I think I may well have stumbled across a new guilty pleasure - Penhallow by Georgette Heyer is the type of book that makes commuting a joy. I actually began to look forward to my train journey in the morning (and considering it is still dark when I leave the house, that is no mean feat) because it meant half an hour of pure escapism. Georgette Heyer is probably best known for her Regency period novels, but she also wrote a number of Edwardian novels. What really caught my eye with Penhallow was the wonderful cover - so beautifully Art Deco!
So, on with the book. Heyer's writing style is very easy to read. She creates interesting characters and her dialogue is believable. Penhallow had comedy and tragedy and moved seamlessly between the two, without trivialising either. For me, there were genuinely heart-breaking moments and the comic moments, although not perhaps laugh-out-loud funny, certainly raised a wry smile.
The story follows a large, aristocratic family dominated by the cantankerous and devilish Adam Penhallow (an interesting choice of name - Adam, the first man?) Penhallow enjoys playing with people and rules his house with fear. His first wife is set on a pedestal, whilst his second wife can do nothing right and is bullied and humiliated by her husband. Penhallow has called all his children back to the family home for his birthday and we see the whole dynamic of the family creaking and breaking under the pressure.
What is most unusual about this novel in terms of it being a murder-mystery is that there is no mystery. We know who the murderer is and how/when they commit the murder. We already have the inside story, so what is clever is how convincing and believable the false leads are. Despite knowing the culprit, I couldn't help getting drawn in by the possibilities of the other suspects.
All in all, not a masterpiece but a good read none-the-less. A great example of a book that can take you to another place and time and make you forget the ordinary and everyday for the time you are reading it.