11. Barren Corn (1930) read once as of 2021
This is a book notable for having an ending that made me laugh aloud because it was so absurd and ridiculous. The rest of the book is a rather involved story about a selfish aristocratic man, a beautiful but not very bright lower-middle-class girl and how disastrous their marriage is. There are many possible other books that could have happened that would have been more interesting and enjoyable to read, and reading it you think about them a great deal more than the plot in front of you. The issue is very much not the class dynamics, but the way in which Heyer chose to explore them. Of her modern-set books she desired to be suppressed, this is a case where I am in accord with her choice.
12. The Conqueror (1931) read twice as of 2021
I wasn’t that interested in this the first time I read it, but it grew on me the second time. It’s a straightforward historical fiction portrayal of William the Conqueror’s rise to power. The relationship between William and Matilda is extremely edgy. I like the way her women behave as women and the men always behave as men, as well. There is a great deal of fascination, as well, in her descriptions of what life involved a thousand or so years ago, and how in certain little ways nothing much has changed. The hook is a fictional friend of William’s, who ultimately writes his story.
13. Footsteps in the Dark (1932) read once as of 2021
Now we come to an interesting genre change by Heyer. She began writing mysteries in the thirties, and then quit during the forties, with just a quick return in the fifties to put out a sequel and a final mystery. This is her first one.
I must mention that Heyer tends to really dig into sibling dynamics in her books, and it’s refreshing to see those relationships considered a normal part of *adult* life. This early mystery is about siblings inheriting a weird haunted old house and, well, the usual-ish sort of country mystery elements follow. I was never given to country house mysteries, but according to Heyer readers who like them, she is above average with most of hers. This is a case in point.
14. Devil’s Cub (1932) read twice as of 2021
There is a girl, and you know her, perhaps even quite well, and she can save the sexy, sulky rake. She can *fix* him!
This is the story of that girl, that one time she was right. And to her immense skill and credit, Heyer plays it very straight and by the end you’re sold too. This is a direct sequel to These Old Shades, about the son of the reformed rake from that tale. He is not as mythopoetical as his dad, nor is the girl Mary as strange a blend of innocent and cynical as his mother, but they are of a similar kind.
My favorite part of this book is Mary’s devotion to her virtue. To say more spoils a very funny but also very emotionally resonant scene.
15. Why Shoot a Butler? (1933) read once as of 2021
When I read this, I was working through Heyer for the first time chronologically as much as possible. I was steeped in Georgian and medieval depictions of clothing and food and by the time I came to this modern-set detective story, it lacked verve. It was kind of weird, honestly. The mystery was definitely mysterious, but the romance was out of nowhere, so far as I could tell. Having said this, Heyer rewards re-reads, so perhaps when I return to it one of these days I’ll have something different to say. It was weird and that’s really all I remember of it.