that leads to a delightful confusion at the end. Deb has no intention of marrying Adrian, she is much too honorable of a person and she isn’t a bit in love with him, so when Ravenscar offers her twenty-thousand pounds to leave Adrian alone, she loses her shit.

“The palm of Miss Grantham’s hand itched again to hit him, and it was with an immense effort of will that she forced herself to refrain. She replied with scarcely a tremor to betray her indignation. ‘But even you must realise, sir, that Lord Ormskirk’s obliging offer is not to be thought of beside your cousin’s proposal. I declare, I have a great fancy to become Lady Mablethorpe.”

Ravenscar has met his match with the indomitable Deb, but he has no idea. He is accustomed to getting his own way, and is just as pissed as Deb when she turns him down flat, leaving him with the distinct impression that she intends to marry Adrian as soon as Adrian reaches majority, in a bare 60 days. The pitched battle of wills and arms occurs, with Ravenscar buying the bills off Ormskirk, and Deb actually at one point kidnapping Ravenscar and locking him in her basement with the rats.

“‘You have had Ravenscar murdered, and hidden his body in my cellar!’ uttered her ladyship, sinking into a chair. ‘We shall all be ruined! I knew it!’

‘My dear ma’am, it is no such thing!’ Deborah said, amused. ‘He is not dead, I assure you!’

Lady Bellingham’s eyes seemed to be in imminent danger of starting from their sockets. ‘Deb!’ she said, in a strangled voice. ‘You don’t mean that you really have Ravenscar in my cellar?’

‘Yes, dearest, but indeed he is alive!’

‘We are ruined!’ said her ladyship, with a calm born of despair. ‘The best we can hope for is that they will put you in Bedlam.”

These are the only two people in London who could handle each other without asbestos gloves and a welding hood.

The second romance involves Adrian and Phoebe Laxton, who is rescued – by Deb and Adrian – from Vauxhall, where her mercenary family is trying to sell her like a lamb to slaughter to a way, way, way too old creepy aristocrat because in that family, as well, the men are useless, profligate gambles and women are commodities. Phoebe is adorable and sweet, and Deb figures out within about twenty seconds that she is just the girl for Adrian. While Ravenscar is accusing her of being the worst kind of gold-digger, she is neatly solving his problem for him, finding a suitable match, and watching Adrian grow up just in time to take care of the fraught Phoebe.

And so, we come to the end, after Adrian has married Phoebe, he returns to town, runs into Ravenscar, and tells him to wish him happy because he has gone and gotten married. Ravenscar again jumps to the conclusion that Deb has married Adrian just to spite him. He shows up at her house to get into a big fight, and tell her that had she not been in such a hurry, she would have gained a much bigger prize – him.

She tosses him out, furious, saying, in Lizzie Bennett fashion, that he is the last man in the world that she could be prevailed upon to marry.

Ah, young love. If only they’d had some electronics to toss around, a DVD player would clearly have gone out the window. It does, of course, all get worked out in the end, and I am convinced that Ravenscar and Deborah are perfect for one another – honorable, fierce, passionate, and slightly nuts. Their marriage will never be boring, and regency London would have been a better place with them in it.