Lord and Lady Peter Wimsey have returned from their honeymoon and are adjusting to life as the most unexpected married couple in 1930s London. The former Harriet Vane finds that happy marriages may not make for great mystery writing, and Lord Peter seems determined not to allow his smooth, urbane mask to slip in society so that others would know how deliriously happy he is that Harriet finally said yes. No one can understand why a man who could have any woman in England would choose a plain, overeducated female who seems determined to continue to work for a living.
Just as the Wimseys’ marriage seems cool and rigidly correct, the Harwells seem passionately in love. He is rich; she is beautiful. What could go wrong? Perhaps the portraits that the famous artist, Monsieur Chapparalle, is painting of Harriet and Rosamund Harwell will reveal the secrets that each woman is harboring inside. Secrets will out, and misunderstandings can be deadly.
I have been a great admirer of Dorothy L. Sayers for decades. I own all of the original Peter Wimsey mysteries, have read her translation of Dante’s Inferno, one of her Canterbury morality plays (one is enough), as well as a biography of Sayers, and I own a collection of her essays called A Matter of Eternity. I particularly appreciate her essay concerning Jesus and women. Amen, sister. Sayers was a contemporary of “the Inklings,” and bristled when her name was used professionally without her middle initial. She felt that if C.S. Lewis could have two initials and J.R.R. Tolkien could have three, couldn’t a woman have one? She was an academic who started writing mystery novels late in life when her alcoholic husband was driving them into the poorhouse. Let’s face it: if it were not for Peter Wimsey, we wouldn’t remember her at all. Well, perhaps college professors would know her for her acclaimed translation of The Divine Comedy.
According to the author’s note at the end of Thrones, Dominations, Ms. Sayers had already started this novel, but gave it up to work on theater productions and the Dante translation. Jill Paton Walsh, a Booker Prize-nominated author, was asked to pick up the manuscript and bring it to a fitting conclusion. I had known Ms. Walsh before as the author of many children’s books, but for some reason, I had never paid attention to her “New Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane Mystery” series. I think I burned out on dead author remakes with all of the Jane Austenesque volumes, which vary widely in quality. Recently, however, I saw an ad for the latest in Walsh’s series, and the reviews were excellent. I was intrigued, so I requested this first volume from our library. From the first page, Walsh retains the style and wit of Sayers’ original works, with a clever mystery and welcome updates on all of our favorite characters. It was a thrill for this devotee to learn more about Peter and Harriet, particularly how their unusual relationship would fare under the censorious glare of the English aristocracy, especially Peter’s family.
Here is a series continuation that does not disappoint. I will be certain to read the other three (so far!) entries, since there are very exciting developments at the end of this book. If you are a Sayers fan, a mystery enthusiast, or love the sparkling badinage of early 20th century English writing, take heart! Here is a whole new series to savor.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.