His exploits were legendary...
Captain John Staple, back from the battlefront, is already bored with his quiet civilian life in the country. When he stumbles upon a mystery involving a disappearing toll-gate keeper, nothing could keep the adventure-loving captain from investigating.
But winning her will be his greatest yet...
The plot thickens when John encounters the enigmatic Lady Nell Stornaway and soon learns that rescuing her from her unsavory relatives makes even the most ferocious cavalry charge look like a particularly tame hand of loo. Between hiding his true identity from Nell and the arrival in the neighborhood of some distinctly shady characters, Captain Staple finds himself embarked on the adventure-and romance-of a lifetime.
I have read so many Georgette Heyer books this year! So many! And yet I am still not tired of them. Part of the reason why is that she does things like this book, which I thought was one of her typical Regency romance. Instead, it’s a historical mystery with some romantic elements! Yay!
While I have trouble liking her contemporary mysteries, I am totally into the historical ones. Her writing is voice is different when she does historicals; its a weird blend of academic and humorous, and thought it’s The Toll-Gate isn’t as funny as some of her other books, it does still have that tone I love. (Her contemporary mysteries, meanwhile, are all hard-boiled and boring. The ones I’ve tried to read, anyway.)
This is a tricksy book, for it pretends to be a comedy of manners or something for the first chapter. It also pretends to be from the POV of anyone besides the actual protagonist: Captain John himself. That first chapter, unfortunately, is super boring and super misleading.1 You can totally ignore it though, because all it does is talk about how John’s family thinks he needs to get married because he’s a loose cannon. In actuality, John is used to being the army where he got to do important stuff, and being out of the army is apparently making him feisty. Also, he is tall and charming and clever and kind. Very likable, John, though he does do that thing where he knows the solution to the mystery but won’t tell any of it because he has a Plan. (It’s so annoying when detectives do that.)
After that terrible first chapter, thought, comes the good stuff. John wanders into a mystery, and as all good noblemen are bored to death and also noble, he sticks around to take care of an abandoned kid while also solving the crime.
The central mystery revolves around smuggling, kind of. There’s also some side mysteries, like a disappeared toll-gate worker and a highwayman. I particularly had a good time with the last few scenes: there’s a chase through some caves and a gunfight and it’s terrific! John wins through both cunning and brute strength, huzzah!
There is also some romance! Just a little, but it’s there. It happens because the heroine, Nell, is tall and competent and whammos John into falling in love with her at first sight. It’s a little silly, but I really liked Nell so I let it slide. She manages a huge estate for her ailing relative while also fending off creepy cousins and friends thereof. She deserves a break.
This is also an adventure story! Yay, adventures! It has something of the flavor of The Black Moth but without the satisfying swordfights.
I definitely recommend picking up The Toll-Gate if you’re a fan of historical mysteries!
Read: October 7-9, 2014
- Something to explain it: “According to Jane Aiken Hodge, this abrupt change occurred because Heyer wrote the first chapter without settling on a final plot; she was having family, health and financial troubles, and found it hard to focus on writing. Her husband once again helped out with the rest of the plot. Her other biographer, Jennifer Kloester, confirms the troubles, and also adds that Heyer resented having to write the book; she wanted to work on her medieval opus, but instead she found herself writing this, and paying rather less attention to the book than she usually did.” From this tor.com post ↩