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Thursday 16 September 2021

‘Duplicate Death’ by Georgette Heyer

Published by William Heinemann,
31 October 2019 (HB),
Also available in Paperback & Kindle.
Originally Published 1951

'Well. I don't myself expect to be murdered when I sit down to a game of Bridge with a party of friends.'  So, Detective Chief Inspector Hemingway remarks, soon after he is called to the scene of crime. However, as Agatha Christie showed us in Cards on the Table, Bridge and Blackmail are both very dangerous games. In Duplicate Death Daniel Seaton-Carew discovers this the hard way; attending a Society Bridge party, he is summoned to take a phone call in his hostess' boudoir. Soon afterwards he is discovered strangled with a length of picture wire. 

Hemingway had known he was not going to find the case easy from the moment he'd heard there were forty-nine people in the house at the time (fifty-five counting servants.) Fortunately, most of the potential suspects were playing Bridge and could alibi each other but there were still plenty of people unaccounted for who had good reason to wish the victim dead. Seaton-Carew was a man-about-town who maintained his luxurious lifestyle by blackmail, drug dealing and other criminal practises. Seaton-Carew used his blackmail techniques to foist his 'friend' Mrs Haddington and her beautiful daughter, Cynthia, upon society and it was in Mrs Haddington's house that he was killed.

One of the chief suspects is Beulah Birtley, Mrs Haddington's secretary, a young woman with a dark secret in her past, which Seaton-Carew and Mrs Haddington were exploiting to force Beulah to stay in a job she loathed. Beulah is clearly terrified that her blackmailers will reveal her secret to the young man she is in love with, Timothy Harte, whom Mrs Haddington has earmarked for her own daughter. Timothy had met Chief Inspector Hemingway some years earlier, when Timothy was a schoolboy and Hemingway was a Sergeant investigating two murders in Timothy's family. Timothy is now a barrister. While his schoolboy hero worship of Hemingway is a thing of the past, Timothy is glad the case is in the hands of a detective whose integrity and intelligence he can trust.

The story is divided between Beulah and Timothy's tempestuous love story and Hemingway's investigation of the crime, but of course, as is always the way in detective fiction, just as Hemingway thinks he has found his killer another victim dies in a remarkably similar manner.

Duplicate Death is one of Heyer's best mystery novels. Timothy and Beulah are an engaging couple but the most fascinating thing about this book is that in it, Hemingway comes into his own. For the majority of the books featuring him, Hemingway is subordinate to Superintendent Hannasyde and, although he leads the investigation in No Wind of Blame, Scotland Yard is only called in two-thirds of the way through the book. It is only in Heyer's last two mysteries, Duplicate Death and Detection Unlimited that Chief Inspector Hemingway gets to show what he can do.

The essence of Hemingway's intelligent and perceptive character and his wide-ranging interests is illustrated in Duplicate Death when a suspect attempts to patronise him:

'”I don't know if you've read Jung?”

Inspector Grant's gaze shifted to the Chief Inspector's face. The Chief Inspector had two hobbies: one was the Drama; and the other, which he pursued to the awe, exasperation and amusement of his colleagues, was Psychology. He had listened amiably to Mr Butterwick's flow of words, but at this challenge he lost patience. “Yes, and Wendt, Munsterburg, Freud and Rosanoff as well!” he replied tartly.'

Duplicate Death is well worth reading. It is an amusing study of the Upper Classes, desperately trying to maintain a lifestyle that has been damaged, almost demolished, by the Second World War; it has a perceptive and likeable detective and a fascinating double murder as well.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Georgette Heyer  was born in London in 1902, had her first novel published when she was nineteen years old and continued to write novels of many genres for more than fifty years. During that time she never made a public appearance or granted an interview. The great majority of her books are historical romances set in Regency England, such as Devil's Cub (1934), Regency Buck (1935) and Faro's Daughter (1941). They are admired to this day for the meticulous research and profusion of essential ingredients - arranged marriages, murder, fashion, upper classes, sarcasm and humour. Indeed, Heyer set the tone for this entire genre. She was also one of the first of the female mystery authors - the group that includes Agatha ChristieDorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. When she died in 1974, she had fifty-one titles in print, legal translations of her work in ten languages and pirate editions in several others.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.
To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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