This is the first of two reviews I’ll be posting this week for Simon and Karen’s 1954 Club, one of their twice-yearly events where we all read and review books published in the same year. Georgette Heyer was such a prolific author I find there’s usually a book of hers to read for any year that is chosen! The Toll-Gate is her 1954 novel and one I hadn’t read before.
Like many of Heyer’s novels, this one is set in the Regency period. Our hero, the ‘overpoweringly-large’ Captain John Staple, has just returned from the Peninsular War and is finding it difficult to settle back into the monotony of civilian life. During a particularly tedious dinner party celebrating his cousin’s engagement, John decides to escape the next day and travel north to visit an old friend. Setting off alone on horseback, he becomes lost in the dark and rain and stumbles upon an isolated toll-gate somewhere in the Peak District. A frightened ten-year-old boy is collecting the tolls in the absence of his father, who has disappeared without explanation, so John decides to stay overnight to keep the boy company in the hope that his father will be back in the morning.
When the gatekeeper fails to return the next day, John finds himself helping to man the toll-gate for much longer than he’d expected, encountering highwaymen, thieves and Bow Street Runners. This is so much more exciting than one of cousin Saltash’s boring parties and John soon discovers that he’s in no hurry to leave, particularly when he meets Nell Stornaway, attractive, intelligent and, most importantly, tall – nearly as tall as John himself! Nell lives with her dying grandfather at nearby Kellands Manor and the old man’s heir has recently arrived, accompanied by a disreputable friend. But is it just the inheritance that has drawn them to Kellands or could they be mixed up in the disappearance of the gatekeeper?
Like The Quiet Gentleman, this is a Heyer novel where the focus is on the mystery rather than the romance. The romance is still there, but in a more understated way than usual. However, even though it’s love at first sight, it’s a romance I could believe in, because the hero and heroine seemed perfect for each other. I liked both of them – they are two of Heyer’s more sensible and mature characters, despite John’s love of adventure. And he certainly finds plenty of adventure when he chooses to spend the night at the toll-gate! The opening chapter set at Lord Saltash’s engagement party really doesn’t fit with the rest of the novel at all – it feels as though Heyer is setting up an Austen-style comedy of manners in that chapter, but once John sets out on his journey that aspect of the novel is abandoned and none of the characters we’ve met appear again. I was interested to learn that Heyer wrote the first chapter before deciding on the rest of the plot and had originally intended John’s family background to play a bigger part than it eventually did.
The dialogue is peppered with Heyer’s usual Regency slang, as well as the thieves’ cant used by characters such as Chirk the highwayman, and this adds colour and authenticity to the story. However, although I did enjoy this novel, it hasn’t become a favourite by Heyer; it seemed to lack her usual humour and I do tend to prefer her funnier books! Still, it was an entertaining read and a good choice for me for 1954 Club.
Other books from 1954 previously reviewed on my blog:
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by PG Wodehouse
Three Singles to Adventure by Gerald Durrell
Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier
This is also book 17/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.
25 thoughts on “The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer – #1954Club”
I have to find some Georgette Heyer books to reread – sadly, my local library doesn’t seem to stock them anymore. I used to really enjoy her novels when I was younger!
My library used to have a lot, but now just seems to have two or three. It’s a shame as I’m sure there are still plenty of people who would like to read them!
Yes, my library keeps telling me they have to get rid of them because they have no room for reserve stock (i.e. books that are not current bestsellers)
When I reread this one last year, I thought it was lots of fun. Good choice for the 1954 Club!
Yes, it has a very entertaining plot. Not one of my top few Heyers, but I still enjoyed it.
I’ve been meaning to try Heyer for a while now. I think I’ll start with her mysteries though!
I’ve only read a few of her mysteries, but I particularly enjoyed Envious Casca (which now seems to be published under the title A Christmas Party).
How interesting – I knew Heyer did mysteries and I knew she did period romances, but I didn’t know the two crossed over! A good choice for 1954!
I’ve only read two or three that I could describe as crossovers, but there could be more. I enjoyed this one and my second choice for 1954 Club is going well so far too!
I’ve read several of Heyer’s Regency romances, but not this one! I don’t think I’ve even seen this one before, so it was fun to read your review. 😀
It doesn’t seem to be one of her better known Regency novels but it’s still a very good one!
Love that there’s always a Heyer! A shame it wasn’t super funny, because I definitely agree from the one I’ve read that her wit is wonderful.
The dialogue in this one didn’t seem to sparkle the way it does in some of her other books. It’s still a good read, though, and a good choice for 1954 Club!
Nice review. I must give her a try!
Her books are great! I would definitely recommend trying one.
This isn’t my favorite Heyer either. Nice one, but a bit slow and not as entertaining as her other books.
There are others that I’ve enjoyed much more than this one, but I think even the Heyers that aren’t quite as good are still fun to read.
I don’t remember this one, but it seems as if it might be good for a reread when in the mood for something quieter and less sparkly. It can be gratifying when a couple who are perfect for each other get together, without tons of angsty immaturity.
Yes, I do like it when Heyer writes about more mature couples. This isn’t one of my top few books by Heyer, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Great review! I read this one, when I was still in school, so don’t remember the details. Must find it again. Your right about her two distinct styles- the pure romance and the romance cum mystery. I remember “The Quiet Gentlemen” very well. Others of that genre include “Cousin Kate”, “The Foundling”,and if I’m not mistaken, “The Reluctant Widow”.
I forgot about Cousin Kate! Yes, there’s a touch of mystery in that one too. The Foundling and The Reluctant Widow are two Heyers I haven’t read yet, but I hope to get to them eventually.
The Reluctant Widow is a lovely book and probably has a bit more humour in it as it has one of her brilliant younger brother characters. Cousin Kate is definitely not one of my favourites for some reason. It’s lovely to find another Heyer fan as we both picked the same book for 1954.
Thanks, Janette. I’ll move The Reluctant Widow further up the TBR!
Sounds fun, even if not a new favourite. I haven’t read anything by Georgette Heyer, but I really think I need to! 😊
Her books are always entertaining. I hope you can try one soon!