Every family has secrets, but the Fountains' are turning deadly...
On a dark night, along a lonely country road, barrister Frank Amberley stops to help a young lady in distress and discovers a sports car with a corpse behind the wheel. The girl protests her innocence, and Amberley believes her--at least until he gets drawn into the mystery and the clues incriminating Shirley Brown begin to add up...
In an English country-house murder mystery with a twist, it's the butler who's the victim, every clue complicates the puzzle, and the bumbling police are well-meaning but completely baffled. Fortunately, in ferreting out a desperate killer, amateur sleuth Amberley is as brilliant as he is arrogant, but this time he's not sure he wants to know the truth...
Why Shoot a Butler? is perhaps Georgette Heyer's most conventional detective story. Her murder weapons are unremarkable, her plot centers around a missing will, and her sleuth displays a level of acuity that Sherlock Holmes would be proud of. The novel even ends with a car chase--a rare twist for Heyer, who usually featured less cinematic conclusions.
As the story opens, brilliant London barrister Frank Amberley is driving down to visit his aunt and uncle. When he takes a wrong turn down a quiet country lane, he discovers a murder scene: a parked car with a dead man behind the wheel, and a young woman attempting to slip away unnoticed. The man has just been shot, but the girl swears she didn't kill him. In a distinctly out-of-character move, Amberley accepts her innocence... but she obviously knows more than she's telling, and he is determined to uncover the complete story.
While many of the plot elements in Why Shoot a Butler? are familiar, Heyer's light, stylish touch makes them feel classic rather than overworked. The novel does offer a few original quirks, including a memorable depiction of a young alcoholic. (This unfortunate character's addiction is played straight, and his small role in the story is genuinely shocking.)
Happily, Why Shoot a Butler? also features one of the most delightful romances in all of Heyer's detective stories. The young woman in the opening scene is sulky and secretive, with a chip on her shoulder and a sharp tongue--making her a perfect foil for Amberley, who ranks amongst Heyer's most arrogant heroes. Their frequent clashes are tremendous fun, and add just as much as the murder plot to the entertainment value of this classic mystery.
Reading Extravaganza Liliana Swistek
It does not happen often that I discover an author I had not heard of before and become an instant fan of that author's writing with the very first book. It does however happen, infrequent as it may be. And so was the case with Georgette Heyer. I have first heard of her Regency novels but have not yet had the chance to read any of them. I instead decided to try out her mysteries first. I fell under Heyer's spell with Behold, Here's Poison, I remained under that spell while reading The Unfinished Clue and now Why Shoot The Butler? confirmed my belief that Ms. Heyer is one of the most entertaining writers I have ever read.
Why Shoot The Butler? starts off a little differently than the two previous mysteries. The murder is committed right at the beginning and we know nothing of the character of the person that was murdered. Frank Ambereley, who is a barrister, is on his way to visit his uncle in the country side when he spots a car with a woman standing beside it. Being a curious person, Frank soon discovers that the car holds a dead body of an unidentified man and the lady claims to know nothing of the occurred death. Mr. Amberely soon finds out the identity of both the victim and the mysterious girl. As it turns out Frank had already been a tremendous help to the local police before and is now unofficially employed by them to help solve the mystery of the butler's murder, as it is certain that he was murdered. Shirley Brown, the mysterious girl met on that first night, claims to be innocent even thought all the clues point toward her being the killer. Frank believes her innocence and actually goes as far as allowing himself to feel more than just the need to bring the real murderer to justice.
Having written that Why Shoot The Butler? was entertaining enough to keep my interest in reading more of Ms. Heyer's work, I have to say that it was a little weaker than the other two books and if you are just thinking to try this author out, you're probably better off putting this one away for a later time. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy it as much as her previous novels. I did. I loved the character of Frank Amberley. He is as arrogant and as outspoken as you can find them. His wordy sparring with the inspector and the sergeant of the local police is always hilarious. Frank does not waste a moment to let everyone around him know how truly superior he is and to expose all the vices of the small countryside residents. He enjoys annoying his uncle and stirring anger in the inspector but despite all that I couldn't help but like the guy. I also liked that the romance element, which is always present in Heyer's books, was much more developed in Why Shoot The Butler? and occupied a central stage right beside the mystery of the murder itself. All and all, the book was still a delightful and pleasant read with plenty of clever dialogue and witty humor, which are Heyer's trademarks. I just think that action-wise it was on a slow side and if you are a fan of cozy mysteries but haven't read any of Georgette Heyer's yet, you will like Why Shoot The Butler? but there's a danger that it will not make a die-hard fan of hers.
We Be Reading Kristen Meston
Why Shoot a Butler? is the first mystery that I read by Georgette Heyer. Let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised! This was all I could have wanted in a mystery and, for standard Heyer fans, there was even a bit of romance.
Since I posted the jacket blurb yesterday, I'm going to be really brief on the plot summary. Frank Amberley is a successful barrister in London but is known in this country neighborhood (where he has gone to visit his aunt and uncle) as an amateur sleuth due to his help solving an earlier crime in the area. On his way, he takes a wrong turn and finds a dead man in a car and a young woman standing nearby. He decides that he is going to get involved in the solving of the crime and in the protection of the girl.
I will admit that Amberley is not the most likable character. He's rude and smug -- think Mr. Darcy but even less sensitive to people's feelings. In fact, not many characters in this book are wholly likable--most are flawed in some way--and yet it works. The characters certainly seem less one-dimensional than many in Agatha Christie's stories. Amberley's aunt was an especially fantastic character who wasn't to be underestimated. The romance could be seen coming from a book length away but it was still sweet. The mystery was acceptable and this is a good example of a mystery that gives you some of the clues along the way so that you can solve it yourself. I'm very excited to move on and read my next Heyer mystery!
Grace's Book Blog Grace Loiacano
I have absolutely no experience with mysteries. None whatsoever. I have had Agatha Christie's books on my shelves for years but have never touched them even though I keep telling myself I should. I figured that if I was going to skip over Agatha I might as well start with Georgette Heyer. She is, after all, the regency author I love the most after Jane Austen.
I was a bit apprehensive when I picked this up that I would miss some of the nuances that other readers more familiar with this type of mystery might pick up on. That was not the case. I found Why Shoot A Butler? to be a witty and funny novel. It seemed to be a satire. I loved the humor and sarcasm. It took me a few pages to catch on to the humor but I finally did. I thought that Frank Amberley and Shirley Brown were awesome characters. Their interplay was amazing and enough to keep me interested in the novel. There were also a bunch of twists and turns and surprises.
There were points in the middle of the novel that I sort of lost interest in the story and the mystery. I found my mind wandering as I was reading. That rarely happens with me. The interest returned in the last bit of the book but I can't help but feel that the middle section of the novel was a bit weak for me. It could also be because I was reading this part of the book on the subway, during rush hour, on a Friday. This is a novel that should be read on a comfy chair, drinking a cup of hot tea and preferably, with as little noise as possible.
The Sourcebooks edition is really great. It is a smaller edition. Almost like a little pocket paperback. The cover image is also really beautiful. Sourcebooks is doing a really great job bringing back this Georgette Heyer books.
A Lovely Shore Breeze K. Fitzgerald
Now, if you read my two recent reviews of the Daphne du Maurier books, you will know that I had heard of her, but had not read any of her books. A new, excellent, enjoyable writer found!
And now, also from the kind folks at Sourcebooks, a very nice little cozy English country house mystery from Georgette Heyer. Not only had I not read anything by Heyer before, but I can't say that I had actually heard of her. But, I will admit it, I am a sucker for a nice English mystery. From what I have read, it seems she is better known for her Regency romances (not really my cuppa tea) but she also wrote a number of mysteries, and judging from this one, I will be checking out some more of them in the future. If you are a fan of this genre, something in the Agatha Christie family, you will to well to join me.
The story opens with our hero, the barrister Frank Amberley, lost in the countryside, attempting to find his uncle's house where he is visiting for the weekend. He happens upon a car, pulled over at the side of the deserted road, and a pretty young woman standing by the car. Gentleman that he is, he stops to see if he can be of assistance..and finds a recently shot and deceased man in the car and a young woman with a very feeble explanation of what she is doing there. Turns out the dead man is the butler of one of his uncle's neighbors and really, why would anyone shoot the butler. Well, you will have to read the book to find out now, won't you! As Frank says, the murder is the least of the mysteries.
Again, as with du Maurier, this book really excels in the dialogue. Amberley refers to himself as the rudest man in London, and with some cause, and I find him totally wonderful because of it. His banter with the cast of characters, especially the police who take him on as an unofficial detective on the case, is one of the strengths of the book. Honestly, the mystery was a little weak...it must have been because I figured it out and some of the characters are a little undeveloped, but it is still a very enjoyable read. I love a nice mystery, set in the 30's in a country manor house, with servants lurking about, listening behind the doors and chases across the countryside.
As to the comparison with Christie, while there are some similarities, Christie is the queen and while quite good, Heyer, at least in this book, is not quite up to her standards. But still, a recommendation, if you are up for a clever, witty romp, the whole upstairs/downstairs thing going on, with even a touch of a romance thrown in.
Another word about this edition. I know I might be sounding like a broken record, but what can I do? I just want to mention that as with the du Maurier books, I love these editions re-issued by Sourcebooks. The covers are excellent, really capturing the feel of each book, and while I am not usually a fan of paperbacks, these are an exceptions, they have such a nice, quality feel and look.
Genre Reviews Debbie White
This is a mystery novel set around 1933 in Britain. It's also a romance since Frank Amberly, our hero, falls in love with a certain young lady. I will mention, though, that the author likes to make matches that are not exactly destined for peaceful, blissful marriages.
I'd actually label this book a suspense novel rather than a straight mystery. After just a few clues at the beginning, I was able to correctly guess why the murders were happening and who was doing them. The hero quickly figures it out, too, though he doesn't tell anyone. However, his main problem is getting firm evidence to back up his ideas while keeping the next targets alive.
The pacing is excellent, the mystery was interesting, and the tension was kept up throughout the book. However, it's the characters that really shine. They're varied, interesting, and entertaining. Though Frank Amberly can be a bit rude and doesn't always stick to the rules, he is charming, persistent, and clever. I enjoyed every minute I spent reading the book.
I think there are a few British swear words in the book. There is no sex or gore. Overall, I'd rate this as "very good, clean fun."
If you've read this book, what you you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.
Bookloons.com Theresa Ichino
Frank Amberley, barrister and amateur sleuth, is lost en route to his uncle's country house, thanks to his cousin Felicity's shortcut. His mood is not improved when he encounters a car on the side of the road, a strangely still driver behind the wheel, and a tense young woman who rudely rejects his offer to help. His suspicions aroused, the acute Mr. Amberley notices several points, the most pressing one that the driver appears to be dead.
He reports the corpse, omitting any mention of the mysterious Miss Brown, wondering at his own lapse.
The dead man was the butler at Norton Manor, recently inherited by the nephew of the deceased owner. Joan, Basil Fountain's stepsister, is engaged to an old friend of Amberley, who is worried by Joan's increasing unease in the tense atmosphere at the Manor. A soft-footed valet named Collins is much too evident for everyone's peace of mine. Somehow Shirley Brown is also caught up in this tangled and dangerous game.
Amberley is skeptical of the abilities of the local police, who see none of the complications he noticed immediately. Aware of his underlings' shortcomings, the Chief Constable is actually grateful that Amberley is taking an interest, despite his high-handed manner. Shirley, on the other hand, is highly indignant at his arrogant meddling but will eventually have reason to be grateful.
In short, Why Shoot a Butler? demonstrates once again the acclaimed Queen of Regency's deftness in juggling a large cast of well-defined characters and a tangled plot-web. Anyone who has enjoyed one of Heyer's charming Regency romances will find this mystery of interest. And mystery fans who like a well-written puzzle will find one graced with a richly delineated cast and setting.
Written in 1933, this mystery is definitely a period piece. Historical mysteries are currently being well received; Heyer's novel is the real thing, as it was written in the thirties. Sourcebooks adds to the ambience with a cover illustration from The Advertising Archives.
Book Loons Theresa Ichino
The appeal of cozies has always included well-drawn characters as well as a crime-puzzle. As befits a writer justly renowned for characterization, Georgette Heyer delivers with a vengeance in Behold, Here's Poison.
The Poplars might be a roomy establishment, but the inhabitants sometimes find each other very trying. Gregory Matthews, indisputable master of his own house, has assembled under his roof his spinster sister Harriet, and his widowed sister-in-law Zoe and her grown children Guy and Stella. Frequent visitors include his married sister Gertrude and her husband and grown children.
A large family, the Matthews, but not a harmonious clan. Harriet and Zoe are frequently at loggerheads over how to run the household. The Master is threatening to send Guy to South America to earn a living and has vowed to disinherit Stella if she continues her romance with the despised Dr. Fielding. The only normal - and welcome - visitors are the genial Mr. and Mrs. Rumbold.
When old Mr. Matthews dies of what is assumed to be a heart attack, the initial relief of most of the household is dissipated by Aunt Gertrude's stubborn assertion that her unfortunate brother's death was not a natural one. Alas, an autopsy reveals that Aunt Gertrude was correct: Gregory was poisoned.
The unhappy atmosphere of mistrust is not lightened by the arrival of the heir, Randall Matthews. Randall seems to delight in ruffling everyone's feathers and is immune to coldness and outright incivility. Despite the suspicious behaviour of the suspects (due to nervousness), Inspector Hannasyde's investigation begins to shine a light elsewhere, much to the family's relief. However, they are once again on the hot spot when Aunt Harriet also dies of poison.
The highly capable Inspector Hannasyde finds this a most perplexing case indeed, and Randall one of the most incalculable characters he has ever encountered.
Reading Adventures Marg Bates
Georgette Heyer is a name that I have always known as one of the most loved historical romance authors. I had no idea that she also wrote mysteries so when I was offered this book for review I jumped at the chance! Then I was without internet for what felt like an eternity and now I am trying to catch up with those books I have to review that I read during that time.
In this book the main character is a cocky young barrister by the name of Frank Amberley. He is on his way to visit some family members when he comes across a vehicle that is stopped in the narrow roadway with a visibly distressed young woman nearby and a dead man at the wheel. The young lady is insistent that she didn't do it and Amberley believes her. He is soon drawn into the investigation at the invitation of the local police force chief, although it is fair to say not all the police are happy about that.
What follows are a series of events that lead to more deaths, to other crimes, and to a complicated web of family relationships and servants faithfulness (or otherwise) that draws the readers into the upper class world of the English country house. Where normally the butler does it, this time it is the butler who got done, but who could possibly have wanted a butler dead, and how far will they go to protect their own identities?
In many ways this was an interesting read but it was by no means a perfect book. There is a certain irony in the fact that for me the weakest aspect of this book was the romantic subplot that just sort of happened towards the end of the book and came out of left field. Once the killer was unveiled it was also not a really surprising reason, but it was certainly an interesting journey getting to that point.
Whilst many of the secondary characters were pretty stereotypical, the main characters seemed to be overly brusque and arrogant and just generally unlikeable. The strange thing is that I can't work out whether it worked for me or not. Frank was arrogant, overly clever and patronising, and yet he also showed his family loyalties and was steadfast in his insistence that justice needed to be done. In a way Frank's characteristics kind of worked for this story, but for example I couldn't see a whole series being developed around him as a main character because he would just annoy too many readers - or this reader at least.
There was however some cracking dialogue throughout the novel, and some interesting details about life in an earlier time although I daresay if I had of been reading these books at an earlier time nearer to publication I would not have even noticed. For example, at one point there is a chase with our intrepid main character driving his car at hair raising speeds and stopping in each town to talk to the traffic policeman to ask if they had seen the car that they were chasing. Images from a time long gone!
I am glad that Sourcebooks are rereleasing so many of Heyer's books, and I am hopeful that I will continue to read more. I also really like the covers for a lot of their rereleased mysteries, some of which are show below. Thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for sending me this book for review.
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March 01, 2009
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Excerpt from Why Shoot A Butler? by Georgette Heyer
The signpost was unhelpful. Some faint characters on one of its blistered arms informed the seeker after knowledge that Lumsden lay to the west, reached, presumably, at the end of a dubious-looking lane. The other arm indicated the direction of Pittingly, a place Mr
Amberley had never heard of. However, if Lumsden lay to the west, Upper Nettlefold o ught to be found somewhere in the direction of the obscure Pittingly. Mr Amberley
switched off his spot-lamp, and swung the car round, reflecting savagely that he should have known better than to have trusted to his cousin Felicity's enthusiastic but incomplete directions. If he had had the sense to follow the usual road he would have been at Greythorne by now. As it was, Felicity's 'short way' had already made him late for dinner.
He drove on rather cautiously down a bumpy lane flanked by quickset hedges. Wreaths of autumn mist curled across the road and further exasperated him. He passed a road winding off to the left, but it looked unpromising, and he bore on towards Pittingly.
The lane twisted and turned its way through the Weald. There were apparently no houses on it, nor did Pittingly -- a place towards which Mr Amberley was fast developing an acute dislike -- materialise. He glanced at his watch and swore gently. It was already some minutes after eight. He pressed his foot down on the accelerator and the long powerful Bentley shot forward, bounding over the rough surface in a way that was very bad for Mr Amberley's temper. Pittingly seemed to be destined to remain a mystery; no
sign of any village greeted Mr Amberley's rather hard grey eyes, but round a sharp bend in the lane a red tail-light came into view.
As the Bentley drew closer its headlights, piercing the mist, picked out a motionless figure standing in the road beside the stationary car. The car, Mr Amberley observed, was a closed Austin Seven. It was drawn up to the side of the road, its engine switched off, and only its side and tail-lights burning. He slackened speed and saw that the still figure in the road was not that of a man, as he had at first supposed, but of a female, dressed in a belted raincoat with a felt hat pulled low over her forehead.
Mr Amberley brought his Bentley to a standstill alongside the little Austin and leaned across the vacant seat beside him.
'Is anything wrong?' he said, not without a touch of impatience. Really, if on the top of having lost his way he was going to have to change a wheel or peer into the bowels of
the Austin's engine, it would be the crowning annoyance.The girl -- he guessed rather than saw that she was quite young -- did not move. She was standing by the off door of the Austin with her hands thrust into the pockets of her raincoat. 'No, nothing,' she said. Her voice was deep. He got the impression that something was wrong, but he had not
the smallest desire to discover the cause of the underlying agitation in her curt words.
'Then can you tell me if I'm on the right road for Greythorne?' he asked.
'I don't know,' she said ungraciously.
A somewhat sardonic gleam shot into Mr Amberley's eyes. 'A stranger to these parts yourself, no doubt?'
She moved her head and he saw her face for a moment, a pale oval with a mouth he thought sulky. 'Yes, I am. Practically. Anyway, I've never heard of Greythorne. Good night.'
This was pointed enough, but Mr Amberley ignored it. His own manners were, his family informed him, abrupt to the point of rudeness, and the girl's surliness rather pleased
him. 'Tax your brain a little further,' he requested. 'Do you know the way to Upper Nettlefold?'
The brim of her hat threw a shadow over her eyes, but he was sure that she glowered at him. 'You ought to have taken a turning to the left about a mile back,' she informed him.
'Damn!' said Mr Amberley. 'Thanks.' He sat back in his seat and took out the clutch. To turn the car in this narrow lane was not easy. He drove on till he was clear of the Austin and began his manoeuvres. After considerable trouble he got the Bentley round, its head-lamps illuminating the girl and the Austin in two brilliant shafts of light. As the car swung round she flinched, as though the sudden blaze of light startled her.
Mr Amberley saw her face, chalk-white, for a moment before she averted it. Instead of straightening up the car he kept it stationary, his foot hard on the clutch, his hand mechanically grasping the gear-lever. The headlights were directed full into the smaller car and showed Mr Amberley something queer. There was a small hole in the windscreen, with splinters radiating out from it in a star shape. He leaned forward over the wheel, staring. 'Who's in that car?' he said sharply.
The girl moved quickly, shutting the interior of the Austin from Mr Amberley's keen scrutiny. 'What has it got to do with you?' she said breathlessly. 'I've told you the way to
Upper Nettlefold. Why don't you go?
Mr Amberley pushed the gear-lever into neutral and put on his brake. He got out of the car and strode towards the girl. Now that he was close to her he saw that she was goodlooking, a fact that did not interest him, and exceedingly nervous, a fact that aroused all his suspicions.
'Very silent, your companion?' he said grimly. 'Get away from that door.'
She stood her ground, but she was obviously frightened.
'Will you please go? You have no business to molest me in this fashion!'
His hand shot out and grasped her wrist. He jerked her somewhat roughly away from the door and peered in. A man was sitting in the driver's seat, curiously immobile. His head was sunk on his chest. He did not look up or speak.
The girl's hand shook in Mr Amberley's hold, which had slowly tightened on it. The figure at the wheel did not move.
'Oh!' said Mr Amberley. 'I see.'
'Let me go!' she said fiercely. 'I -- it -- I didn't do it.'
He retained his grasp on her wrist, but he was looking at the dead man. The clothing, a dark lounge suit, was disarranged, as though someone had rifled the pockets; the striped shirt was stained with red, and a dark stain ran down the front of the waistcoat.
Mr Amberley put out his free hand to touch the slack one inside the car. He did not appear to feel any repulsion. 'Not cold,' he said. 'Well?'
'If you think I did it you're wrong,' she said. 'I found him like it. I tell you I wasn't even here!'
He ran his hand down over her coat, feeling for a possible weapon. She began to struggle, but found that she was quite powerless in his grip. His hand encountered something hard in the right pocket. Without ceremony he pulled out a small automatic. She stood still.
Hatred vibrated in her voice as she said:
'If you take the trouble to inspect it you will find it's fully loaded. The magazine holds seven. It isn't cocked.'
'Are you in the habit of carrying loaded guns?' he inquired.
'That's my affair.'
'Undoubtedly,' he agreed, and lifting the gun sniffed gingerly at the end of the barrel. He let go her wrist and slipped out the magazine. As she had said, it held seven cartridges. Pulling back the breech, he satisfied himself that it was empty. Then he snapped the magazine home and handed the gun to the girl.
She took it in a somewhat unsteady clasp. 'Thanks. Satisfied I didn't do it?'
'Quite satisfied that you didn't do it with that gun,' he replied. 'Probably you didn't do the actual shooting, but you know something about it.'
'You're wrong. I don't know anything. He was like that when I found him.'
'No -- yes, I mean.'
'Make up your mind which it is to be,' he recommended.
'Damn you, leave me alone!' she flashed. 'Can't you see I'm upset and don't know what I'm saying?'
His cool glance swept over her. 'Since you put it like that; no, I can't. You seem to me remarkably self-possessed. Come on, out with it! Was the man dead when you found him?'