Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: Death in the Stocks

Title: Death in the Stocks
Author: Georgette Heyer
Genre: Mystery/1920's
Published: Sourcebooks/December 2009
Originally Published: 1935

Source: Publisher

From the publisher's website ~

A bobby on his night rounds discovers a corpse in evening dress locked in the stocks on the village green. Inspector Hannasyde is called in, but sorting out the suspects proves a challenge. Anyone in the eccentric, exceedingly uncooperative Vereker family had the motive and means to kill Andrew Vereker, who seemed to have been universally disliked. One cousin allies himself with the inspector, while the victim's half-brother and sister, each of whom suspects the other, markedly try to set him off the scent. To readers' delight, the killer is so cunning (not to mention the author), that the mystery remains until the very end…

While Georgette Heyer is primarily known for her Regency Romances she also wrote a number of historical fiction, short stories and mysteries. Death in the Stocks is one of her mysteries. It starts with the death of Arnold Verekers and ends with the murderer being caught. Typical, right? But what happens in between those two events is what made this such a captivating and different read from my usual. Heyer has written a most amusing novel with some characters who are not very likable but are still quite interesting not only in their lack of remorse at the death of Mr. Verekers but in their actions after the murder.

The deceased, Arnold Vereker, seems to have inspired dislike, even hatred, in just about everyone he met. It's up to Superintendent Hannasyde to sort the lies from the truths and figure out who killed Vereker. There is no lack of suspects, from Verekers half siblings, Antonia and Kenneth, both spoiled, indulgent and self-absorbed people who cared little for their half-brother except for his money. In fact, Antonia becomes quite upset when anyone refers to Arnold and her brother and makes a point of correcting the mistake by reminding them that he was her half-brother.

Then there are Antonia and Kenneth's intendeds, Rudolph Mesurier and Violet Williams, respectfully. Mesurier works for Verekers and we find out, has been up to a bit of embezzling from Verekers' company. He fully intends to pay it back but it still provides a motive for murders. Violet Williams comes across as a lovely young woman with a bit of a soft heart and even shows some sadness over the death of Verekers. She enjoys the finer things in life and while she is to marry Kenneth, he is an artist who is unable to afford those things for Violet. But with the death of his half-brother, Kenneth, being the heir, inherits and can then provide Violet with the type of lifestyle she enjoys.

Superintendent Hannasyde's questioning of the possible suspects was the source of wonderful and witty dialogue. The way Heyer had Hannasyde volleying questions and returning the answers with more questions, attempting to make sense of those answers, all made for some face paced scenes with the reader, at least this reader, not always sure who the most likely suspect was. The twists and turns Heyer takes getting to the finale had me changing my mind a few times as to who I thought killed Arnold Verekers.

The lack of remorse and blatant disdain Antonia and Kenneth show for their now deceased brother comes across as both amusing and at times morbid. They seem to lack the ability to curb their show of dislike for their half-brother. Part of what I found so fascinating is their lack of remorse for the deceased. The way Antonia and Kenneth speak of their half-brother regarding his death borders more on fascination and the financial effect on them rather than any sadness. I was never sure what either of them would utter next. I didn't know if they were completely guileless or quite devious and guilty of the murder.

Antonia and Kenneth did have someone on their side. Their cousin and legal counsel, Mr. Giles Carrington. He actually had a brain and would at least attempt to curtail his cousins more unrestrained comments. He was the calm in the eye of the lives of the Verekers. Carrington was the one that attempted to make some sense of the mess his cousins found themselves in. Carrington was a character that Heyer gave not only the intellect to sort through the mire of the events leading up to and after the murder but to keep a clear head amidst the chaos of his cousins lives.

If you are in the mood for something witty, well written and decidedly different, then definitely give Death in the Stocks a try.

More information on Georgette Heyer can be found here or here.

Rating: A-


  1. Hey Leslie :D Want to ask you, is the writing funny in her mysteries? Well perhaps not funny, but classic? I tried reading some of her historicals, but I have difficulty because it's "old" english and I'm not used to it... so I was wondering if this was different.

  2. nath ~ Heyer definitely uses words and phrases specific to the time period and I'm guessing specific to British vernacular. Nothing too odd that I didn't know what the character was saying. HTH :)

  3. I've never read a Heyer mystery, Leslie. This one sounds great and I just love British style mysteries, they're my favorites. Thanks for this review. :)

  4. Hils ~ you're welcome! It was my first Heyer so I wasn't sure what to expect and was surprised at the wicked sense of humor she has. :)