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by Mary Andrea Clarke
Crème de la Crime, August 2007
288 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0955158958

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The Crimson Cavalier highwayman is in fact Georgiana Grey, a young upper-class woman who is fortunately (and improbably) financially independent. When one of her recent victims, the unpleasant Sir Robert Foster, is murdered the general assumption is that The Crimson Cavalier is to blame. To clear her name Georgiana must track down the killer, and it soon becomes apparent that there are a host of suspects, including her own brother, the starchy Edward, as well as the cool and intelligent Max Lakesby.

Any reviewer confronted with this book has to deal with an elephant in the room – the elephant being, of course, Georgette Heyer. Unfortunately, even if we set the elephant aside for a minute, this is a very lightweight affair – the characters are stereotypes, the mystery plays second fiddle to Georgiana's escapades and the solution to the puzzle is far from astonishing. Still, if you want a bit of undemanding 18th century aristocratic fluff (the period detail is light) this might meet the need – were it not for that elephant!

It is hard to understand why a writer would select this milieu. Heyer is so definitive, so good, has the market so sown up, that anyone who has read her cannot fail to find this a pale imitation. The slang, the settings, even the characters, instantly call up comparisons with Heyer, and better books than this would be condemned by the contrast.

Indeed early books of Heyer's (early historicals that is – it should not be forgotten that she also produced a number of very fine and under-rated mysteries) often have the kind of adventure plot featured in THE CRIMSON CAVALIER. It would, of course, be possible to produce a mystery set in the period which avoided the Heyer comparison, but it would be necessary to eschew entirely the upper-class, social world which she has forever made her own. There are times when a reviewer has to be brutal if they are to be honest: if you want to read an 18th century upper-class adventure then go and read Queen Heyer.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, January 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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