Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer

Footsteps in the Dark Georgette Heyer is more famous for her Regency romances, but she also wrote twelve mystery novels. Until now, the only one I had read was Envious Casca, but I decided to try another one for this year’s R.I.P. event. Footsteps in the Dark, published in 1932, turned out to be a good choice. More of a haunted house story than a traditional mystery, there are secret tunnels, underground passages, ghostly happenings and noises in the night. A perfect October read!

Celia Malcolm and her brother and sister, Peter and Margaret Fortescue, have inherited an old Priory from their uncle. When their solicitor warns them that the estate is said to be haunted, the three are intrigued and decide to live in the house together for a while so they can inspect their new property and plan some refurbishments.

Accompanied by their aunt, Mrs Bosanquet, and Celia’s husband, Charles, they move into the Priory and almost immediately hear tales from the neighbours of a mysterious Monk who wanders the grounds at night. At first the family are unconcerned, but it’s not long before they witness the Monk for themselves and are forced to accept that something strange is going on at the Priory. Is their new home really haunted or is someone trying to scare them away?

Footsteps in the Dark was Heyer’s first mystery and while I did enjoy it, I also thought there were one or two weaknesses. The characters felt very wooden – I found the two men almost indistinguishable and Celia and Margaret unbelievably silly (in different ways) – and while I did enjoy any scene featuring Mrs Bosanquet, the dialogue didn’t feel as sparkling and witty as I have come to expect from Heyer. The plot wasn’t particularly complex either and it was too easy to identify the villain. There is a murder, if you’re wondering, but it doesn’t take place until later in the novel so I wouldn’t describe this as a murder mystery like Envious Casca.

It was a lot of fun to read, though! With a plot based around a group of young people exploring a haunted house, I was frequently reminded of Scooby Doo – or maybe one of the Famous Five or Nancy Drew stories I used to love as a child. This is not a book to be taken too seriously, but Heyer does create an atmosphere which is genuinely eerie at times, especially if you’re reading when you’re on your own late at night! I probably won’t want to re-read this one, but I do look forward to reading the rest of Heyer’s mysteries.

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22 thoughts on “Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer”

  1. Well, I do not take any books by Heyer seriously. This one is the first of the “detective” novels that are rather good compared to the Regency romances. But “Footsteps in the Dark” is definitively a first try in the genre. Enjoyable but not outstanding.

    1. Well, some are more serious than others, I suppose! I found this book quite silly but I did enjoy it and thought it was a good first attempt at a mystery novel. I preferred Envious Casca, which was a later one.

      1. I have no patiennce and no time for the Regency novels but I enjoy the whodunnits. The one I like best is usually the one that liked less: “Penhallow”. I find in it some psychological depth that is nowhere else. But all whodunnits are great fun.

  2. I’d been reading Heyer for many years before I discovered that she had written mysteries (not to mention the contemporary novels). This is the first one that I tried, and I was surprised to find it a bit silly – but lots of fun. I particularly enjoy Mrs. Bosanquet as well!

    1. Her romances are much more popular, but the mysteries are definitely worth reading. The two that I’ve read have both been a lot of fun, so I would recommend trying one. 🙂

  3. I’ve never been drawn to Heyer, although lots of readers whose views I deeply respect speak very highly of her. Mysteries are more in my vein than Regency works, so perhaps I should seek some of them out – although possibly not this one:-)

    1. I do enjoy Heyer’s Regencies but I can see that they wouldn’t appeal to everyone. The mysteries are written in a different style so I think it would be worth trying one. Based on the two I’ve read (and on what I’ve heard) the later ones are more complex and polished.

  4. I think this was possibly the first Heyer book which I ever blogged about and I remember that I also said that it reminded me of Scooby Do, but as you say, it was still an enjoyable read, and I think her mystery books improved after this one.

    1. With four young people – two male and two female – a haunted house and a ghostly monk it was hard not to think of Scooby Doo! All that was missing was the dog.

  5. I think I”ve only read one of Heyer’s mysteries but I can’t remember which one! I should check out a few more. It was interesting when I read her biography to find that her husband created the plots and she executed the writing. (At least that’s how I remember it.)

  6. I remember liking the one Heyer mystery I read, meaning to try another one day, but not rushing. It’s time I tried a second, and I’m pleased to know that you liked ‘Envious Casca’, because I know I have a copy somewhere.

  7. I haven’t read this one in years, so I don’t remember about the wooden characters, but one flaw of most of Heyer’s mysteries, although not all, is that most of the characters are likable, so if there is one that isn’t, that’s usually the murderer. So, I agree that it is probably easy to guess the murderer. One Regency book she wrote that has a mystery in it, sort of, is The Reluctant Widow. That one might be fun to read again.

  8. I actually think this is my favorite Heyer mystery. I just found it so light-hearted and it was refreshingly easy to like the main characters since they were not murder suspects. I think the Scooby-Doo reference is completely apt.

    In general, in Heyer’s mysteries, I find the characters somewhat indistinguishable. But really, when you read a lot of Heyer (which you do!), I feel like this is true from one novel to another, too. A lot of the same characters repeat, it’s just maybe the mysteries have bigger casts so it comes out more in the same novel.

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