|Can I just mention that the cover's terrific?|
(An aside: For the last few years, a shelf of free ex-library books has been provided at the train station in our local town. Travellers are encouraged to nose through them and take something to read on their journey. Isn't that a neat idea? That was how I acquired this book, and honestly, I can think of few better things to do with ex-library books than giving them out to me for free).
So, Behold, Here's Poison (which comes with an endorsement from no less a luminary than Dorothy Sayers herself), opens in the approved manner, with the discovery of a dead body. Mr Gregory Matthews, the deceased, was known to have heart trouble, and none of the other members of his household--stingy spinster sister Miss Harriet Matthews, manipulative widowed sister-in-law Mrs Zoe Matthews, or Mrs Matthews' son and daughter, the feckless interior-designer Guy or perpetually exasperated only-sane-woman Stella--think for a moment that Mr Matthews might have departed this life with assistance.
But Mr Matthews's other sister, the formidable and acid-tongued Mrs Lupton, knowing the resentments and frustrations seething in the Matthews household, insists on an autopsy--and to everyone's amazement, the body tests positive for nicotine poisoning. Inspector Hannasyde arrives from Scotland Yard to investigate, and is plunged into all the nutty goings-on of the Matthews family--none of which is more infuriating than the smug and smooth-tongued heir Randall Matthews.
In some ways this book was a fun read. Heyer's wit and humour are in good evidence here. If you've only ever read Heyer's Regency romance novels, as I have, you might even find this book pretty surreal, as so many of the characters act like the characters in her Regency books. It can be difficult to remember that Heyer's writing contemporary fiction (Behold, Here's Poison was first published in 1936). When Randall sends a note to Inspector Hannasyde protesting against the colour of the boots worn by the plain-clothes detective following him around London, it's not just hilarious, it's also rather difficult to keep in mind that just this once, Heyer's not writing a Regency dandy.
In other ways, I'm not sure this was a particularly good detective story. I do appreciate Heyer focusing on psychology and character rather than painstakingly going over clues and alibis. However, the plot didn't seem particularly tightly woven. The interaction of the characters, who were fun to watch for a while but ultimately tiresomely unpleasant, and a few red-herrings took up the majority of the plot. At the end, it turns out that the motive for the murder was foreshadowed very well, but the actual murderer was someone so unexpected as to seem almost irrelevant to the rest of the story. Meanwhile, Stella, who acts as the point-of-view character for most of the book, has an oddly disjointed and underdeveloped romance subplot that manages to be both unexpected and rather Heyer-typical at the same time.
Finally, I didn't appreciate the fact that one of the most unpleasant characters in the book is also portrayed as a believer. It was not unsubtly done, and I'm sure people like this exist, but it's also the most overt reference to Christianity in those of Heyer's works that I've read and seems to fit in with a generally dismissive and cynical attitude I've noticed in her other works.
To conclude, this book was entertaining, witty, and an easy read. It was also somewhat cynical in tone with a weak ending and characters to whom, alas, I did not, with Dorothy Sayers, "take a violent fancy".
Find Behold, Here's Poison on Amazon or The Book Depository.