Pity poor Inspector Hemingway.
Sent by Scotland Yard to investigate a murder, he found himself confronted with a large number of suspects, nearly as many motives, a scarcity of good alibis - and Ermyntrude. And Vicki.
What am I talking about, you ask? Why Georgette Heyer's 1939 mystery No Wind of Blame, a witty story about a very English murder. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
I have read (and reviewed) a number of other Georgette Heyer mysteries - as a group, they're quite well done, with clever plots, witty dialogue and delightful, often outrageous characters. A friend who enjoys Golden Age mysteries recommended No Wind of Blame to me, saying it was one of Heyer’s funniest mysteries. I’d have to agree with her.
Consider Ermyntrude - and I love that name. Ermyntrude Carter used to be an actress. She married a very rich man named Fanshawe who was good enough to die and leave her a very wealthy widow with a young daughter, Vicki. Ermyntrude then had the misfortune (or bad taste) to marry Wally Carter, a man whose behavior and character were both dubious at best. She has also attracted a fortune-hunter of an exiled Georgian prince who is looking to marry the very wealthy Ermyntrude, if she will only divorce her husband. As for her daughter Vicki - now Wally's step-daughter - she is indeed a Drama Queen, going so far as to change her personality and her clothing to fit her mood of the moment (now being a Woman of Sport, now a Comfort-to-Mother, now a Woman of the World, or perhaps a Notorious Woman - all fine roles, to be sure). There are some unsavory neighbors, too, and assorted other friends and servants. Oh, and some hints of a blackmailer working in the neighborhood, too.
A lot of people are unhappy with Wally, so perhaps it's no surprise that someone apparently takes a shot at him one day. Everyone insists it was an accident - except Wally, who may be forgiven for taking such things seriously. And there is, very soon, a murder. And Inspector Hemingway arrives to find himself surrounded by this very unusual if highly entertaining group of characters.
It's all handled with a light and deft touch and it is indeed very funny. One quick example of what to expect: at one point someone says to Ermyntrude – talking about Vicky –
“If I were you, I’d let her go on the stage…I believe that’s what she’d really like best.”
“Don’t you suggest such a thing!” said Ermyntrude, quite horrified. “Why her father would turn in his grave – well, as a matter of fact, he was cremated, but what I mean is, if he hadn’t been he would have.”
Yes, that's Ermyntrude.
George Heyer is best known for her historical regency romances, but I believe her mysteries - she wrote several very good ones - deserve a wider audience. No Wind of Blame is available in printed and e-book versions. It's a delightful light read.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Regular visitors to this blog know that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. As I do not own a copy of this book and borrowed it from the excellent mystery collection of my local (Springfield, NJ) public library, No Wind of Blame is my entry for the square (bottom row, fifth column) which calls for one book that you have to borrow (you do not own).