The Toll-Gate, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Guest review by Laura Gerold of Laura’s Reviews

Originally published in 1954, The Toll-Gate is a regency novel by Georgette Heyer. Unlike the other books I’ve read by Heyer, The Toll-Gate is not so much a regency romance as a regency mystery with a bit of romance.  The novel is set in 1817 in the Peak District, which is an upland area in north central England mainly in Derbyshire (which is also the setting for many scenes in Pride and Prejudice).

Captain Jack Staple is on his way to visit a friend, when he discovers a toll-gate untended except for a small boy. He quickly discovers a mystery in the disappearance of the boy’s father and decides to pretend to be a mysterious cousin to the boy to investigate the case. Captain Jack has found life to be rather boring after his stint as a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, and is more than a little willing to be caught up in the odd mystery of the toll-gate.  Soon he finds himself dealing with a highwayman, treasure, a Bow-Street runner, and murders.

He also discovers Nell, the local squire’s granddaughter.  His family’s previous attempts to set him up with a nice girl have failed, but he finds love at first sight with Nell.  While he is dealing with the mystery of the toll-gate, he is also trying to rescue Nell from her cousin and his strange friend who appear to be up to no good. Nell is a feisty character and I really enjoyed reading the interactions between Jack and Nell.

I must admit that I did not like The Toll-Gate as much as I have loved all other Heyer novels that I have read.  This book was entertaining and a good mystery, but I was expecting a romance and my expectations were not met. Also the book seemed to get caught up in jokes involving the vernacular of the lower classes. I could understand what they were talking about mostly, but felt left out of the joke a lot of the time. Plus, I must admit to a personal dislike of books that use a lot of vernacular.  Heyer writes with great detail as usual, it’s just in this case the detail dealt a lot with the way the different classes spoke at the time and I found it a little hard to get into and enjoy.

Overall, The Toll-Gate is a good mystery, but it is very light on regency romance and full of vernacular jokes.

The Toll-Gate, by Georgette Heyer
Trade paperback (304) pages
Harlequin (2009)
ISBN: 978-0373774128

Laura Gerold first fell in love with reading when her Great-Grandma Kile gave her the Little House on the Prairie series when she was eight.  She has been unable to stop her reading addiction ever since, and discovered the regency world in her teens with Jane Austen’s wonderful novels.  About five years ago, Laura discovered Georgette Heyer’s novels and was excited to find such a wonderful “new” author that really brought the regency world to life.  She is a water resources engineer and mother of two, but loves to write about her reading obsession on Laura’s Reviews, a blog she started in 2007.

Celebrating Georgette Heyer – Day 12 Giveaway

Enter a chance to win one copy of The Toll-Gate, by Georgette Heyer (Harlequin, 2009) by leaving a comment stating what intrigues you about the plot or characters, or if you have read it, which is your favorite character or scene by midnight Pacific time, Monday, September 6th, 2010. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 7th, 2010. Shipment to continental US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck!

Upcoming event posts

Day 12   Aug 20 – Review: Bath Tangle
Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: Sprig Muslin
Day 13   Aug 22 – Review: April Lady
Day 14   Aug 23 – Review: Sylvester

Celebrating Georgette Heyer   •   August 1st – 31st, 2010

29 thoughts on “The Toll-Gate, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

  1. Part of the reason I love Heyer so much is because of all the research that went into her books and she really shows off here, probably because most of her other novels don’t give her the chance to touch much on the lower classes. For me, that made it an even more interesting and educational reading experience. Generally, I’m not a huge fan of mixing too much suspense and mystery in with the romance, but I still love The Toll-Gate. Much of that affection has to do with Nell and Jack, both of who I adore.

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  2. The Toll Gate is one of my favorites. Then again, I do like mystery with my romance (or even romance with my mystery!) so this book works for me. Plus, I love words for themselves so I really like all the different cant.

    And while the romance doesn’t take center stage, what there is of it is quality.

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  3. I’m glad to hear it was just me! I think a lot of it was expectations I had for the book and thinking it would be a romance . . . and also my personal dislike for too much vernacular. I must admit that even a book like The Color Purple annoys me for the same reason.

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  4. The Toll-Gate is not so much a regency romance as a regency mystery with a bit of romance

    This description intrigues me. I love a good mystery!

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  5. The Toll Gate has always been one of my favourites, for all the reasons that Laura disliked it. Captain Jack and Nell are very atypical in their appearance and attitudes and I always loved that Heyer didn’t ignore the ‘masses’.

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  6. The Toll-Gate is one of my favorites as well. Of course, I am a sucker for the big men with a reprehensible sense of humor–Sir Anthony in The Masqueraders, Jack Staple here, and Hugh in The Unknown Ajax. Heyer has mastered her craft here, because for me, the cultural and historical information never overpower the story. And I love Jack and Nell together!

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  7. I recently re-read The Toll-Gate, and found, like so many of Heyer’s novels which I had first read in my teens, it had changed on me.

    I thought it was a mystery the first time I read it, and thought it curious, but rather nice that Jack and Nell married in the end. But this last time I read it, I realized that though the mystery might get more overt attention, the romance was there. It is very subtle, and you have to “read between the lines” quite often. But if you are paying attention, you can see the romance between Nell and Jack ever so slowly flowering. I found it quite charming.

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  8. Thanks for the review. I’m quite fond of a good mystery and so am interested by the prospect of one in this novel.

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  9. I am looking forward to reading this one. Murder mysteries were my first book love. I really like Heyer’s contemporary whodunits and I’m curious about her Regency-set mysteries.

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  10. Like several others, The Toll-Gate is one of my top 10 favorite Heyers, I think because of the mystery element. The mystery is a theft, primarily, under very interesting circumstances, and there’s murder. I also like the fact that Jack, while a tall man and former soldier, isn’t the typical arrogant, saturnine Hero of, say, Bath Tangle (not one of my favorites!). And I agree with other readers, too, who enjoy the secondary characters – Nell’s grandfather and nurse, the highwayman, the Bow Street Runner, even the “bad guys”, Nell’s cousin and his house guest. They’re all well drawn and believable. I guess I like intrigue mixed in with my romance because I also enjoy The Unknown Ajax, Corinthian, Quiet Gentleman and Reluctant Widow.

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  11. I enjoyed this one, but I do remember feeling disappointed that there wasn’t more romance. I got over that and enjoyed the kind of man Capt. Jack Staple was. It was a good story.

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  12. I really only have a vague recollection of this book. I never was sucked into the world and the characters the way I was with other Heyer novels. Hopefully reading it a second time will help me to connect to the characters and plot better.

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  13. I am more of a romance lover myself, but I will definitely give this one a try when I am more in a mystery mood :-)

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  14. The Toll Gate sounds like an interesting mystery with a kind hero with a soft spot for a scared little boy. Of course, a little romance added in the mix is always welcome!

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  15. I guess I am definitely in the minority for The Toll-Gate. Truthfully it is the only Heyer novel that I’ve read thus far that didn’t capture my fancy. But that is just one person’s opinion!

    Heyer wrote a lot of fabulous books. I was thinking about other authors today. Jane Austen wrote six novels and they were all masterpieces, but she was definitely in the minority. I love Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, but it is definitely her masterpiece. I like her other novels, but they just aren’t as enjoyable. The same thing goes for another favorite author of mine, Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca is definitely her masterpiece, but she has some other quite good novels such as Frenchman’s Creek, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn to name a few. And then there are other novels such as The Flight of the Falcon that I don’t really care for.

    Heyer was prolific with her 57 or so novels published in her lifetime. I still have a ways to go to have read all of her novels, but I have loved all of the ones I have read so far except for The Toll-Gate. It would be very rare indeed for one reader to love all 57 novels and consider them all masterpieces! Or is there someone out there who does like them all equally??

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    • While I have a list of top 10 favorites (which has 15 titles on it!), I also have a list of the bottom 10. These are the Heyer novels that I don’t re-read – they’re either not interesting enough or there are things about them that irritate me, especially women acting stupidly or childishly. They are: Cousin Kate, Civil Contract, April Lady, Arabella, Bath Tangle, Charity Girl, False Colours, Lady of Quality and Regency Buck. It’s interesting, though, that Heyer fans don’t agree on their top/bottom 10, making me think that none of them is a dud, really.

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      • Interesting that your “bottom 10” includes some of my very favourites. I agree with you about Cousin Kate, April Lady, Bath Tangle (not sure if it is bottom 10, though), Lady of Quality (sort of). But A Civil Contract is just about as good as it gets (see today’s review and comments)!! You really ought to give it another try. And False Colours – rofl?

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  16. I certainly like TTG more than Bath Tangle. The romance is different in that both of them fall in love at first sight – he a giant of a man and she an amazon of a woman. And they acknowledge it to one another within about three days (or less?), so there’s no suspense about them getting together – the suspense is all elsewhere. But the action taken by Nell’s grandfather’s certainly took me by surprise!

    I loved the homely details of Jack moving in with the boy and cleaning up both him and his home. And Nell’s groom and nurse each coming over to look over Jack and make sure he is acceptable – and the romance between the nurse and the highwayman.

    I loved Jack’s friend showing up and lending a hand.

    The resolution of the mystery is a bit melodramatic for my taste – but then Jack was a soldier!

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  17. This is one where the secondary characters make the book, I think. Stogumber is a hoot, and the last scene is great.

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  18. The discussion so far has added to my interest in reading this book. I love the Reluctant Widow so the mystery aspect of this book appeals to me.

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  19. I also loved the Reluctant Widow and I love this one. I think perhaps I like the love story because it is low key. They sort of look at each other and say, oh, there you are! And I also like the stories with a bit of mystery.

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  20. Pingback: ‘Celebrating Georgette Heyer’ at Austenprose – August 1st – 31st, 2010 « Austenprose

  21. This one sounds delightful. I’m actually quite intrigued to read a Heyer where the romance doesn’t take center stage … that isn’t a requirement for me, and I think she’d handle this sort of thing rather well.

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  22. The Reluctant Widow and the Talisman Ring are among my favourite Heyers in large part for their mystery elements, but The Tollgate never quite made the grade for me. I read it a few times over the years whenever I ran out of the others, and can’t say I hate it exactly. I even recognize its great atmosphere, like in The Black Moth but oh-so-much-more polished. However, Tollgate, like Cousin Kate and Arabella, is a permanent part of my Bottom Ten (the rest vary).

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  23. I know I’ve read it, but I remember very little. Sounds like a good time to check it out again, since it is a mystery.

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