Book Review: The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer

To meet the Darracott family of Darracott Place, Sussex, comes Major Hugh “Hugo” Darracott, an unknown relative and now heir of the irascible Lord Darracott.

The Darracotts are convinced that Hugo is a country bumpkin because his father, Lord Daracott’s second son, married a Yorkshire weaver’s daughter. They poke fun and are determined to dislike him, believing he will never know what it means to be a Darracott of Darracott Place. His cousins are disgruntled by the fact that Hugo, having “brass” of his own, is not dependent on his grandfather.

But Hugo is more astute than they give him credit for

and immediately takes the measure of his newfound relatives with very entertaining results. In particular he is drawn to the plight of his youngest cousin, Richmond, who is Lord Darracott’s favourite. Sickly as a child, Richmond is still cossetted by his mother and grandfather, and as a result is denied an army career and the normal freedoms allowed a nineteen year old. Despite Hugo’s warnings that Richmond is not as docile as he appears and is up to mischief, Richmond is left to his own devices, taunting the local Customs officer and having an unhealthy interest in smuggling, with serious consequences.

Hugo is a giant of a man, with a very affable disposition and a wicked sense of humour. He reverts to his Yorkshire dialect to annoy his cousins and deliberately ignores their taunts, giving the impression that he is a little slow witted. He lets information about himself be misconstrued and even invents a fiancée as a foil against his grandfather’s plan for him to marry his rather snobbish cousin Anthea, who also does not approve of the idea.

While Hugo is a wonderful hero and the other characters are likeable in various degrees, Claud Darracott is my favourite, a London dandy who tries to take his cousin under his wing and kit him out in the current fashions. Hugo refuses to co-operate much to Claud's chagrin, but Claud is happy with compromises. Often the butt of his brother Vincent's cruel and deprecating remarks, Claud is never downcast for long. He knows he is the least favourite of Lord Darracott's grandchildren and tries not to draw attention to himself.

This is one of Heyer’s more comedic novels and another, like The Nonesuch, where the romance is not the main focus. Family dynamics dominate this story, with the romance developing in the background, that is until Anthea realises that she loves Hugo, but then doesn't wish to be seen as a fortune hunter when his true wealth his discovered.

The ending is farcial, but oh so entertaining, as all the Darracotts rally round to protect Richmond. For once pulling together instead of being at odds with one another, thanks to an ingenious plan concocted by Hugo and Claud’s seemingly over the top acting.

The Unknown Ajax may be considered another of Heyer’s less popular novels, but I loved it!

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