Heyer, Georgette. The Talisman Ring.

Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1936.

This book appeared early in the author’s career but after she had hit her stride and had established her reputation as a writer of light, highly enjoyable and impeccably researched historical fiction. All of her books include an element of humor, but this was the first one in which she pulled out all the stops.

It’s largely a detective story, too, with a strong flavor of “The Thin Man,” but also with elements of P. G. Wodehouse, and even the Keystone Cops. The story begins in 1793 with the demise in Sussex (where Heyer lived, in fact) of the elderly Baron Lavenham, whose last act is to try to provide for his half-French teenage granddaughter, Eustacie, by marrying her off to her thirty-year-old cousin, Sir Tristram Shield, who needs an heir. It would be a marriage of convenience and both of them agree to the arrangement, but that’s before their other two cousins get into the act. Young Ludovic, heir to the title, was accused three years before of the murder of an annoying neighbor and was hurried out of the country to avoid prosecution. He was supposed to lie low on the Continent but instead took up smuggling and now he’s back to look into things. The other family member to become involved is Basil (“the Beau”), who lives in the Dowerhouse on the estate and would be next in line after Ludovic. He’s easygoing and friendly but no one else trusts him. And then there’s Miss Sarah Thane, passing through the neighborhood with her brother, Sir Hugh. They’re staying at the Red Lion Inn, a smugglers’ haven, where much of the action takes place. Said action revolves around the search for the heirloom ring which Ludovic had lost gambling with the neighbor and which disappeared with his killer — and recovery of which will show who the real murderer is.

Yes, it’s a complicated plot which would require another five pages to explain coherently, so I shan’t try. I’ll only say that Heyer’s characters are marvelous. The romantic Eustasie and Sarah are anxious to take part in an adventure (any adventure), Ludovic is getting tired of hiding out in the innkeeper’s secret cellar (he doesn’t have much sense of self-preservation anyway), the Bow Street Runners are blundering about and shooting holes in storage closets, Sir Hugh doesn’t really track what all is going on (and doesn’t care, as long as the Madeira keeps coming), the Beau is getting nervous about people poking around his wainscoting, and Sir Tristram is just trying to keep everyone out of trouble. And he and Sarah are becoming involved, as are (of course) Ludovic and Eustasie. Dialogue, especially when it involves the bright-eyed Eustasie, is often laugh-out-loud funny and the action is frequently frenetic. And even though whodunit is pretty obvious from early in the story, it’s the journey getting there that provides the fun.

Published in: on 25 March 2012 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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