by Georgette Heyer
A houseful of people he loathes is not Sir Arthur's worst problem…
It should have been a lovely English country-house weekend. But the unfortunate guest-list is enough to exasperate a saint, and the host, Sir Arthur Billington-Smith, is an abusive wretch hated by everyone from his disinherited son to his wife's stoic would-be lover. When Sir Arthur is found stabbed to death, no one is particularly grieved—and no one has an alibi. The unhappy guests find themselves under the scrutiny of Scotland Yard's cool-headed Inspector Harding, who has solved tough cases before—but this time, the talented young inspector discovers much more than he's bargained for.
I found it enjoyable, though (with a few exceptions) rather less amusing than some of Heyer's other mysteries. Still, it had me convinced through the whole book that I knew "whodunnit"-- until the very last moment, when I learned that I was wrong! (So shocking, as I never seem to guess correctly. *sigh*) All in all, a perfectly acceptable cozy mystery.
Tidbits (with SPOILERS):
-- Sir Arthur Billington-Smith. Wow. That is an exceedingly British-sounding name, is it not?
-- "'She read a bit in some evening paper about proper dieting, and she's gone all lettucey. Nuts, too. That's why I'm here. There's a filthy beverage you drink for breakfast instead of coffee. I thought not, so I cleared out.'" (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)
-- "'My dear, didn't you hear me ask you to comfort me? I have been ignominiously beaten at tennis. It's what people write letters to the Daily Mirror about. "What is wrong with the Men of Today?" So belittling.'"
-- "'I've seen her dance. She wore feathers-- not very many of them, but so artfully placed.'"
-- "Geoffrey, who perpetrated, very seriously, fugitive poems without rhyme or (said the uninitiated) reason..."
-- "'I always say tobacco is the curse of the modern generation. It goes through all classes.'" (Well, as it turns out, she was right! Tobacco's not exactly a healthy habit.)
-- "'Of course, if you admire that bold kind of good looks, I suppose you might call her pretty. Personally, I never trust people with brown eyes, and I should not be at all surprised to hear that she was not better than she should be.'" (I always love a good dig at "people with brown eyes". Yes, we're very untrustworthy-- not to mention that we're full of... oh, never mind.)
-- "'Well, don't hang about looking like seven bells half struck!'" (Odd saying...)
-- I guessed right away that the mysterious note ("There") was an attempt at writing the name "Theresa" or "Therese"-- and I was equally well convinced that Theresa was Sir Arthur's first wife, who'd killed him to protect her son's interests. Where I went wrong, however, was in assuming that the ex-wife was Mrs. Twining. Oops.
-- The Major's constant "er"-ing and nose-dabbing were so irritating. Argh! What relief when he (mostly) left the story!
-- Lola was an amusing caricature... "'But I must say that I do not understand why you have not seen me before that stupid woman who I find is not a true blond in the least, but on the contrary dyes her hair.'" ... "From the moment when I have entered his house he has behaved to me with rudeness and brutality, though partly I blame Geoffrey, who was very foolish not to warn his papa that I do not like gin in my cocktail, but only absinthe.'"
-- Ugh, Dinah's (and everyone else's) attitude toward Inspector Harding is so snobbish! He's so obviously a gentleman that Dinah "absolutely can't go on calling you Inspector, Mr. Harding. It sounds so utterly wrong--..." At least she has the decency to be slightly embarrassed to speak in such a way before the Sergeant, who is not a "gentleman". This type of thing comes up again and again, throughout the book, and it's just gross. Oh, and of course, Harding makes the decision that he'll retire after this case-- because he has oh-so-conveniently inherited enough money to start a farming enterprise-- and apparently it would have been unthinkable to ask her to marry him while he was still a lowly detective. ~grumble~
-- "'Do you really wear a god-forsaken badge under the lapel of your coat, and show it to anybody who wants to know who you are?' 'No, of course I don't. I'm not an American!' protested Harding." (Horrors!)
-- "'Let us all put the name of the person each of us thinks did it into a hat, and see who gets the most votes.'" (Ha ha ha! You know, if he weren't a gambler and a thief, I'd much prefer the irreverent Francis to the rather dull Inspector Harding... You'd hardly like to deal with him in real life, I'm sure, but he's so much more amusing to read about.)
-- "'I received notes to the value of one hundred and thirty pounds yesterday morning.' 'How did you receive them, Captain Billington-Smith?' 'Oh, most thankfully!' replied Francis."
-- "'I found Theresa all right. It was the only one that would fit the letters I had, too. That was what put me on to Mrs. Twining-- a very false trail.'" (Well, at least I was in good company...)
-- "'I have just mentioned the matter (their engagement) to the rest of the party. Camilla looked awfully sick. She hinted that you'd been pretty matey with her.' 'I was,' said Harding. 'I paid her fulsome compliments. That's how I got her to talk.' 'It is quite evident to me,' said Miss Fawcett with decision, 'that it is time you left off being a detective.'"
-- And now everyone lives happily ever after. Well, except that Mr. Chudleigh has lost a beloved wife-- and will have to cope with the knowledge that she hid her past from him (which is not a small thing, considering his strong convictions on the subject of divorce and remarriage). Oh, and poor, pathetic Geoffrey has just lost his mother without ever having the chance of reconciling with her. But other than that, it's peachy keen. ...But it's a murder mystery, despite the cheerful trappings and witty banter, so...