A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

Penguin, 2011, 671p.

A Civil Contract cover

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1961 and it’s quite different from her other books as there’s really not much in the way of humour in it, no witty repartee between couples. There’s a lot of history in it, but it’s never dry. Apparently Georgette Heyer hated this book and she had a very tough time writing it. The problem was that her mother was seriously ill and in fact dying while she was writing it, so it would have been strange if she had been able to write in her normal fashion. I’d like to be able to tell her how much I enjoyed it though, in fact I think it’s my favourite so far, despite the fact that I so enjoy her more usual witty dialogue.

A Civil Contract features Adam, Lord Lynton, a young man who has only just come into his title after the death of his father. His father had been a spendthrift, womaniser and a gambler and has left nothing but debts. The only way out of the mess his father has left him with is to sell the family estate. Adam’s mother is dead against that and he isn’t keen on it himself.

Adam’s lawyer knows a way out of the problem – he suggests to Adam that he can arrange a marriage between him and the daughter of a very wealthy businessman whose ambition is for his only child to marry into the aristocracy.

So – very different from Heyer’s more usual romantic relationships and the upshot is a more realistic progress of the development of a marriage.

Sometimes music accompanies me in my mind as I read a book and with this one it was Mama Cass’s It’s Getting Better. Completely inappropriate for a Gerorgian setting I know but the sentiment is the same. It occurs to me that you have to be of a certain age to remember Mama Cass though!

The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer

The Toll Gate cover

The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1955 and my copy is a Book Club hardback from that date. This is more of a mystery/adventure book and is quite light on the romance – which is fine by me.

Captain John Staples has recently left the army after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, he had a bit of a reputation for being crazy amongst his fellow officers and he’s finding civilian life a bit boring, especially when he has to go to a family wedding in Derbyshire. The women in his extended family seem keen to find a wife for him, but they’re disappointed when he leaves the wedding early.

Looking for an inn to spend the night in John – or Jack as he’s generally known to his friends – gets lost and eventually reaches a roadside toll-gate which is being ‘manned’ by Ben a young and scared boy all on his own. It transpires that Ben’s father has gone missing and Ben fears the worst. Jack decides that he must find out what is going on.

This is a good light read with likeable characters and a plethora of Regency slang.

You might think that a toll-gate dates a book immediately to a certain era but it’s only a couple of years since we had to stump up all of 40 pence in the dead of night on a rural road somewhere around the English midlands. In fact not that long ago I saw such a house and business for sale in the Guardian, you would have to be a keen home body though as you would never be able to leave the place!

More book purchases

More Lovely Books

I’ve often seen copies of King Albert’s Book but as they’re over 100 years old they’re quite often in bad shape with torn pages, missing illustrations (they’re sort of tipped in) or drawn on. The book was sold in aid of the Belgian refugees at the beginning of World War 1 and published by The Daily Telegraph in conjunction with The Daily Sketch and The Glasgow Herald so there are quite a lot of them about. Basically it contains words of support for the Belgian people from many of the great and good of the day. There are illustrations by Edmund Dulac and Arthur Rackham to name a couple, pieces of music written by Elgar and Debussy and others. I bought it for all of £3. Beside it was a copy of Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book which I’ve never seen before. Again, this was sold for charity, but was published in 1908. She was apparently a keen photographer so it’s full of paper copies of many of her photos, tipped in as if they were in a photo album. There are a lot of family groups – the Empress of Russia appears a lot, but there are also photos of fjords and other places she visited and ships, including The Nimrod which was Captain Shackleton on his way to the South Pole in 1907. Another three quid – what a snip!

also:

Books, Books, Books

The Glory of the Garden – snippets from Country Life magazine over the years.

The Strongest Weapon by Notburga Tilt (an Austrian Resistance member in WW2 – signed.)

Dunbar’s Cove by Borden Deal. I’ve never even heard of this book but it seems to be well liked on Goodreads. I’m shocked to see that a copy with the dust jacket just like mine is on sale on Amazon for over £220. Mine cost £1.

Now comes a clutch of crime fiction.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
Penhallow by Georgette Heyer (I’ve already read this one but I didn’t have a copy)
The Doomed Five by Carolyn Wells

Lastly some children’s books.

The House in Cornwall by Noel Streatfeild
The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter
The Sprig of Broom by Barbara Willard
These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Three of those are Puffin books and I have a feeling that I might just have inadvertently started a bit of a collection as I think I bought a couple a few weeks ago.

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

Envious Casca cover

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1941.

I’ve read almost all of Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels now and I’ve enjoyed them all although some more than others. I like the witty dialogue, especially between couples. Envious Casca is set at Christmas and features Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard as the investigator who is called in when a member of the household of Lexham, a large Tudor house, is discovered dead in a locked room. To begin with it’s thought that the death is from natural causes but it isn’t long before the truth is discovered.

The house is full of members of the Herriard family who are gathered together for Christmas, and a few of their friends. They’re a very argumentative bunch and Nathaniel, the owner of the Lexham estate holds the purse strings.

Despite the fact that the murder was a long time a-coming I really enjoyed this one. It was fairly predictable, the culprit was easy to spot AND none of the characters are particularly likeable, so by rights I should have disliked the book a lot, but the mystery lies in how the murder was carried out and that kept my interest. Heyer obviously meant it to be like that, especially given the title of the book. The characters are a quirky bunch so it all added up to a good read.

Snowdrift and other stories by Georgette Heyer

This blogging malarkey is having a desperate effect on the to-be-read books in my house, it grows and grows, mainly because of book recommendations from fellow bloggers – not that I’m complaining really as I’ve found so many great reads that way.

 Memory of Water cover

It was Helen @ She Reads Novels who made me decide to request Snowdrift by Georgette Heyer from the library. You can see what she thought of it here.

I hadn’t read any Heyer short stories before although I’ve read quite a few of her novels, historical and crime/mystery fiction.

These short stories are like slipping into a warm bath, pure comfort, not that I’ve been reading them in the bath as I can’t do that for some reason. If you’re looking for escapism (which of us isn’t at the moment?!) then this one might fit the bill.

Snowdrift contains fourteen short stories and the last three haven’t been published before. For me they’re perfect bedtime reading, for when I’m not able to concentrate on anything too heavy. As you would expect quite a few of the stories feature Gretna Green as elopements and rumours of elopement are a fairly frequent theme.

As always I learned new words when reading her Regency romances, to me a domino is a games piece with dots on it, but apparently in Regency times it was a silk hood. There’s always a scattering of Regency slang words which have fairly obvious meanings from the context. I did look up a few of them in my dictionary just to see if they were real and not just made up – and they were real apparently. Unfortunately I can’t remember what any of them were now!

New to me books

The weather has been lovely and bright with sunshine and blue skies here although the gritters are now around on the roads late at night due to falling temperatures, it’s amazing we’ve had no rain now for four or five days, I’m fairly sure that’s a record for this year! We drove up to Dunkeld, it’s one of my favourite wee towns, a scenic place to go for a walk and have lunch.

Then we drove a further ten miles or so north to Pitlochry, a much bigger town, it definitely feels like you’re in the Highlands there, it’s a bit touristy but for me the biggest attraction is the second-hand bookshop, situated in a building at the railway station, just a few steps away from the platform. The books are sold in aid of several local charities.

I’ve always been very lucky finding books there, but as I was going in a man was coming out, he had an armful of books and it turned out that the place was heaving with book lovers. I hoped that they had left me something to buy!

Books Latest

I needn’t have worried though. This is usually a good source of interesting old hardbacks for me, but those shelves didn’t have much in the way of fiction at all, but there were plenty of paperbacks, so I ended up buying:

1. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
2. An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer
3. The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens
4. Neither Fiver Nor Three by Helen MacInnes
5. Friends and Lovers by Helen MacInnes

Pitlochry is well off for second-hand bookshops as there’s another one in a street off the high street, it’s called Priory Books and I was really pleased to get Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy there, a nice old hardback with its dust jacket too. I couldn’t say no to a British Library Crime Classics anthology of short stories called CRIMSON SNOW Winter Mysteries. Perfect for reading around Christmas I think.

Have you read any of these books?

The 1951 Club

the 1951 club

I’ve read and blogged about quite a few books that were published in 1951 in recent years, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on them click on the titles.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch

The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

Cork on the Water by Macdonald Hastings

The Catherine Wheel by Patricia Wentworth

The Duke’s Daughter by Angela Thirkell

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols

Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer

School for Love by Olivia Manning

Of course 1951 was an important year in Britain as we had The Festival of Britain which went on for most of the year – or at least until the general election when Churchill became PM again and he saw the whole thing as being Socialist so he shut it all down – spoilsport!

But apparently the Festival was a life-saver for the people who had by then been suffering under austerity for years and years what with the war and even worse rationing post-war. It cheered people up no end to see the bright colours and modern designs, and was a great opportunity for artists, designers and makers.

Before I started blogging I read and enjoyed Festival at Farbridge by J.B. Priestley which was published in 1951 and has local events featuring the festival.

I blogged about the festival some years ago and if you’re interested you can see that post here.

The Private World of Georgette Heyer by Jane Aiken Hodge

 The Private World of Georgette Heyer  cover

I’m not what you would call a huge fan of Georgette Heyer but I have probably read and enjoyed around ten of her books and they are a bit more than just good comfort reads as Heyer put a massive amount of effort into researching the historical periods that she wrote about. She compiled books of Georgian/Regency slang, fashions and such, including cutting out illustrations from magazines and drawing different types of carriages and even coats of arms, so that she could describe them properly in her books.

While she was actually writing her books she was inclined to be her worst critic and often described the one she was engaged in writing in letters to friends as being a STINKER. But once it was completed her opinion often changed.

To begin with she appeared to be very different from most authors in that she seemed very normal and went out of her way to avoid publicity, never gave interviews or did anything to promote her books. Even her married name was kept from the public and she wanted nothing to do with any other writers. I often judge people by whether I would be happy to have them as a neighbour or not and to begin with I would have been more than happy to have Heyer as one, but as the book progressed my opinion changed.

For one thing when she was actually writing books she wrote well into the wee small hours. I doubt if many readers would have guessed that her book writing was fuelled by Dexedrine and gin. Yes she was apparently on speed! She and her husband were obviously the type of people who always lived beyond their means, despite the fact that they must have had a huge annual income between them. During the war they took out a lease on chambers in The Albany. I watched a TV programme about that place a few years ago and it is only the super wealthy who can afford to live there, it has always been a very salubrious address. They chose not to buy property and didn’t even employ a proper accountant which led to great difficulties with the Inland Revenue over the years – stupid beyond belief! She was one of those women that don’t like other women and she was quite open about her dislike of young girls.

I suspect that the trouble was that she and her husband were very keen social climbers and for them it was imperative to own a new Rolls Royce and other such fol-de-rols. Heyer had in fact financed her husband through his law degree and he did eventually go on to become a successful QC, but before that he had run a sports shop with his brother-in-law and spent his time re-stringing tennis racquets and such. They both came from rather lowly backgrounds but that seems to have been forgotten when Heyer in later years described other lawyers’ wives she had met as being not out of the same drawer as her!!

One heartening thing was that they both loved Scotland and habitually holidayed there, but she hated Ireland, in fact she said that she had never been the same woman since visiting Ireland!

She was a wonderful letter writer though and I imagine that a book of her letters would be very entertaining, she was very witty as you would expect from her books.

Heyer was dogged by ill health for years, particularly problems with her throat so I was astonished when towards the end of the book it was mentioned that she smoked between 60 and 80 cigarettes a day. Given that – the drugs and the booze it’s just amazing that she lived to the age of 72.

All in all this is a good read. Georgette Heyer was just quite a flawed and odd character, but then most writers are and I’ll continue to read her books from time to time.

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Blood and Beauty cover

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer is one of her Regency romances – a bit of a romp, but perfect holiday reading. It was first published in 1962 and this one has a lot of similarities with Jane Austen, more so than others of Heyer’s books I’ve read.

Sir Waldo Hawkridge is a wealthy, handsome and fashionable bachelor of thirty-five or six. In his younger days he was well known as a great athlete and he’s still held in high esteem by the younger males in society. In fact they are still emulating the somewhat crazy fashions that Hawkridge made popular years before, although he himself is dressing with much less fussiness in his old age. He was given the nickname of The Nonesuch meaning he was a paragon, nothing and no-one could better him.

In fact most people don’t realise quite what a paragon The Nonesuch is. Although he is wealthy he has an interest in orphans and the poor and when he inherits an estate from a miser of an uncle he decides to turn the house into another orphanage, but it’s all very secret as he doesn’t like to advertise his philanthropy.

Throw in three young male relatives and a bit of love interest, just when The Nonesuch thought he was past such things, it all adds up to an amusing and entertaining read.

Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer

Why Shoot a Butler by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1933. As you would expect from such a title it’s one of her thrillers, rather than her more well known fare of historical romances, although in my experience she never could resist writing some romance into any book that she has written.

This is only her second thriller I believe and for me it’s main problem is that it’s about 100 pages too long for a 1930s thriller/murder mystery, which makes for a fair amount of tedium along the way.

Her amateur detective is a barrister called Frank Amberley. On his way to a weekend in the country he comes across a young woman standing by the roadside, next to a car. It’s foggy, but she doesn’t seem to have been in an accident, on closer examination there are bullet holes in the car windscreen.

So far so good because I much prefer a thriller to get going early on, but it doesn’t half slow down over the 312 pages. This one was written very early on in her writing career and I think she improved a lot later. There isn’t even so much of her trade mark witty repartee between the characters. I’m glad I read it though, I think I only have Envious Casca to read now – of her thrillers – it seems I have bucketloads of her Regency romances to read though. I think I’ll be choosier about reading them, and stick to those that are highly recommended by bloggers.