Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer

I am continuing to work, very slowly, through Georgette Heyer’s novels, though not in any particular order – just reading them as I come across them. As I discovered in the comments section of my Historical Musings post on Heyer last month, I seem to have read very few of the books most people name as favourites – books like Cotillion, The Grand Sophy and These Old Shades. I will get to them eventually, but for now I’m posting my thoughts on my latest Heyer read, Faro’s Daughter.

Published in 1941, Faro’s Daughter is one of Heyer’s Georgian novels, set slightly earlier than the Regency period for which she is best known. Our heroine is Deborah Grantham, a young woman who has lived with her aunt, Lady Bellingham, since being orphaned several years earlier. Finding herself struggling financially, Lady Bellingham, who has always enjoyed hosting card parties, has decided to open a gaming house in order to make ends meet. The intelligent and quick-witted Deb presides over the gaming tables and naturally attracts a lot of attention from the men who come to gamble. One of these is Adrian, Lord Mablethorpe, who is five years younger than Deb and convinced that he is in love with her.

Adrian is heir to a fortune and Lady Mablethorpe is horrified at the thought of her son marrying a woman from a gaming house. Luckily, there are still a few months until he comes of age and receives his inheritance, so she enlists the help of her nephew, Max Ravenscar, to ensure that the marriage is prevented. Visiting Lady Bellingham’s establishment to see Deb for himself, Max is surprised to find that she is not at all the common, vulgar woman he had been led to believe. He keeps his promise to his aunt, however, and offers Deb a bribe to stay away from Adrian, but Deb is so offended by this insult that she decides not to inform Max that she never had any intention of marrying Adrian in the first place – it will be much more satisfying to make him suffer for a while!

Like most of Heyer’s novels, this is an entertaining read with a lively plot involving card games, a curricle race, visits to Vauxhall Gardens, and even several kidnappings. It hasn’t become a favourite, though, and that’s because I just never quite managed to like either Max or Deb. Max annoyed me with his constant name-calling and failure to see through any of Deb’s schemes, and while I could appreciate Deb as a clever and resourceful heroine, I couldn’t warm to her either.

Heyer’s romances seem to be divided into a few general types and the ones like this or Regency Buck, to give another example, where the hero and heroine are engaged in a war of words and battle of wits, appear to be the ones I like least. I usually prefer the books where the romance develops from friendship and mutual liking or with a newly married couple learning to love each other. This isn’t necessarily the case when I read books by other authors, but it seems to be true of my experience with Heyer!

This book was a slight disappointment for me, then, although I did still find things to enjoy. Maybe it was just the wrong choice of Heyer at the wrong time, as I couldn’t help comparing it to my last one, The Corinthian, which I found a complete delight to read. I can’t love them all, though, and at least I still have many more unread Heyer novels to look forward to.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock opens in 1785 with merchant Jonah Hancock sitting in his London counting house waiting for his ship to return. Imagine his horror when his captain arrives at the door and confesses that he has sold the ship in exchange for a mermaid. The captain assures him that people will come from all over the world to see the mermaid and that it will make him a fortune, but Mr Hancock is not at all convinced…

Angelica Neal has been living in comfort as the mistress of a rich duke. When the duke dies, leaving her with nothing, Angelica needs to find another way to support herself. The obvious solution is to return to her former employment in Mrs Chappell’s brothel, but Angelica is more ambitious these days and decides to make her own way in the world instead. Her path crosses with Mr Hancock’s when his mermaid is exhibited at a party she is attending and an unlikely friendship begins to form between these two very different people.

The first thing to say about The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is that although mermaids and the legends surrounding them are symbolically important to the story, the part they play in the novel is relatively small. This could be a good or a bad thing depending on how you feel about magical realism, but be aware that the mermaid element of the story might not be what you are expecting. Their role is similar, in some ways, to the role of the serpent in Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent, one of several books to which this one has been compared.

As for the humans, I thought Angelica and Mr Hancock were both interesting, well drawn characters. Whenever the ambitious, strong-willed Angelica appeared on the page I was reminded of Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair and Sugar from The Crimson Petal and the White. It took me a while to warm to her and I still can’t say whether I actually liked her, but I did have some sympathy for her and, by the end, some admiration as well. Jonah Hancock is a very different type of character – a quiet, humble, middle-aged widower who is haunted by memories of his wife and son. Since their deaths, he has allowed his sister Hester and niece Sukie to take charge of his life, but his relationship with Angelica introduces another dynamic into the household.

There’s a colourful cast of secondary characters too, particularly the girls from the ‘nunnery’ as they ironically call it, and their grotesque ‘abbess’, Mrs Chappell, but I found that I was less interested in finding out what would happen to these characters than I was in reading about Mr Hancock and Angelica. One of them, Polly – a prostitute from a mixed race background who finds herself, like the mermaid, viewed as a sort of curiosity by the men who visit the brothel – had a lot of potential but her storyline was not really developed until late in the book.

The novel’s setting (Georgian England) is one I usually like and I was quite impressed by the author’s attention to detail and her attempts to recreate an 18th century world. The language and dialogue generally feels suited to the period, although I think Francis Spufford’s wonderful Golden Hill does this more effectively. Actually, it’s difficult to read this book without drawing comparisons with Golden Hill and if you enjoy one of them I think there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy the other!

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock will be published in the UK on Thursday and although I didn’t love it as unreservedly as I’d hoped, I predict it will be a big success for Imogen Hermes Gowar.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

the-black-moth The Black Moth, published in 1921, was Georgette Heyer’s first novel, written while she was still a teenager. I came to it having already read lots of Heyer’s other novels because I was advised that this was probably not a good place to start and that I would appreciate it more if I was already familiar with her later work. Now that I’ve read it, I think I would agree with that; I did enjoy it (although it hasn’t become a favourite) but I thought it had a slightly different feel from her later books and didn’t seem as polished.

The story is set not in the Regency period with which Heyer is normally associated, but the earlier Georgian period. Jack Carstares, eldest son and heir of the Earl of Wyncham, is a highwayman – though not entirely out of choice. He was accused of cheating at cards six years earlier and forced to leave the country in disgrace, but now he is back in England and trying to make a living in any way he can.

At the beginning of the novel, Jack discovers that his father is dead and that he is now the rightful Earl. He is reluctant to accept his inheritance, however, preferring to leave the estate to his younger brother, Richard. Jack, you see, was never actually guilty at all; he was covering up for Richard, who was the real cheat and who said nothing, allowing his brother to take the blame. Richard is not completely without a conscience, though, and after learning of Jack’s return, he feels increasingly guilty about what he has done – to the disgust of his wife, the beautiful but selfish and petulant Lavinia.

Lavinia is the sister of the Duke of Andover, who is known as ‘Devil’ by friends and foes alike, and who reminds Richard of a black moth. When Andover and Jack Carstares both find themselves drawn to the same woman, the fates of all of these characters become closely entwined once more and a chain of events is set into motion which could change each of their lives forever.

I’ve said that The Black Moth isn’t a favourite, but I did find it fun to read. Unlike some of the later Heyers I’ve been reading recently, such as Black Sheep and Charity Girl, which are more character and dialogue driven, this one is more action-packed and swashbuckling with a plot involving highway robbery, disguises, kidnappings and duels. It’s not as romantic a story as some since the focus is on the relationship between the two brothers, Jack and Richard, although that could be because Heyer was apparently writing this novel to entertain her own younger brother. Jack’s love interest, Diana, is maybe not one of Heyer’s stronger female characters, but I did like her – and was relieved that it wasn’t Lavinia who turned out to be the heroine!

Now that I’ve read The Black Moth, I’m looking forward to reading These Old Shades, which was published several years later and uses updated versions of some of the same characters. It’s one of many Heyer novels I’m hoping to read in 2017!


I’m taking a break for a few days, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my blog readers a Merry Christmas! I’ll be back next week with my books of the year and December summary.

A Death at Fountains Abbey by Antonia Hodgson

a-death-at-fountains-abbey I first met Thomas Hawkins two years ago when I read The Devil in the Marshalsea, a murder mystery set within the confines of a debtors’ prison in eighteenth century London. Last year Antonia Hodgson brought him back again for another adventure in The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins. And now we’re off to Yorkshire for the third book in the series – A Death at Fountains Abbey. Like the first two, this one could be read as a standalone, but I would still recommend reading all three in the correct order so that you can watch the characters develop throughout the series and avoid spoiling any aspects of the previous mysteries for yourself.

The plot of this third novel is inspired by real historical events and real historical figures, including John Aislabie, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who was held responsible for the South Sea Bubble of 1720, a financial disaster in which thousands of people were ruined. It’s to Studley Royal, Aislabie’s estate in Yorkshire, that Tom Hawkins is sent on a mission for Queen Caroline (wife of George II). The Queen wants Tom to investigate some death threats received by the disgraced former Chancellor, while secretly searching for a hidden ledger which lists the names of several prominent public figures who were involved in the South Sea scandal.

On arriving at the estate, Tom immediately discovers a whole host of suspects, all of whom could have reasons for wanting Aislabie dead. To complicate things further, a young woman has recently arrived at Studley claiming that she is Aislabie’s long-lost daughter, believed to have been killed in a fire at his London home many years earlier. With the help of his lover Kitty (posing as his wife for the sake of appearances) and his young ward, Sam Fleet, Tom begins to investigate both the death threats and the whereabouts of the ledger, a search that will take him all over Studley Royal and neighbouring Fountains Abbey.

Tom Hawkins is a wonderful character; while he’s a bit of a scoundrel – and admits to being a bit of a scoundrel – he’s a decent person at heart and I can’t help liking him. His relationship with Kitty moves forward in this book and we also see a lot of Sam Fleet, the London gang leader’s son whom Tom is trying to educate and turn into a gentleman. I enjoyed the brief insights we are given into Sam’s own thoughts and feelings, showing how desperately he wants to feel valued and loved – and thankfully both Tom and Kitty are beginning to see the good in him. There are some great secondary characters in this novel too, many based on real people.

As for the mystery itself, it’s quite a good one. There were plenty of clues from the start, but it would have been difficult to put them together correctly without knowing certain facts which are withheld until much later in the novel. I certainly wasn’t able to work out what was going on before the truth was revealed.

I enjoyed this book, but it does feel slightly different from the first two Thomas Hawkins novels. The London prisons, slums and taverns which provided the setting for The Devil in the Marshalsea and The Last Confession have been replaced here by the fresh air and open spaces of the Yorkshire countryside. I have visited Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey twice (they are now National Trust properties) and this really added to the experience of reading the book as I could clearly picture the ruined abbey, the water gardens, the follies and the statues. I’m now hoping there will be a fourth book in the series and wondering where Tom’s adventures will take him next.

By the way, if you were expecting to see my monthly Historical Musings post today, I promise it will be coming soon!

The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis

The Butchers Hook Life is not easy for Anne Jaccob, the young protagonist (more anti-heroine than heroine) of The Butcher’s Hook. Her mother is an invalid, her father is cold and distant, and she is struggling to warm to her new baby sister, who will never, ever take the place of the beloved little brother who died. The one bright spot in Anne’s life is her secret romance with Fub, the butcher’s apprentice, but even this is threatened when her father announces that he is arranging a marriage for her with the vile Simeon Onions. It seems that Anne is going to have to take matters into her own hands…

The Butcher’s Hook is the debut novel of Janet Ellis, who is probably best known for presenting the BBC’s long-running children’s show Blue Peter in the 1980s. It’s an unusual and imaginative story set in a Georgian London populated with colourful, larger-than-life characters. Many of them feel as though they could have stepped out of the pages of a Charles Dickens novel. There’s Titus Levener, the grotesquely fat butcher, and Dr Edwards, the sinister tutor who gives the young Anne an education she’ll never forget. There’s Angus, the Scottish soldier defeated in the recent Jacobite rising, who wanders the streets of London hungry, ragged and cold. And then, of course, there’s Anne.

From the beginning I was drawn into Anne’s world – the world of a lonely, confused young woman who has difficulty fitting in with the people around her. As the story progresses, Anne decides to take control of her life and shape her own destiny despite the obstacles which have been placed in her way. From this point on, things become very dark and twisted! I don’t want to say too much, but you need to be aware that you’ll be spending a lot of time in the company of a character who is seriously flawed and capable of the most horrifying things.

The Butcher’s Hook is an unsettling and atmospheric novel, with a plot that took me by surprise several times with its unexpected changes of direction. Based on this first effort, I’m sure Janet Ellis can look forward to a successful new career as a writer. To think that I nearly didn’t read it because I’m a vegetarian and found the title off-putting! My only disappointment was that I thought the ending felt slightly unfinished, as if there was more of Anne’s story still to be told; I don’t know whether there will be a sequel, but if not I’ll be interested to see what Janet Ellis writes next.

I had the opportunity to read this book just before Christmas, but have been waiting to post my review here until after the UK release date – which was yesterday. Thanks to Lovereading for the review copy.

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

The Convenient Marriage My library has very few Georgette Heyer books and I’ve read most of the titles they do have, so on a recent visit I was delighted to see this one on the shelf – one that I hadn’t read and in such a pretty edition. I think I still prefer the older Arrow covers with the historical portraits, but this one does look very attractive and I’m pleased to say that I thought the story inside lived up to the promise of the cover. Heyer’s novels are always fun to read and this one was no exception.

When the Earl of Rule proposes marriage to the eldest Winwood daughter, Elizabeth, she is faced with a dilemma. Her brother Pelham’s gambling debts are mounting up and she knows that the Winwoods are in need of Rule’s money. However, the man she really loves is Edward Heron, a humble soldier, and the thought of having to marry Rule instead breaks her heart. It is left to Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Horatia, to come up with the perfect solution – she’ll propose to Rule herself, leaving Elizabeth free to marry Edward.

Surprisingly, the Earl agrees to marry Horatia, not put off by her stammer, lack of height and eyebrows that won’t arch. But will the seventeen-year-old Horry and the thirty-five-year-old Rule be happy with their marriage of convenience or will the age difference prove too great to overcome? With a trio of enemies (Rule’s cousin and heir-presumptive, a jealous former mistress, and the vengeful Lord Lethbridge) determined to cause trouble and Horry’s brother Pelham equally determined to defend his sister’s honour, the plot soon descends into a series of farcical misunderstandings and moments of comedy.

Although I have read better Heyer novels and this one hasn’t become a favourite, I did really enjoy it. It was so entertaining, with never a dull moment – there are card games, duels, balls and masquerades, trips to the opera and to the circus, and encounters with highwaymen. This book is set in the Georgian period rather than the slightly later Regency and I loved the descriptions of the flamboyant Georgian fashions – powdered wigs, patches, silk stockings, blue velvet and puce satin, not to mention Crosby Drelincourt’s ill-fated straw hat with pink roses!

My only problem with the book, really, was that I didn’t like Horatia very much. I loved her opening encounter with the Earl of Rule and I warmed to her again by the end, but throughout the middle of the book she irritated me with her stubbornness and immature behaviour. I had to keep reminding myself that she was only seventeen after all.

I did love Rule. He’s one of my favourite Heyer heroes so far. He kept reminding me of the Scarlet Pimpernel, with his ‘sleepy eyes’ and lazy manner hiding a shrewd brain and quick wit. I loved the way he stayed so calm and patient with Horry, always trusting that she would do the right thing in the end. Horry’s brother Pelham, Viscount Winwood, was another great character. Some of the scenes involving the drunken Pel and his friend, Sir Roland Pommeroy were absolutely hilarious. I would have loved to include some examples here, but they really need to be read in context to be able to appreciate how funny they are!

Reading this book has reminded me of how much I love Georgette Heyer and how many of her books I still haven’t read yet!

The Deathly Portent by Elizabeth Bailey

The Deathly Portent is the second in a series of historical mystery novels featuring Ottilia Fanshawe (also known as Lady Fan). The first in the series is The Gilded Shroud, but it’s not necessary to have read that one first as this is a complete story in itself.

The story is set in England during the Georgian period. Ottilia and her husband Lord Francis are riding home from a visit to Ottilia’s godmother when their coach breaks down near the village of Witherley. When they send their groom to look for the village blacksmith, they discover that Duggleby the blacksmith has been the victim of a murder – and that Cassie Dale, a young woman who has been branded a witch, is being blamed for it.

Ottilia has recently solved a mystery involving her husband’s family and is confident that she will be able to solve this one too. Believing Cassie Dale to be innocent, she begins to investigate in the hope of finding the real murderer and clearing Cassie’s name, but things soon start to become more dangerous than she had expected.

As soon as I started reading this book it reminded me in many ways of a Georgette Heyer novel – the time period, the language, the characters’ names, the dialogue – and so I wasn’t surprised to read that Heyer is one of Elizabeth Bailey’s influences. The appeal of this book for me was really the historical setting and the characters, though I did enjoy watching the mystery unfold too. There were lots of possible suspects, all with different motives for wanting Duggleby dead, and I was kept guessing until the truth was revealed at the end of the book.

One of the reasons I enjoy historical or vintage mysteries is that in the past we obviously didn’t have all the scientific methods of crime-solving that we have today and so detectives had to rely on making careful observations, hunting for clues, and talking to suspects and witnesses. And so Ottilia spends a lot of time getting to know the various residents of the village, listening to gossip and trying to make deductions from what she learns.

I loved Ottilia and Francis as a couple – they are both very easy to like and some of my favourite scenes were the ones in which they both appear together. Ottilia is a strong, intelligent character with a real enthusiasm for detective work and her husband is very supportive, although he can’t help worrying about her, particularly when he thinks she’s putting her life at risk unnecessarily. I’ll be interested to see how their relationship develops in any future novels in this series.

The events of the first Lady Fan novel, The Gilded Shroud, were referred to a few times in this book but not so much that I felt the previous novel had been spoiled. I will probably go back and read it at some point as I enjoyed meeting Lady Fan and would like to see how she solved her first mystery.

I received a copy of The Deathly Portent from the author for review.