This is part of a series on Beautiful Books; see the full series here.
Background: Georgette Heyer (pronounced “Hare”) published her first book, The Black Moth, at age 19, and published 57 novels in as many years. She wrote contemporary mysteries and historical novels, but is most famous for her Georgian and Regency romances. She essentially invented the Regency romance subgenre. Her fans include Noel Coward, Stephen Fry, Dorothy L. Sayers, and most name romance writers, including Mary Balogh, Nora Roberts, & Catherine Coulter.
With guilty pleasure reads, the guilt often outstrips the pleasure. So when witty Erin McKean of A Dress A Day (who used to edit the Oxford American Dictionary & now writes novels) named her favorite bath-tub reads, I made note. Her list included books by Georgette Heyer, Donald E. Westlake, and Angela Thirkell; since I’m a romance reader (yes, one of them), Heyer was the obvious first choice.
I started with Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, and that was it. I was hooked. Heyer uses enough exclamation points to give Elmore Leonard indigestion. She goes through adverbs like water and often uses speech tags other than “said.” She breaks a lot of rules, and yet, at its best, her work is frothy, ridiculous magic.
What makes her stand out, aside from her period knowledge, is her wit. A sample quote from Frederica (part of a conversation between the hero Lord Alverstoke & his sister):
“Do you mean to tell me that Mr. Trevor read my letter?” demanded Lady Buxted indignantly. “Your secretary?”
“I employ him to read my letters,” explained his lordship.
“Not those written by your nearest and dearest!”
“Oh, no, not them!” he agreed.”
Most readers like her romances best, then her mysteries, and finally her historical fiction, although individual books vary dramatically in quality. Keep in mind that her romance books are more often romps than romances, and there are no sex scenes. Her language is also denser than modern genre readers are used to, and she piles on the period slang. I like slang (e.g., “make a cake of oneself,” “doing it far too brown”), and there are Heyer websites to help you decipher it all, but if you’d rather not, try her mysteries instead.
Finally, as mentioned, her work can be uneven. Goodreads ratings and reviews are very helpful in weeding out the bad novels from the good; I’d personally start someone off with The Grand Sophy, Cotillion, Frederica, or Black Sheep (romances) or Behold, Here’s Poison, The Unfinished Clue, or They Found Him Dead (mysteries).
Back to the ostensible reason for this post, however: the exquisite Heyer reprints by Sourcebooks. They are highly collectible and a joy to read. Each book features jewel-like coloring, bright endpapers, and high-quality white paper. They are also distinguished by brilliant and period-appropriate cover & spine images, carefully selected from private art collections (though some covers were taken from Arrow editions, Heyer’s UK publisher). For the full scoop on the reprints, check out this interview with Sourcebooks’ Dawn Pope at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and check out Sourcebooks’ website. The best online prices as of this posting were at Amazon & Walmart, though I’d recommend trying her work at the library first.