One of Georgette Heyer’s best mysteries — in fact, I believe her very best — is a Christmas-set story, entitled Envious Casca. It’s a favorite of mine (Victoria’s) and a Christmas book I want to recommend.
Of course, since it is a murder mystery, don’t expect a great deal of yuletide cheer. In fact, as you might assume from its genre, most of the characters are rather unpleasant and Lexham Manor may not be the house you dream about occupying in the quiet countryside.
The title Envious Casca comes from lines in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar:
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Thus we knew from the start that stabbing was the method of murder, and there may be a clue to the perpetrator — a friend? a relative?
One might also consider this a typical country house mystery. A dysfunctional family gets together for the holidays — various strains are evident from page one. If you enjoy an intriguing whodunit, you might give this a try for those hours after a big dinner when you are reaching for slumber…
Unlike many of Heyer’s, it is not a historical but set in her own time period, the 1930’s, and you might compare it with similar works by English mystery mistresses such as Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. The actual publishing date was 1941. The novel features one of Heyer’s continuing characters in her mysteries, Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard.
Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) wrote dozens of novels and short stories, some in collections, others in periodicals. She has been the subject of several biographies, the latest of which by Jennifer Kloester, will be available in paperback from Sourcebooks in January, 2013. It was published in the UK in 2011. Also available as an e-book soon.