My first excursion into the world of Heyer… I’d heard so much and all of it fond. I hope you know what I mean by fond. Some people are written of with awe and trepidation, others with passion and verve. When I’ve heard people speak or write about Heyer, there’s a decided warmth and, well, fondness about it all.
In Cousin Kate, Kate Malvern loses her position as governess and seeks a temporary home with Sarah, her old nurse, while she finds a new one. Sarah, determined that Kate won’t be allowed to indulge her whim of working as a dressmaker (the horror!) writes to Kate’s dead father’s estranged half sister, Lady Minerva Broome. Lady Broome sweeps in, all velvet pelisse and sable muff, and takes Kate in, seeming kindness personified, but not many share Kate’s initial impression. The mystery deepens as Kate searches for the real reason she’s been asked to stay and why Lady Broome seems to be making it so hard for her to leave.
Into the mix add kindly old Lord Broome, ailling and benevolent, as well as sullen and changeable Cousin Torquil and Torquil’s cousin Phillip to whom Kate is forced to admit to a ‘decided partiality’. The stage is set.
I’m sure someone’s books have already been described as Regency romps, so apologies to whoever I’m stealing from, but it’s just exactly what Cousin Kate is: light-hearted, engaging and a lot of fun. Somehow Heyer manages to retain an overall sense of lightness despite the really quite dark events towards the end of the novel. Perhaps this is because the drama tips a little too easily into melodrama but it’s good fun all the same.
One of the things that made the book so thoroughly enjoyable was Heyer’s bonkers vocabulary. How’s this for starters – jobbernoll, rabshackle, nipcheese, chawbacon, hornswoggle and rumgumption, as well as terms of phrase like ‘knock-in-the-cradle’, ‘nabbed the rust’, ‘pitch me any gammon’ and ‘abandoning herself to the flesh-pots’. Oddly archaic they may be but somehow you mostly know what they mean. She also rivals Dickens for character names: Dr Delabole, Gurney Templecombe, Mr Grittleton and the Nidds all feature.
Heyer also writes with the verbosity of a river in full flood. Her membership of the ‘why use one word when 25 will do?’ club is presumably never allowed to lapse. But once I got into the flow (so to speak), I quite enjoyed the eloquent jumble of her style.
I also loved her eye for period detail, of rooms, outdoor spaces and – my favourite of all – food. Who doesn’t love a list of food? In fact, I’ll leave you with dinner at Staplewood, grand home of the Broomes.
“The cod’s head was removed with a loin of veal; and the soup with a Beef Tremblant and Roots. Between them, side dishes were set on the table: pigeons a la Crapudine, petits pates, a matelot of eels, and a fricassee of chicken…The second course consisted of a green goose, two rabbits, a dressed crab, some broccoli, some spinach and an apple pie. It occurred forcibly to Kate that Lady Broome’s housekeeping was on a large scale.”
[p.s. and if you’re as intrigued by Beef Tremblant as I am, you can read the recipe here!]