This was a very strange Heyer. It wasn't entirely without charm, but there were flaws a plenty. Let us begin with those (there are spoilers coming, so be warned):
First, this was supposed to be Heyer's version of a "gothic romance," but, yeah, there was absolutely NO SUSPENSE whatsoever. The suspense is the heart of the gothic: who's behind the mysterious happenings? Is the hero really a bad guy? Are there supernatural influences? Is the heroine mad, or is she really being stalked? What is going on with the ghostly footsteps/tapping in the gallery/movement of the tiny statuette of the frog . . . whatever?
Heyer reveals everything by the midpoint of the book. Philip is in love with Kate. Kate is in love with Philip. Torquil is violently mentally ill. Aunt Minerva is terrible.This is not suspense, people.
Second, Heyer's depiction of Torquil's mental illness bears no relationship with what mental illness really looks like. I can forgive this to some degree, because it is obviously just a plot point, and a lot of gothics have "mad" people in them which also bear no resemblance to actual mental illness, but honestly, it feels like Heyer didn't even do the most rudimentary research, which given how carefully she researches the customs and shibboleths of the regency era seems like a pretty massive oversight here. It's a caricature.
The ending of that aspect of the plot is also bizarre and way too convenient.
So, it fails as a gothic. But does it succeed as a romance?
And here I say yes. I love Kate - she is independent, forthright, candid and scrappy. All in all, a delightful Heyer heroine. She's not caught up in frivolities and snooty customs. I also loved Philip - he reminded me a bit of the Hero from The Quiet Gentleman. This is a man with substance - he's not a dandified youth with too many folds in his neckcloth, he appears not be even remotely obsessed by the shine of his Hessians or the cut of his coat. He's a landowner of better than average prospects who takes seriously his obligation to the land and the people who live on it. Totally refreshing here. He's also age appropriate. Yay.
The one aspect of the romance that doesn't work very well is the speed with which it occurs. But when there is a madman about, I suppose that a guy needs to move fast.
When I read a Heyer, I try to take a few moments at the end of it to consider whether or not I think that the couple will really stick. A lot of her romances, I am pretty unconvinced. This isn't one of those. I think that Kate & Philip will make it after all is said and done.
This is a book to read by Heyer completists as it is far from her best. It's definitely a second rate - maybe even a third rate - Heyer. But for all that, I still found parts of it charming.