Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer

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 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 is 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…

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.

Rating 3.5/5


  1. Hey you were quite fast with the review after all. :-)

    I have a Heyer mystery in the TBR pile but it's not this one. I'll add it to the WL.

  2. Don't fall off your chair, but I have written another one to be posted tomorrow as well!

  3. Wow!!!! :-)

    Looking forward to reading it too!

  4. I love the period feel of these books too. It's really interesting to get a feel for what was considered ordinary back then.

    I've all of the Heyer mysteries - the only one I have not managed to get through for some reason is "Penhallow".

  5. I haven't read her mysteries, but even though I haven't had much luck with the ones I have, I'd still liked to do so. I love the richness of her details and how easy it is to see the time and place she's describing.

  6. I thought that this was great fun! The hero was a little too arrogant and rude at times, though. Really annoying!

  7. I don't normally read historical romance, or mystery, but I love the title of this book. It sounds quite funny, actually. I enjoyed your review!

  8. Kim, if you are looking for some recs for historical mysteries then I would say you can't go past Deanna Raybourn.

    Viola, he was very arrogant wasn't.

    Jacketsandcovers, I can see why Georgette Heyer is a favourite of so many people from the few books that I have read by her.

    Li, sounds like I still have a few good books in front of me.

  9. I have been seeing reviews of Heyer's books all over the place lately! I am not sure if I will be reading this one, but I enjoyed your honest review and think I will definitely be getting to something by this author soon.