Geoffrey Household, The Courtesy of Death (Bantam, 1967)
[originally posted 29Jan2001]
The late Geofferey Household tends to fall into the same category as Brian Moore; he wrote quick, satisfying thrillers that have been largely forgotten in today’s world of overblown, logorrheic monsters. The Courtesy of Death, Household’s twenty-second novel, centers on an ex-mining engineer named Yarrow, who’s attempting to settle down in the English countryside and find himself a combination inn/garage he can run. One night, while staying in the coach-house of an inn for sale near the historic site of Avalon, he is awakened by a pounding on the door. When he answers, he’s confronted with a lunatic on the run and babbling about all sorts of seemingly unconnected things. Being a nice sort of guy, Yarrow tries to help his new pal, one Barnabas Farnsworthy, and in doing so finds himself drawn into Farnsworthy’s circle of friends. Not necessarily a bad thing, unless your circle of friends happens to be an animistic cult with a secret they’d go to almost any lengths to hide.
Household writes a cracking good story, mixing in elements of the spy thriller, the supernatural thriller, and the basic mystery to come up with something that will be familiar to fans of all those genres, yet still has an air of originality about it. Household was a solid writer, and it’s relatively hard to go wrong with any of his novels; this is certainly a worthwhile starting point, not as cerebral as some of his books while retaining the page-turnability that marks all his work. ***