Drama, excitement and a massive amount of humour; this classic book by Georgette Heyer has it all, as well as some wonderful characters who all contribute to this near farce. Including such staples as a proposed arranged marriage, a hidden ring and midnight horse rides, this book also includes some marvelous characters such as a frequently bewildered magistrate, an excitable young French woman, and some danger loving smugglers/free traders. Set in the Regency or Georgian period, this is a fast moving story of secrets and deliberate deceptions as well as hidden heroes. The women are resourceful, the men enjoy a good fight, and the element of comedy emerges in the dialogue between a fascinating group of characters who spend most of the time in a coaching inn. I really enjoyed this classic novel which tells a brilliant story in a most entertaining way. Originally published in 1936, it shows Heyer writing at the top of her form, as she tells the story of an inheritance from one remarkable old man which goes anything but smoothly. There is romance, but the main drama is concerned with the discovery of a ring which can prove a man’s innocence or guilt, an inheritance and more.
The book opens with Sir Tristram Shield arriving at Lavenham Court, where his remarkable great uncle Sylvester, Lord Lavenham, lies ill. Shield is an unexcitable character, the complete opposite of his cousin Mademoiselle de Vauban, Eustacie, a young woman rescued from the horrors of revolutionary France by her grandfather. Unfortunately for Shield, she is full of romantic ideas of adventure and romantic death, and both of them have severe doubts about their enforced proposed marriage. Another relative turns up, who is known as the Beau, for his stylish manners and appearance, who discusses with Shield the missing heir, Sylvester’s grandson Ludovic, and why he remains in hiding after an alleged murder to recover a Talisman Ring. Following Sylvester’s death, it is proposed that the marriage take place in the near future, but Eustacie objects and decides that she will have her own adventure travelling to London. After a complicated ride around a forest in the middle of the night, Eustacie and her new, injured companion seek shelter in a post inn, with a sympathetic landlord. They also meet Sarah Thane and her brother, Sir Hugh, a befuddled magistrate, and discover that Sarah is completely undaunted by any adventure, and eager to help with any scheme. As people enter and exit the inn, a secret cellar must be used for safety, and there must be a lot of fast thinking if all is to end well.
It is difficult to pick out one event, scene or character that stands out, as they all contribute to a very enjoyable whole. The two Thanes are probably my favourites, as Sarah is able to deal with any situation by adopting a different persona, and Sir Hugh because he is so unconcerned by what is truly going on, as he is more interested in the drink in the cellar than who is hiding or searching there. With hapless early police, an evil designing character and some impressive quick thinking, this book works in its faultless setting, description and characters. I thoroughly recommend it as a fast moving and very funny book which is a brilliant introduction to Heyer’s genre defining books.
As I am re reading these novels I am discovering just how funny they are, with characters and dialogue that really bring the story alive. Sitting in the sunshine laughing out loud at this classic novel is a great way to spend an afternoon! If you want to investigate Georgette Heyer’s novels, this is an excellent place to begin.