The Unfinished Clue by Georgette Heyer is the second Heyer novel that I have read. This one was published in 1934. Let me state from the get-go, this is a five-star novel. The reason why this is a five-star novel, which is not something I am frivolous in awarding, is because I cannot find anything “wrong” with it. I am able to recognize, though, that many readers may have little interest in country house murders or historical fictions. That is a personal preference, though, and if I am being impartial and honest, this is a really good novel.
It has certainly been said many, many times that Heyer excels at character creation and involvement. In this novel she has a fairly large cast and yet not a single character is cardboard or wooden. Heyer is the anti-Asimov in this regard. She introduces us to a variety of characters that are realistic, consistent, and engaging. Not all of these characters are likeable – in fact, many are not. But all of them are interesting and remarkable. In particular, in this novel, the character Lola de Silva is so remarkable that her name/characterization ought to be a meme or an archtype. Readers of all generations need to know about Lola.
I am a reader that enjoys country house mystery/murders. I do enjoy the old fashioned, upper class, non-urban settings. I do not mind their (sometimes) slow pace nor their fixation on teas, butlers, and cocktail hours. However, not all country house murder mysteries are done with skill. Often, it seems forced or obnoxious. Not Heyer’s whatsoever. I read a manor house mysery once and complained about how dumb the characters were for all gathering ’round the fancy dagger – and then whoops! someone turns up dead! How contrived. Heyer’s novel here is very fun and well-plotted. The motives for the murder are all viable ones and nuild tension within the setting. Each character, already suffering uncomfortable interactions, has to deal with the awkwardness of remaining in the manor among a bunch of “likely suspects.”
So, the characterizations are top notch and the plot is solid and well-written. The pacing seemed reasonable and there were no grammatical or ugly artistic errors, let’s say. How could I not give this five stars? I found it entertaining, interesting, and time well spent. I am not sure I can say similar things about many books that I have read that were, supposedly, in my favorite genres. (Cp. science fiction, fantasy) It is a lighter novel in that it does not tax the reader and make their brains churn. I am OK with that and had no problem relaxing with a decent storyline.
My two favorite characters were Dinah Fawcett and Captain Francis Billington-Smith. I think most readers probably fall in love with Dinah, so saying she was one of my favorites does not mean so much. The best part of Heyer’s novel is the fact that she gathered all of these characters into one country home and let them stew and boil over together. Here is one of Dinah’s observations:
He went into the house, and Dinah thought, with an inward grin: Getting too much for poor old Stephen; really, it’s more like a home for mental cases than a house party. – pg. 88, chapter five.
Dinah is observant, witty, and direct, but not rude. She often knows the correct thing to do and chooses wisely. An insightful and likeable character that we all wish to befriend. She is often helpful in providing the comic relief for the storyline so that the story is not miserably heavy and sluggish. I like that Heyer does not take her stories/novels overly serious. I like that Heyer herself sees the opportunity for wit and humor in these stories. Dinah picks up the humor nicely and I do wonder if Heyer doesn’t write herself as Dinah:
“I think perhaps I had better,’ said Mrs Twining in her calm way. “I understood from Fay that I was to hold myself in readiness to answer questions the detective may want to put to me. I am really not very well versed in the etiquette of these affairs. Does a detective come to me, or do I go to him?”
“I don’t know,” said Dinah. “But I wish you would come. We – we rather badly want a normal person here.” – pg. 133, chapter 8.
I have a couple other Heyer novels to read; I think they are the detective mystery novels, too. I know she wrote a large number of romances and historical items, but I am really enjoying her mysteries. They have been popular since they were published and I think that is a great thing. I can confidently recommend this book to any reader and any aspiring author.