GEORGETTE HEYER – Behold, Here’s Poison. Supt. Hannasyde #2. Hodder & Stoughton, UK, hardcover, 1936. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1936. Dutton, hardcover, 1971. US paperback reprints include: Bantam, January 1973. Fawcett Crest, 1979. Berkley, July 1987. Also reprinted many times in paperback in the UK.

   There was a time in the 1970s, I’d say, when every used bookstore that carried paperbacks had a shelf devoted to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. For all intents and purposes, she created the category. Many publishers put out two or three a month, all following the style, pace and mode of Georgette Heyer’s books Those were gentler times, and modesty prevailed. The category no longer exists. Like Gothic romances, publishers stopped publishing them quite a few years ago.

   Heyer also wrote thrillers, twelve n all, four of them with Superintendent Hannasyde along with his trusty assistant Sergeant Hemingway, who if Behold, Here’s Poison is an accurate example, spent much of his time asking questions of the servants of the house.

   Hannasyde’s problem in this book is two or maybe even threefold. Dead is the master of the house, one in which two overlapping but directly related families reside, and all of them had to put up with Gregory Matthews’ temperament and mean-hearted ways, or move out. There are plenty of suspects, in other words.

   Problem number two: The doctor’s first diagnosis is that of natural causes, but when one family insists on an autopsy, the cause of death is discovered to have been nicotine poisoning. By t he time Hannasyde is called in, five days have gone by. No physical clues remain.

   Alibis are also useless. There is no way to even determine how the poison was administered. It’s a tough case for any detective to crack, and Hannasyde has to admit so also, if only to himself and Hemingway.

   But the dialogue between the squabbling and assorted family members is both wicked and delicious, particularly that of cousin Randall, whose sharp tongue exposes all of the false pretenses and facades of the rest of the family, much to the sophisticated reader’s amusement and pleasure. His barbs especially hurt since he is also the primary beneficiary of the dead man’s estate. He’s quite the character, Randall is, and one not easily forgotten once met.

   The solution to the mystery is the weakest part of the book. The killer’s identity I’d say is impossible for the reader to discern on his or her own. The motive, at least. You might be able to figure who done it by the process of elimination, but what’s the fun in that?

        The Superintendent Hannasyde series —

Death in the Stocks. 1935
Behold, Here’s Poison!. 1936
They Found Him Dead. 1937
A Blunt Instrument. 1938

       The Inspector Hemingway series —

   [all four of the above, plus]
No Wind of Blame. Hodder 1939
Envious Casca. Hodder 1941
Duplicate Death. Heinemann 1951
Detection Unlimited. Heinemann 1953