Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review: Envious Casca [TSS]

Envious Casca
Title:  Envious Casca

Author:  Georgette Heyer

First Published in 1941

Favorite Line:  He was like a clumsy, well-meaning St Bernard puppy, dropped amongst a set of people who were not fond of dogs.

Plot Summary:
A Christmas house party is arranged at a wealthy old bachelor's house against his wishes.  Present are his brother and sister-in-law, his nephew and niece, a playwright, a ditzy beauty, a kind Plain Jane and a business partner.  These personalities collide, however, and the house party is more explosive than congenial.  Then the host is found dead in a locked room, and suddenly, everyone is a suspect.  Inspector Hemingway must sort through the lies and the politics to determine who killed the wealthy host.  And what does The Life of the Empress Catherine have to do with everything?

When I am not sure what I want to read next, I always turn to Georgette Heyer because I know I'll settle in quite easily with her books.  I never feel restless reading her.  I know I'm always in for a good story.  And as this one takes place during Christmas, it seemed the ideal time to sit down with it!

I read almost all Heyer's historicals (though for some reason, I just can't bring myself to read Cousin Kate or any of the older-than-Georgian era ones) when I was in high school and early in college, all in a big blitz.  But I've collected her mysteries more slowly over time, and I've really enjoyed taking my time getting through them.  Heyer wrote some historical mysteries, but most are set in the England contemporary for her time- usually between WWI and WWII.  And, as Heyer was nothing if not a product of her time, they tend to have a great many subtle hints about the class system, money and Modern Times.  Much as I love Heyer's work, I know deep down that she was probably a fairly haughty woman who believed in a class system.  I also know that she looked down on fans of her work.  Oh, well!

For some reason, the characters that populate Heyer's contemporary mysteries are not nearly as easy to empathize with as those in her historical novels.  The mysteries are usually populated with rude and unkind people, most of whom dislike each other and the person who was killed.  I don't know why this is the case, and I'll spare you all my psychological theories :-)  However, even with generally unlikable characters, Georgette Heyer can write a very good story.

This one is no exception.  Even though most of the characters were unlikable, their conversations were hilarious.  There were so many snide remarks, so many one-off insults and so many ridiculously funny situations that it was impossible not to giggle.  And the mystery, too, really caught my interest.  Though I had an idea of who committed the crime early on in the novel (which is saying a lot, as I never know those things), it was very interesting to see how it happened.

One aspect of Heyer's contemporary mysteries that I dislike somewhat is her tendency to pair off people romantically towards the end.  The romance in this one you can see coming probably from very early on, so no spoilers.  But it upsets me when a man, for the entire course of a novel, is rude and sometimes downright cruel to people (regardless of whether it's justified or not) and then suddenly realizes he is in love with the nice, plain girl.  And the nice, plain girl decides he's the man for her.  I mean, really!  Is he going to act differently after marriage?  Why does he deserve such a nice person?  I hate when that happens, and it happens so often in books.

Ok, off that soap box.

That's my last review for the year, so hope you all had a merry Christmas and best wishes in the new year!


  1. Nice review :)
    And I who still haven't read any oh her books, but then again the library only have one

  2. Gee, I didn't know Heyer wrote contemporary mysteries. I must look some of them up!

  3. Oooh, that one sounds like it could be fun. Will keep my eyes open for it.

    (And I didn't realize Heyer didn't like her fans! Huh. Do you know why?)

  4. Blodeuedd- Yes, you should read her if you can get your hands on her :-)

    Mrs. B- Contemporary for Heyer, I mean (being early 20th century). Not contemporary to us.

    Court- I think she looked down on people who liked light, frothy romances.

  5. Thanks Aarti! I often turn to mysteries when I need a change and have not read Heyer. I can add her to my "new" author list for 2010. Have a great week.

  6. I think that you have hit on why I don't like Heyer's mysteries while I love her historical romances. I just don't like books with unlikeable characters. Thanks for helping me understand myself better.

  7. Haha ... you are so spot on with the evaluation of her mysteries ... the unlikeable characters, the unlikely romance ... it's something of a formula with her. The strange thing is that she makes her Scotland Yard detectives immensely smart, easy-going and likable. Go figure!

  8. I've been meaning to try Heyer for ages and ages. I know their mysteries are probably very different, but your comments about the class-consciousness make me think of Agatha Christe. Her mysteries are also quite focused on class and on the "natural" differences between people of varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

  9. I've really enjoyed reading this review. I'm probably one of the last few bloggers who haven't read her. Your review is pushing her on my TBR list. Hope you're having a great weekend.

  10. I feel like I have been seeing a lot about Georgette Heyer over the past couple of months. I've never read anything by her, but it seems as though I should. Everyone seems to love her.

    Hope your holiday was fabulous! :)

  11. I still have not read Heyer, although I have been meaning to, And have one of her books in my TBR pile. Like many of the others, did not know she wrote mysteries. I think most mysteries are filled with unlikeable characters, that is why they kill each other off!

  12. Gavin- I hope you enjoy her! She's one of my favorite authors, though more for her historical novels than for her mysteries.

    Kathy- Yes, it's hard with those characters, isn't it?! So unsympathetic. Glad I could help :-)

    Kristen- Yes, you're right! I don't LOVE Inspector Hemingway but I do adore Hannasyde.

    Memory- Yes, I think many people compare her to Christie and to Sayers. I think they were all writing around the same time, so it's quite likely there are similarities.

    Vasilly- I hope you decide to read her. She's good for me to get out of a reading slump, so maybe she could do the same for you.

    She- Yes, I think now that Sourcebooks is re-releasing so many of her books, she's come into a second wind. While I always liked having her to myself, more or less (is that really weird to sometimes just enjoy a little-known author alone?), I'm glad she's getting back in demand.

    Valerie- You make a very good point! Quite likely characters in mysteries are unlikeable as you never know who might be the killer!

  13. What you said about GH books and how easy it is to read them is so true. I feel the same also about Joanna Trollope

  14. I'm compiling a list of Bloggiesta participants who have Twitter accounts. I see that your account is protected - would you still like to be on this list? If so, please email me at missremmers (at) gmail (dot) com. Thanks!

  15. It sounds like there are quite a few things about Heyer that would drive me crazy, but I want to read her anyway :P It's no small feat when an author is worth reading despite those annoyances. What do you recommend as a starting point?

  16. I have only read one Heyer book, and I didn't really care for it too much. There was a lot of military information in it and not much else. I think it was called An Infamous Army. Have you read that one? I think her other books would appeal to me more and I have been reading a lot about her on various blogs as of late, so I think I will try again. I also think it's really funny that she dislikes her fans!

  17. Anonymous6/28/2010

    I love Georgette Heyer, but her mysteries are new to me. I'm reading
    Envious Casca and still don't know what the title refers to. Does anyone know. Maybe I'll find out in the last few pages.

  18. I found out the answer to my question about the title Envious Casca. It is in a phrase in
    a speech made by Mark Antony after
    Julius Caesar's assassination.


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