July 1, 2009

The Toll-Gate by Georgette Heyer

I love Georgette Heyer's historical romance novels for their combination of colourful characters, frolicking adventures, exuberant humour, and mercurial mystery. I have many Heyer favourites including Devil's Cub, Frederica, Sylvester, These Old Shades, The Reluctant Widow and now The Toll-Gate. I think The Toll-Gate sets itself apart with more than the usual hint of romance.
It takes a lot to unnerve Captain John Staple, a man with a reputation for audacious exploits and whimsical nonsense. But when he finds himself mired on the moors— on a dark and stormy night, no less! —John hardly expects to find a young, frightened boy who's been left alone to tend a toll gatehouse….
Never one to pass up an adventure, John decides to take up residence in Derbyshire as a gatekeeper until he can find the lad's father. But as John investigates the suspicious disappearance, he begins to unravel a far more complex mystery. And at its center is a woman— the very one to tame John''s reckless spirit….
Captain John Staple is making his way to his friend Henry Babbacombe's home in Leicestershire and becomes lost due to imprecise directions. Having wasted many hours, in the night he finally comes upon the toll-gate pike road he was looking for manned by a obviously frightened young boy. Having learnt the boy's father has disappeared John Staple takes upon himself looking after the boy until the morning. In the morning at the first sight of Miss Nell Stornaway waiting to pass the toll-gate to go to church, Captain John Staple is lovestruck and duly rendered speechless for some moments. He decides to stay and take care of the toll-gate until the boy's father reappears and to find out just exactly who Miss Nell is...
This story is very sweet at times...Nell and John pronounce their love for each other not very far into the book, which provides us with many romantic moments whereas Heyer's books usually only have romantic moments in the last chapter. The reading of the story was a bit more challenging because a lot of "cant" or "flash" language was used and there were unfamiliar words (e.g. tater, hog-grubber, tipping over the dabs, bowman prig, twigs), which made for a tad frustrating but amusing read trying to decipher the colloquialisms.
There is the invariable sparkling dialogue and all the characters in the novel are well developed with each their own little idiosyncrasies. The plot is paced nicely around mysterious events such as the disappearance of individuals, clandestine assignations, nocturnal adventures, secret relationships, theft of sovereign coins and investigations of multiple murders. I loved the more romantic bent to the story, I loved Captain John Staple (there is a scene when he takes of his shirt off at the water pump and I could so imagine his big, brawny body!) and how devoted he is to Nell. I loved that the mystery was so well thought out. There is nothing not to love about The Toll-Gate and I highly recommend to fans of Heyer, romance and historical fiction.
My Rating: 5.0


  1. I have very recently become a fan of Heyer's mysteries and now I am moving on to her historical romances. I agree, she is a great writer, I will have to ut this one on my wish list.

  2. Lilly I only started reading Heyer last year and I cannot believe how long I have been missing out on a truly excellent writer. Sylvester, Frederica and The Reluctant Widow are all in my top five Heyer's along with The Toll-Gate...I have read a few others but I definitely recommend these. Enjoy!

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