“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.”
It’s Christmas Eve and at Lexham Manor the family and friends of Nathaniel Herriard are gathering for a Christmas party arranged by the old man’s brother, Joseph. The guests include Nat’s nephew Stephen and his fiancée Valerie, his niece Paula and her playwright friend Willoughby Roydon, a distant cousin, Mathilda Clare, and a business partner, Edgar Mottisfont. Putting up decorations as the snow falls outside, Joseph is looking forward to a good old-fashioned family Christmas. Unfortunately Nat doesn’t like the festive season, doesn’t want to have a party, and finds himself arguing with almost everyone present – which means that when he is found stabbed to death in his room later that evening there are plenty of suspects, all with motives for wanting him dead. The problem, as Inspector Hemingway quickly discovers, is that Nat’s door was locked from the inside. How could the murderer have entered a locked room? What happened to the murder weapon? And where could Aunt Maud’s library book, The Life of the Empress of Austria, have disappeared to?
I have read some of Heyer’s historical novels and loved most of them, but this is the first of her contemporary mysteries I’ve read (contemporary for the time in which they were published, that is – 1941 in this case). I had no idea which one to start with, but when I came across Envious Casca in the library and saw that it was set at Christmas, it seemed the perfect choice for a December read.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book at first. It took me a while to really get into the story and it didn’t help that most of the characters were completely unsympathetic. I have rarely read a novel with so many nasty, rude, unpleasant characters and I couldn’t think of anything worse than being a guest at the Herriards’ party, even without a murder taking place! From the obnoxious, sarcastic Stephen and the haughty butler Sturry to the cantankerous, bad-tempered Nathaniel, they were all so annoying I was surprised only one murder was committed. I did understand, though, that it was vital to the plot that the group of people gathered at the house disliked each other and that there had been so much friction and conflict directly before the murder. The clashing personalities did lead to some very funny conversations and situations too – the scene where everyone assembles in the drawing room to listen to Roydon read his play, for example.
The story really picked up for me after Inspector Hemingway was called in from Scotland Yard. I didn’t find Hemingway a very interesting character in comparison to other fictional detectives and I felt I never really got to know him or anything about his background, but I still enjoyed following his investigations and his discussions with his assistant, Sergeant Ware. I was quite proud of myself because I worked out how the murder was committed long before Hemingway did and my suspicion as to the identity of the murderer was proved to be right too. Luckily this didn’t take away any of the pleasure of reading the book and it was still fun looking out for more clues that might confirm I had the right solution. As a classic locked-room mystery with lots of suspects, red herrings and an English country house setting, it was maybe not a very original novel but the plot was well constructed and interesting. I liked the way the title of the book cleverly relates to the story too (if you don’t know what it means, wait until you’ve read the book before looking it up).
As my first introduction to Heyer’s mysteries, I enjoyed this one and am looking forward to reading the others.
17 thoughts on “Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer”
This sounds very similar to Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – country house, nasty characters, locked-room murder…
I just recently realized that Heyer wrote mysteries, as well as romances, and was amazed at how prolific she was. I’ve never read anything by her, but plan to read one of her romances, Cotillion, next year.
I’ll have to read Hercule Poirot’s Christmas next Christmas, then!
I hope you enjoy Cotillion – I haven’t read that one yet.
I generally don’t like Heyer’s mysteries as much as her romances and it’s for much the same reason – it’s hard to find a character who’s likeable. But there are always some good witty comments!
I wonder why the characters in her mysteries are so unlikeable? That doesn’t seem to be a problem with the romances.
I only found her mysteries in the last few years – they used to be much rarer even than the historicals, though now they’ve all been reprinted in nice new editions. I wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with this family – even without a murder – but I do like this one. I’m impressed you spotted not only the method but the murderer as well!
The method occurred to me quite early in the story, but I was less sure of the murderer. I think I suspected almost everybody at first, but then managed to narrow it down.
I’m a huge, huge fan of Heyer’s historical novels (I shudder to call them romances — I know, I’m being silly but they are so good) but I’ve never been able to get into her mysteries, even though I read mysteries from that period like peanuts.
I can’t really judge until I’ve read more of her mysteries, but so far I prefer the historical novels too.
Let me know if you find a good mystery by her. I gave up after a couple left me cold. Thanks!
I can’t believe that I hadn’t heard of these books. I am just finishing up an exciting historical fiction that takes place in ancient Egyptian times titled, “Shadow of the Sun” by Merrie P. Wycoff. As soon as I am finished I am definitely checking these books out! Thanks for the recommendation!
That sounds interesting. Thanks!
This sounds a great, cozy Christmas mystery! The name of the author rings a bell but I don’t know why/when/where I heard it though.
It’ll probably be one of my Christmas readings next year. Thanks!
Georgette Heyer is more famous for her historical novels/romances. You might have seen a review of one of those. And yes, this would be a great Christmas read for next year!
I like the premise, Christmas is ripe for arguments and problems. I didn’t know Heyer wrote more than historical novels, and as much as it’s samey and the characters unlikeable it sounds quite fun.
I suppose there are only so many ways to write a locked room/country house murder mystery, but yes, this one was still fun even if not very original.
I love Heyer’s witty comments 🙂 I have not read any romances but just 1 mystery, which I liked.. but did not love.
I will see if I can find it here. Great review.
I hope you can find this one, Veens. Maybe you’ll like it better than the other one you read.