Georgette Heyer is more famous for her Regency romances, but she also wrote twelve mystery novels. Until now, the only one I had read was Envious Casca, but I decided to try another one for this year’s R.I.P. event. Footsteps in the Dark, published in 1932, turned out to be a good choice. More of a haunted house story than a traditional mystery, there are secret tunnels, underground passages, ghostly happenings and noises in the night. A perfect October read!
Celia Malcolm and her brother and sister, Peter and Margaret Fortescue, have inherited an old Priory from their uncle. When their solicitor warns them that the estate is said to be haunted, the three are intrigued and decide to live in the house together for a while so they can inspect their new property and plan some refurbishments.
Accompanied by their aunt, Mrs Bosanquet, and Celia’s husband, Charles, they move into the Priory and almost immediately hear tales from the neighbours of a mysterious Monk who wanders the grounds at night. At first the family are unconcerned, but it’s not long before they witness the Monk for themselves and are forced to accept that something strange is going on at the Priory. Is their new home really haunted or is someone trying to scare them away?
Footsteps in the Dark was Heyer’s first mystery and while I did enjoy it, I also thought there were one or two weaknesses. The characters felt very wooden – I found the two men almost indistinguishable and Celia and Margaret unbelievably silly (in different ways) – and while I did enjoy any scene featuring Mrs Bosanquet, the dialogue didn’t feel as sparkling and witty as I have come to expect from Heyer. The plot wasn’t particularly complex either and it was too easy to identify the villain. There is a murder, if you’re wondering, but it doesn’t take place until later in the novel so I wouldn’t describe this as a murder mystery like Envious Casca.
It was a lot of fun to read, though! With a plot based around a group of young people exploring a haunted house, I was frequently reminded of Scooby Doo – or maybe one of the Famous Five or Nancy Drew stories I used to love as a child. This is not a book to be taken too seriously, but Heyer does create an atmosphere which is genuinely eerie at times, especially if you’re reading when you’re on your own late at night! I probably won’t want to re-read this one, but I do look forward to reading the rest of Heyer’s mysteries.