"The butler did it" is such a staple of mystery writing (and parlor games and jokes) that doing in the butler in the opening pages of "Why Shoot a Butler?" clearly identifies Georgette Heyer as an inventive author — and one not above writing with tongue firmly in cheek. This classic country house mystery is prime Heyer territory filled with a strong sense of of time, place and character.
If you're not familiar with Heyer, she's the author I turn to when I need a break from re-reading Jane Austen. Her characters all have a strong independent streak, are intelligent and witty and able to deal with almost any eventuality. Most of her books are set in the early 19th century, a period she knows so well that her novel of Waterloo — "An Infamous Army" — has been used as a text at Sandhurst.
I've read almost all of Heyer's novels at least once. If I woke up in Regency England I'd know what a tiger does with a yard of tin. Her books are so steeped in the events and slang of that era, that it never occurred to me she might be equally adept at writing in another genre and era. "Why Shoot a Butler" is my first foray into this new territory and the 1930s country house setting was a romp.
There's the sleuthing barrister, the damsel in distress, the shady staff at the great house, lots of cocktails and smooth cars. The mystery is plausible, though I did not figure it out. I did, however, manage to catch a few clues. And it had all the things that make for a good read: words that were new and unfamiliar and required looking up; throwaway references to both historical events and classic characters in literature; bits of trivia about the running of an estate and wonderful names like Upper Nettlefold.
A good read for a rainy afternoon at the lake house.