Friday, January 18, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Continuing with Georgette Heyer’s re-released mysteries, I read Death in the Stocks. In this delightfully humorous novel, a corpse is discovered early on, stabbed in the back and propped up in the stocks on the village green. The novel is set in the early twentieth century, so the stocks were a quaint historical relic as well as a bit of a red herring.

The victim is Arnold Vereker, a wealthy businessman from London, a nasty and disliked character who had taken a home in the country as a weekend getaway for himself and various lady friends. The immediate investigation of his home revealed a young woman at the house, his half-sister Antonia (Tony) Vereker, who had come from London to argue with him, but not, she claims, to kill him.

In short order, we meet her attorney, Giles Carrington, a sensible man who is a cousin by marriage, Tony’s artist brother Kenneth, Kenneth’s fiancé, a cold beauty named Violet, and Tony’s fiancé, Rudolph. Rudolph is the accountant for Arnold’s corporation and he has recently been caught embezzling. Everyone hated Arnold for one reason or another, except for Violet, who is nevertheless pleased to hear that he’s dead since Kenneth is the heir and will now be wealthy.

They all have terrible alibis and are quite glib about the whole affair, which exasperates the inspector and troubles Giles. Giles happens to be in love with Tony and is just waiting for her betrothal to Rudolph to fall apart. He works with the inspector while counseling his cousins, a conflict of interest of which they are all aware but accept.

Things are confusing enough, and then, Arnold’s long-lost, presumed dead brother Roger appears on the scene, recently returned from South America. He replaces Kenneth as heir and chief suspect. His alibi is even weaker. The siblings are pleased to pin blame on him, though no one seems to actually believe him guilty. They also bandy about the possibility of their own blame. Kenneth, in particular, takes pleasure in baiting the inspector. However, when Roger is murdered, Kenneth is not so amused. It isn’t the fact that his own guilt now seems assured, but rather, he fears being the next victim.

The inspector is a competent detective who methodically pursues clues and discusses them with Giles, the only sane-appearing member of the family. Giles does his own clue chasing, being better informed and knowing the quirks of the Verekers. Naturally, it is Giles who solves the case.

The plot zips along and the mystery is well constructed to keep everyone guessing. What makes this novel shine, however, is the dialogue and the relationships among the various characters. It is farcical for a murder mystery, and also contains a cute romance. Although the novel started out a bit slowly, establishing who’s who and what their motives might be, it’s well worth sticking with it to see how it all plays out.