For real, is there anything as fun as an old-fashioned murder mystery in an English country house? They’re like catnip to me, to the extent that I’ve seen Gosford Park at least six times and aren’t even close to getting sick of it.
Speaking of which, Georgette Heyer’s The Unfinished Clue is almost a carbon copy of that movie. We have a motley assortment of guests gathered together in a country home for the weekended (they include the host’s mistress, the man in love with the host’s wife, and the host’s son with his new fiancee), and the host is an insufferable dick to everyone, giving everyone a motive. It’s so similar to Gosford Park, in fact, that murder itself is almost exactly like the movie – the host, Sir Arthur Billington-Smith, is found stabbed to death in his study. Actually, the solution to the mystery is pretty similar to Gosford Park as well, and that’s all the detail I’ll go into without spoiling it.
The whole thing is a fun, classic detective adventure, with fantastic characters. The detective is great, the suspects are all fully realized and complex, and Heyer also has a running joke where multiple characters remark on their own suspicious actions and how they totally could have done the murder themselves. The best example of this is Billington-Smith’s son, who brings home his Mexican dancer girfriend, Lola, to meet the family (it goes over about as well as can be imagined). Once the murder occurs, Lola instantly dons excessive mourning clothes and goes around loudly telling anyone who will listen that the police might arrest her because she had the most reason for wanting to kill her boyfriend’s father. Then she has a talk with her agent and decides that it’s probably better if she doesn’t get arrested and backs off. I only wish there had been more of her, but then again, her schtick might have gotten old pretty quickly.
I have to admit, however, that I guessed the ending to this mystery almost immediately. More accurately, I guessed the motive behind the murder, but was wrong about the identity of the killer – but I was still damn close, much closer than I should have been, since I’m usually so bad at guessing how these stories end. But transparent ending aside (no spoilers, but this is the second Heyer mystery I’ve read that ends with two characters who met less than a week ago deciding to get married), this was still enormously entertaining, and a good addition to the Georgette Heyer canon.
Verdict: four out of five stars