The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's a shame that the younger readers, who were not alive to read a Georgette Heyer hot of the press after it had been serialised in the Ladies Home Journal and had to be specially ordered, have no idea that Ms Heyer created the genre. No one else had set popular fiction in the Regency period and her Regency novels burst on the scene as original, new and delightful.
Ms Heyer researched the period carefully, collected volumes of contemporary letters, diaries, journals and official documents to get the 'feel' of the language. She studied the etiquette and customs, visited many of the places popular during the Regency and studied the political and social history. She did not have the internet to go to for a quick fix - thank goodness!- and her novels were not silly, sexually titivating, frothy pap. Her Regency novels ranged from pure romance to mysteries and adventures and they also gave the reader 'real' 3D characters set in detailed, socially correct backgrounds and allowed the reader to gain an understanding of what life was like for a range of people. Her knowledge shines through so that she could write with authority and make a social commentary. ('Arabella' is a good example of this.)
'The Unknown Ajax' is a favourite of mine because the Ajax is such a delightful creation and he makes me laugh. This is one of the mystery romance plots, with smugglers thrown in to boot. We begin with the family, the Darracotts, waiting the arrival of the new heir. This man, Hugo Darracott, is a man spurned by his grandfather, the current head of the family, because his father married a Yorkshire 'weaver's brat'. Major Hugo arrives because he has been summoned to find the entire family expect him to eat peas off his knife and sleep on the floor. He cannot resist pulling their legs and begins to speak broad Yorkshire and lead them on. It's a great plot, well written and told and of course the Ajax comes off best.
If readers have only read the modern Regency novels they will find Ms Heyer's books a much more demanding and intelligent read. But if they love the historical period then they really should read the writer who began it all and who writes much more accurate, historical and socially correct novels.
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