I used to lover the Lord Peter Wimsey stories of Dorothy L Sayers so when I learned that respected children's author Jill Paton Walsh had continued the series I jumped to read them.
At the start of this book the ageing Lord Peter tells his wife Harriet about his first case. It is 1921, Lord Peter is suffering from shell shock and faithful manservant Bunter decides that a gentle house party (with no shooting!) would be good for him. But (in a homage to the Moonstone by Wilkie Collins) a mysterious Indian has designs on a large emerald owned by the family which has a mysterious inscription on its back. Lord Peter explains how he solved the case.
Back in 1951 the emeralds rear their ugly head again. Somehow two nearly identical emeralds have been switched. Peter delves back into the history of the appearances of these gems: every time they come out of the bank there is some drama and often somebody dies. Who is the serial murderer and what is their motive? Can anyone seriously have planned a crime that takes place over thirty years?
Whilst all this is going on we learn, in the best traditions of fan fiction, how the characters have developed since we saw them last. The great thing about Sayers' books is that they form an unbroken narrative from the early days of Lord Peter through to his wooing and marriage of Harriet. Now Walsh updates us on the kids. Dramatic things also happen to the family: Lord St George has been killed in the War leaving the Duke of Denver without an heir of his body: Peter is the next in line. Denver's wife, the Duchess, is unspeakably snobbish about low-born Harriet and the Dowager Duchess, Peter's mother, is wonderfully loquacious, her stream of consciousness full of joyous misuses. We meet other firm favourites from the past including Freddy Arbuthnot and Charles Parker who was a sergeant in 1921 (who read Origen), married Peter's sister and is now a Commander of Scotland Yard.
Paton Walsh has done all this admirably; I scarcely noticed the join. There are other moments when I could enjoy her craft: I especially loved the two cockney sisters who had an understated but characteristic grammatical style of their type.
What I didn't like was the plot! You may argue that some of the original plots were massively far-fetched but this one was especially difficult to believe in and the solution and the villain were not especially credible.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, galloping through it in a couple of days, and I am looking forward to reading the next.
February 2014; 338 pages
Also read The Late Scholar
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57