The Unknown Ajax, by Georgette Heyer
I always enjoy a good Heyer novel, though I don't always review them here. The last one I read was just OK, so I didn't post about it, but it wasn't bad either. On the whole, I think we should all admit that Georgette Heyer was the best writer of Regency romance-comedies ever. She simply cannot be beat. Her dialogue is always great, her comedy excellent, her detail and knowledge unmatched. And The Unknown Ajax is one of the best of the romances that I have read.
The Darracotts are not a united family, and they are headed by the irritable -- nay, enraged -- Lord Darracott, who is particularly angry that his eldest son got himself killed in an accident. Now the family must accept an estranged and unknown cousin -- from Yorkshire! who is half commoner! -- as the heir. Major Hugo Darracott arrives, a huge and amiable man, and everybody expects him to be both stupid and vulgar.
Anthea, the young lady of the house, is particularly irritated by Hugo's arrival, for Lord Darracott's solution to the problem Hugo presents is to make her marry him. She is therefore icy and unwelcoming, but once Hugo persuades her that he has no intention of marrying her, they become good friends. Anthea's younger brother Richmond presents a problem, for he is eighteen, enormously energetic, and completely thwarted in his desires to join the Army. He has nothing to do but get into trouble.
There is a romance in this story, but it's almost incidental compared to all the other action crammed in. A mismatched and feuding cast of cousins, the local free-traders and the Preventative men who want to catch them, and all sorts of complications take up most of the book, and it's all great fun.
Footsteps in the Dark, by Georgette Heyer
I find Heyer's mysteries to be less dependable than her romances, but I always read a new-to-me title if it's available. This one was a fun surprise, and I think it's one of her better mysteries.
Celia, Peter, and Margaret, siblings, have unexpectedly inherited a crumbling estate, so they decide to check it out and have a holiday -- along with Celia's husband Charles. All the locals warn them it's haunted by the Monk, a terrifying robed apparition, but they are modern, educated people and don't believe in ghosts. The weird sounds, the strange events, the skull that bounces down the stairs...they don't convince everyone to flee, although Celia is pretty freaked out. And why does half the village seem to be in their garden all the time?
It's very much a Scooby-Doo, Three Investigators kind of plot. Very well done, too.