Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Source: Personal copy
One of the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries, this book is atypical since it was one of the stories that was abandoned by Dorothy Sayers and completed much later by Jill Paton Walsh. It starts with Harriet and Peter returning from their honeymoon and follows them as they settle down in London.
This is not the best book to start the series with firstly because it was not written entirely by Dorothy Sayers and secondly because it messes up the chronology. But it was an enjoyable read. The mystery took some time to come front and centre, but once it did, the story moved along pretty smoothly.
Witty, intelligent Lord Peter Wimsey is an amateur detective who is called upon to solve crimes in Britain between the two world wars. Harriet Vane is a writer of crime fiction and has been associated with Peter for many years. She only recently agreed to marry him.
In this book, the second world war is brewing and political matters are very sensitive. The story starts with the death of the King (is it Edward the VII?) that plunges the country into mourning.
Peter Winsey and Harriet Vane are trying to settle down into domestic life in London. They have to deal with the fact that Peter has married beneath him, family objections to Harriet continuing to write her crime fiction novels, and arranging their domestic affairs so that both the help and Harriet are comfortable. In the midst of this, murder comes calling and it happens to be someone they are acquainted with.
The story started pretty slowly, but it was not something I got impatient with because I was enjoying the period that the story is set in. For the time it is set it, it is refreshing to see that Lord Wimsey and Harriet Vane’s relationship is on an equal footing.
The mystery itself was a good read. The author takes her time going over every clue, witness and account.
Other reader reviews I’ve seen are on either end of the spectrum – they either loved it (maybe because they were getting more of Peter and Harriet) or they hated it because Walsh just didn’t get the tone right and the characters don’t sound like themselves any more.
One thing I did find a little forced was including contemporary politics in the story. Peter Wimsey disappears on mysterious errands for King and country, but I wasn’t very convinced that needed to be there.
The introduction of French and Latin quotes needed some explanation. I’m sure not all readers can spot the allusions/context and understand them without translation.
I liked this book. Didn’t love it, but now that I’ve whetted my appetite for Lord Wimsey, will be going back to read the originals in the series.
Read it for an easy mystery, or if you are a Dorothy Sayers fan who wants to get more of the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries. Don’t expect it to be like the original though.