Since The House on the Strand just missed the cutoff for the 1968 Club, I dug around and realized there was a Georgette Heyer novel published that year that I'd never read! It had been awhile since I read any Heyer, and this one turned out to have Gothic overtones as well, so it was seasonally appropriate.
|Cover of the first edition, it is so wonderfully Gothic.|
The story: our heroine Kate Malvern is 24, orphaned and impoverished, and can't seem to hold down a job as a governess, but is still spunky and doesn't seem concerned that she's never been presented and is probably considered off the shelf by Regency-era standards. Kate has been sacked after receiving an unwanted proposal from the brother of her employer, and turns to her old nanny Sarah, who is now married and running an Inn. Kate spent her childhood following her father through his military postings in Spain and Portugal, and has few qualifications or prospects, though she thinks she might find employment as a upscale lady's maid. Sarah is scandalized by the thought of her former charge stooping so low, and contacts Kate's long-estranged aunt, Lady Minerva Broome. Auntie had been estranged from her older half-brother, Kate's father, years ago after became the second wife of the wealthy (and much older) Lord Timothy.
So. Lady Minerva sweeps up out of nowhere and whisks Kate back to her estate, Staplewood, which she has spent years transforming into a showplace. It is also the home of her young son Torquil, who is sickly and spoiled though beautifully handsome -- and a little strange. Kate wins over everyone, including the charming and rather detached Lord Timothy, and his nephew Philip, who dislikes Lady Minerva. Kate can't understand the old estrangement between her late father and his half-sister until she realizes that maybe Auntie has ulterior motives of bringing Kate to Staplewood. Torquil is alternately charming and paranoid and Kate finds herself attracted to Philip.
This is definitely less of a light-hearted Regency romp I was expecting. Aunt Minerva is a little sinister and I found Torquil downright creepy. There were definitely elements in this book I was not expecting, and I enjoyed it although I did think the characters didn't have nearly as much development as in some of her other book -- it was almost as if Heyer was concentrating so much on the Gothic side that she didn't have time to work on the charming characters that I've grown to expect. It was close to the end of her writing career (#54 out of 58 novels, by my count) so it's possible that the quality of her work was declining. I've only read ten of her novels and I mostly chose them at random, so I don't know if I can judge accurately. But, overall, a fun and diverting read set in the Regency period, which is the whole point of reading Georgette Heyer.