Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Envious Casca: Georgette Heyer

Envious Casca, published in 1941, is a country house mystery, with a corpse in a locked room, and a smallish set of residents and guests who are almost all suspects. It has the traditional mystery plot with a family group is gathered together at Christmas, but in this case it is not the patriarch of the family who planned the gathering but his interfering, well-meaning brother.
Joseph [the brother] was full of energy. It was nearly all benevolent, but, unfortunately for Nathaniel [the patriarch], who was not gregarious, he delighted in gathering large parties together, and liked nothing so much as filling the house with young people, and joining in their amusements.
It was Joseph who had been inspired to organise the house-party that was looming over Nathaniel's unwilling head this chill December. Joseph, having lived for so many years abroad, hankered wistfully after a real English Christmas. Nathaniel, regarding him with a contemptuous eye, said that a real English Christmas meant, in his experience, a series of quarrels between inimical persons bound to one another only by the accident of relationship, and thrown together by a worn-out convention which decreed that at Christmas families should forgather.
The "young people" do show up. Nathaniel is successfully induced to invite his niece, Paula, and her playwright friend, and his nephew, Stephen, and his fiancée. Plus Mathilde, a friend of theirs.


This is a very Christmassy mystery, with decorations and planned festivities. Although most of the participants are not in a holiday spirit. Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard is called in on the case on Christmas Day, and is not at all happy about that situation. His arguments and interactions with his assistant Sergeant Ware provide some amusement.

It took me a while to get into the story; the first quarter of the book is mainly setup, introducing us to the characters and their relationships. Unfortunately the book is mainly populated by unsympathetic characters; fortunately, their problems and entanglements were very entertaining. At about halfway in, I was fully hooked.

For most of the book I had no clue who the culprit was, although towards the end it became clearer. Other reviewers have found it much easier to spot the killer, but either way, I don't think it matters. This is just a very fun book to read. I loved the humor and I was very satisfied with the ending.

Georgette Heyer (1902-1972) is primarily known for her regency romances, but she also wrote 12 mystery novels. Four of them featured Inspector Hemingway, and this the 2nd novel in that series.

Other sources:
The Murderous End of an Era at Tor.com
Two posts at Clothes in Books here and here.
Katrina's review at Pining for the West

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Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark, 2010 (orig. publ. 1941)
Length:     396 pages
Format:    Trade paperback
Series:      Inspector Hemingway #2
Setting:    UK
Genre:     Historical Mystery
Source:    I purchased my copy

29 comments:

  1. I must get around to this as I keep hearing about it. I've read practically all of her Regency books but only one mystery, Footsteps in the Dark, which I loved. I've heard that Envious Casca has a lot of unsympathetic characters but it sounds like that didn't spoil your enjoyment?

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    1. The unsympathetic characters did not bother me at all, Cath. I enjoyed the first half, but kept wondering when something was going to happen. Once it got moving I liked it even better.

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  2. her mysteries are IMO as enjoyable as the regency novels,

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    1. I read some of the mysteries years ago but don't remember much about them, Kate, so I want to read them all. And I am tempted to try one of her regency novels too, but have none of those on hand.

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  3. I know what you mean, Tracy, about a book that's just fun to read. And some of Heyer's work is great that way. I'm really glad you enjoyed this one.

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    1. The fact that I enjoyed it so much, Margot, regardless of the mystery plot, makes me think I might like her non-mystery novels.

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  4. It isn't my favourite of her mysteries, but still definitely worth reading. I enjoy her sparky dialogue but there wasn't so much of that in this one. Thanks for the mention.

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    1. This is my first one in a long time, Katrina, so I have nothing to compare against. Looking forward to trying more.

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  5. I have only read a few of Heyer's mysteries and have never been very struck by them, though I know many who adore them! Plenty more Christmas mysteries around though :) Happy holiday Tracy!

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    1. I find that in my old age I am enjoying a broader range of mysteries, Sergio. And I have heard that some of them are not so good, so I am glad I started with one I really enjoyed.

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  6. Think I’ve read maybe 3 of her mysteries and enjoyed them all. Have a couple regency’s on the shelf but haven’t read any yet. Not a genre I usually go for but hers are always so highly recommended. I’m sure I’ll like them. Have not come across this particular book yet. Will keep my eyes opened for it!

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    1. I could send you my copy, Peggy, but it is falling apart. I don't mean it is old, I mean it is new and the pages are literally falling out. I was very unhappy with the purchase but did make my way all the way through it.

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  7. To my taste, Joseph deserves killing, Tracy, whether or not he's the victim here. A "well-meaning" busybody, the kind of relative I'd like to stick in the locked room and toss the key.

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    1. You are very perceptive, Mathew. He is almost as unlikable as everyone else with his cheerfulness and bumbling. There was one "sort of" normal character, and then the police, who are fun too.

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  8. Not my favorite Heyer mystery at all. I knew almost immediately who the killer was and the rest was just window dressing far as I was concerned. Just didn't like it. However, I have liked other Heyer mysteries (and I am a HUGE fan of her Regencies) and love listening to them on audio. THE UNFINISHED CLUE is especially good and the audio version is delightful.

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    1. In this book, I did not care who had done it, Yvette, and I wasn't as smart as you to figure it out so early. Unfortunately I don't have THE UNFINISHED CLUE although I have a few others. I want to read a non-mystery book of hers also but I have got to stop buying books for a while, so maybe I will have to wait on that. Possibly I can remember to check the book sale next year.

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    2. Oh not so much smarts as being an old lady who has read mountains of mysteries and learned to recognize certain things. But even I can still be fooled and have been over and over. Ha.

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    3. I often doubt my guesses when I am reading mysteries, Yvette, because I think the author is trying to mislead me. And then sometimes I pay less attention to the puzzle and more to the people.

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  9. this book made me want to read more of Heyer's mysteries after the very disappointing WHY SHOOT THE BUTLER? Glad you too liked it, Tracy.

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    1. I had heard that there were some disappointing mysteries by Heyer, neer. I still remember your review of The Reluctant Widow, which you described as an espionage mystery, and will be looking for a copy of that.

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  10. I'm glad you enjoyed it, but not one I will be seeking out for myself.

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    1. I am glad I enjoyed it too, Col, although that means I will be looking for even more books by this author. But I agree, not for you.

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  11. Catching up this morning, after all the excitement and busyness of the past few days. Ahh, a cup of coffee and some of my favourite blogs.

    Envious Casca is one of my two perenniel Christmas reads (the other being No Holly for Miss Quinn). Yes, the characters are almost all dislikeable (worse than unlikeable) but I so enjoy all the interaction and the dialogue and the clashing personalities. Who couldn't enjoy standing back observing Valerie's fluffiness (and then...oh gosh, her mother arrives) or Maud's placid observations.

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    1. P. S. Tracy, if you haven't read Heyer's historicals, I recommend The Grand Sophy for sheer fun, and The Talisman Ring. It may be billed as a historical, but it's a classic mystery, through and through. With very likeable people.

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    2. Susan, I find it hard to explain why reading about unpleasant people can be so entertaining... and you do a good job of that. Valerie and her mother are two of the most irritating and entertaining in the book. I enjoyed Maud because I sympathized with her.

      Thanks very much for the two reading suggestions, those both sound very good.

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  12. It was real mystery right up to the very end. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes mysteries. I liked Chief InspectorHemmenly -- nice and smart and very human in a good way.

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  13. I think this is my favourite Christmas mystery of all time - so glad you enjoyed it too. I will re-read it next December! the characters are so funny and entertaining.

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    1. And, thanks as ever for the shoutout...

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    2. I was just thinking about rereading this, Moira, but my copy was so irritating with pages falling out. After I read some other Heyer books I may come back to it if I find another edition.

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