Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer

An author famous for Regency romances has a stab at a country house mystery

The Cornerstone edition of Footsteps in the Dark
The Cornerstone edition of
Footsteps in the Dark
Prolific writer Georgette Heyer is famous for creating the Regency England genre of romantic novels, which were inspired by her love of Jane Austen’s books and were meticulously researched and full of period detail.

Georgette is probably less well known for her detective fiction, which she began writing in 1932 when she produced a country house mystery, Footsteps in the Dark.

She wrote the novel while awaiting the birth of her son, Richard George Rougier, and afterwards said dismissively that she did not claim it as ‘a major work’.

For the next few years, Georgette published one romance novel and one detective novel every year. The romances always outsold the detective novels, which may be why Georgette is chiefly remembered for them.

Her son, Richard, once said that Georgette regarded the writing of a detective story as similar to tackling a crossword puzzle, an intellectual diversion before harder tasks had to be faced.

It has been claimed that Georgette’s husband, George Rougier, a mining engineer who later became a barrister, often provided her with the plots and that she created the characters and the relationships and brought the plot points to life.

Georgette’s detective novels have been praised mostly for their humour. The New York Times wrote: ‘Rarely have we seen humour and mystery so perfectly blended.’ The Daily Mail once referred to Georgette as: ‘The wittiest of detective story writers.’

The novels were all set in the period in which they were written and the humour comes from the characters and the dialogue that takes place between them.

I was keen to read her first detective novel, Footsteps in the Dark, and I was not disappointed. 

Georgette Heyer wrote her debut detective novel while pregnant
Georgette Heyer wrote her debut
detective novel while pregnant
Two sisters, Celia and Margaret, and their brother, Peter, inherit an old country house called The Priory from their uncle. The property has not been lived in for many years because their uncle preferred to live elsewhere, but the three of them and Celia’s husband, Charles, decide to spend a few weeks holiday at The Priory. They soon learn from the local people that the house is believed to be haunted but are determined not to be frightened into leaving.

When they hear peculiar noses and a skeleton falls out of a secret cupboard, they try to find out more from the other residents in the village. Then a murder is committed and they feel they have to stay in the house and solve the mystery. I thought it was a carefully plotted story, with believable characters and a satisfying solution at the end.

Georgette produced 12 detective novels in total, between 1932 and 1953 when her final novel, Detection Unlimited was published.

She believed that publicity was not necessary for good sales and, wishing to maintain her privacy, refused to grant interviews, which is perhaps another reason her detective stories have been overlooked. 

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