by Georgette Heyer
Publication Date: January 1, 1954
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Suspense
Well, that was a fun, funny, and tedious read. I was both entertained and exasperated, and not a little impatient, the entire time I read it. I’m not quite sure how that works; it’s a first for me.
The book starts off at a house party to celebrate the 6th Earl of Saltash’s engagement. Other than the fact that Captain Staple is at the party, it and all the details and characters involved have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the book and never again come into play. So the first chapter and half of the second are entirely irrelevant. It’s only once Captain Staple leaves the house party that the story really begins.
Staple gets a late start, and gets caught in a storm that leaves him lost in the moors, until he finds himself at a toll-gate, late at night, being run by a terrified 10 year old boy. Looking for a place to shelter, Staple stops, and learns that the boy’s father, the real toll-keeper, was only supposed to be gone an hour but never came back. The next morning, Staple experiences love at first sight when he lays eyes on a woman, the squire’s daughter, passing through the gate on her way to church. Needing an excuse to stay, Staple tells the boy he’ll stick around to figure out what happened to his father, intending to woo the squire’s daughter at the same time.
What unfolds is a bit of a rollicking adventure that was almost entirely ruined by Heyer’s heavy use of obscure British slang and vernacular.
“Prigged his tattler, too, but I sold that. I’m a great one for a pinch o’ merry-go-up, and this little box just happened to take my fancy, and I’ve kept it. I daresay I’d get a double finnup for it, too,” he added.”
In context, I can ascertain the speaker is referencing a theft, but the entire book is written like this, which is what makes this well-plotted adventure so damn tedious. By midway through the book, I got the impression that Heyer was purposefully laying it on as thickly as possible, either to prove something to herself, or torture her editors and readers. Perhaps at the time of publication, readers wouldn’t have struggled with the senseless dialog, but I’d have appreciated a glossary – or perhaps just a great deal less verisimilitude.