Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Blunt Instrument

A Blunt Instrument, by Georgette Heyer

Publisher's Blurb:
Who would kill the perfect gentleman?

When Ernest Fletcher is found bludgeoned to death in his study, everyone is shocked and mystified: Ernest was well liked and respected, so who would have a motive for killing him?

Superintendent Hannasyde, with consummate skill, uncovers one dirty little secret after another, and with them, a host of people who all have reasons for wanting Fletcher dead. Then, a second murder is committed, giving a grotesque twist to a very unusual case, and Hannasyde realizes he's up against a killer on a mission...

My Reaction:
I enjoyed it!  However, what I enjoyed most wasn't the mystery element at all, but rather two of the characters-- Sally Drew and Neville Fletcher.  Both of them remind me somewhat of Psmith (of Wodehouse fame).  They're more biting, satirical versions of the Psmith-type character, though. 

The mystery itself was so-so.  I had a recurring hunch about who the murderer might be, but as usual, I wasn't sure until the reveal.  I was curious to learn the solution to the mystery, but would've been even happier if the book had been about just Neville and Sally.  I liked them so much more than the other characters-- especially Helen and John.  (I was glad when their part of the story was finally wrapped up, honestly.  What bores, the pair of them!)

Specific Comments:
--  It's (almost) always fun when an author writes about a character who is also an author.  Sally is a mystery writer-- and this of course was a mystery-- so we get several amusing conversations on the subject.

--  There were a few "it was a product of its time" moments scattered through the book.  I'm not one who thinks we ought to sanitize the literature of the past, however, and if you can't handle a few things of this sort in an older book... you're likely in for a lot of annoyance during your journey through this life!

--  I didn't get this at all.  A character seems to be accusing another of naiveté (or something similar) by saying "You've a kind heart, and no Norman blood"... which means nothing to me.  It seems to be a reference to a poem by Tennyson.  Probably if I knew more about British history, all would be clear.

--  Describing his interview with a possible witness, Sergeant Hemmingway says that he's been swatting away flies all day, but he never saw a single fly settle on the other man.  Superintendent Hannasyde seems to understand the implication of this.  ("'Oh!...Like that, is he?'")  I, on the other hand, am baffled.

--  "'It would be a kindness to them both, and I don't in the least mind doing people kindnesses if it doesn't cost me anything.'"

--  "'Perhaps Aunty Lucy did it, with one of her Indian clubs.  I believe she wields them with considerable vigour.'"  Looking it up, Indian clubs were bowling-pin-looking pieces of equipment used for an exercise/juggling fad.  Funny how these things have been going on forever.   They had Indian clubs, we get "spinning" classes and those Pilates exercise balls that were all the craze a few years ago.

--  Sergeant Hemmingway on the Mona Lisa: "That picture people make such a fuss about, though why I've never been able to make out.  Pie-faced creature, with a nasty, sly smile."  Yeah, I don't really see what all the fuss is about, either.  (But after looking up "pie-faced", I'm now afraid that I might be described by some as pie-faced, too.  The horror!)

--  "'I can't rest!' Helen said with suppressed vehemence.  'Night starvation,' sighed Neville."  What is "night starvation", you ask?  Look it up; it's interesting.  (It was a 1930s "thing", apparently.)

--  Gosh, that Neville!  (And Sally, too, but mostly Neville.)  He just makes me laugh!  I have a feeling Neville (and Psmith, of whom he really does remind me) would drive me up a wall, if I had to deal with him "in real life", but in books, I can't get enough. (g)

--  One thing I didn't like was the countless reiterations of the same old set of clues-- such as the timeline.  Booooring.  I'm sure that's what real police work is like, going over and over things in the hopes of seeing something you've missed before-- but it's not much fun to read, imho.

--  People (especially murderers) in books are always seeing things through "a mist of red"/"a red mist".  And then there's that saying, "seeing red".  I don't think I've ever actually "seen red" before... Don't remember it at least, though I've been plenty mad, once or twice.  ;o) 

SPOILERy Comments:
--  I did wonder a few times if the person who turned out to be the murderer might be the guilty party, but I was never sure.  I guess I fell into the same trap that left Hannasyde befuddled for so long: "'You were an officer of the Law... Your word was considered to be above suspicion.'"  Or rather, since the other characters thought he was above suspicion, I did, too.  (Like a fool. (g))

I think that this turn of events-- an extremely religious, supposedly righteous (though irritating) policeman who turns out to be the murderer-- would have been more of a surprise/twist ending back when this book was written than it is now.  These days, such an overtly religious character-- especially one who is always quoting the Bible-- would instantly be a prime suspect, 'cause everyone knows that vocal Christians are nuts.  (*eyeroll*)

The biggest clues for me:
1)  When they got more specific about what the weapon would've looked like, I kept picturing those "billy clubs"/police batons.  (And of course that would explain how the weapon kept disappearing from the crime scene without anyone seeing anything suspicious.)

2)  The Biblical references in Angela Angel's letter put up a huge red flag.  I knew at that point that it had to be one of the Bible-quoting characters-- either Glass or Simmons (the butler).

3)  When we learned that the officer walking his beat was not on the spot when the sandwich vendor said he saw him, I was pretty sure I knew who had been walking past.

--  I'm so happy Neville and Sally "get together" by the end of the book.  I was the teensiest bit afraid they wouldn't, which would've been a let-down.  (One I would have alleviated by rewriting it in my head so that it worked out "the right way".  I do that all the time, if I'm not pleased with the writer's ending.)  Yes, I'll admit it:  I cared much more about those two than anything else in the book.  

I'll read more of Georgette Heyer's mysteries, for certain.  If there are more characters as amusing and as much fun to read as Neville and Sally, I want to make their acquaintance!