Losing one's way and ending up in a strange and (oft times) sinister situation is a plot technique often used by mystery writers. [See Death Knocks Three Times, and The Whispering House]
Georgette Heyer's Why Shoot a Butler? also begins with our hero Frank Amberley (a brilliant barrister as the blurb has it) helplessly lost as he tries to make his way to Greythrone, the home of his uncle and aunt. It is not that he has never been to Greythrone, it is only the fact that he was trying to follow a shortcut that seems to meander forever. Finally, on a deserted road, he encounters a car and a girl standing beside it. He asks for directions but the girl (a sulky beauty - courtesy the blurb) behaves as though he is extracting her tooth for all the information she volunteers. Not used to such a treatment - because usually it is he who is treating people like dirt - Amberley decides to bother her all the more and subsequently discovers that there is a dead body in the car and that the girl (a Miss Shirley Brown as we come to know later) has a gun with her. This first encounter between the two sets the tone for the rest of the novel which consists in large part of bantering and fencing between the two of them. After a point this gets so tiresome that I just wished them to declare their true feelings for each other and spare us.
In between all these - I am more smart than you - exchanges there are three murders, a sinister house, a dusty book, cousins and siblings, dumb and dumber policemen, an omniscient aunt, and an adorable uncle who is the only redeeming feature in this otherwise mess of a mystery.
Sometime in 2012, I did a post on my Top 12 Agatha Christies. One of the books that was strongly recommended was Endless Night. Now I know very well that amongst her novels, there are only three I haven't read: Postern of Fate, Passenger to Frankfurt, and By the Pricking of My Thumbs. So obviously, here was a book that I had read but forgotten. Then at the start of this year, Tipping My Fedora had a wonderful post on the same book that made me all the more determined to read it. Unfortunately, I found the narrative a drag and the characterisation uninspired.
Michael Rogers, estranged from his mother, is a loner and a drifter. He meets American heiress Ellie and after a whirlwind romance marries her. The couple settle at Gypsy's Acre where they build a dream house. However, the land is supposed to be haunted and soon the dreams turn into nightmares. The novel's premise is good but the unconvincing ending spoiled the book for me. Also the characters were insipid and I could hardly relate to anyone of them.
In fact, I found only two points of interest in the book. (Since these are SPOILERS, please don't read any further if you have not read the book)
Didn't you find the hypocrisy of Andrew P. Lippincott (Uncle Andrew indeed!) just sickening? He knew the truth and yet he concealed it. How double-faced!
And then there is this moment: Ellie is singing and Michael comes in and they have this cryptic dialogue:
"Why are you looking at me like that, Mike?"
"You're looking at me as though you loved me...."(126)
Did she know then? Had she guessed? This is the only thing that intrigued me in the whole book.
First Line: THE SIGNPOST was unhelpful.
Title: Why Shoot a Butler?
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publication Details: NY: Bantam, 1970
First Published: 1936
Other books read of the same author: (Among others) The Black Moth, The Reluctant Widow
First Line: In my end is my beginning....That's a quotation I've often heard people say.
Title: Endless Night
Author: Agatha Christie
Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1967
First Published: 1967
Other books read of the same author: (Among others) And Then There Were None, Ordeal by Innocence, Sparkling Cyanide