Tag Archives: historical detective fiction

Friday Faceoff – Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down…


This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is a cover featuring stairs, so I’ve selected Murder Must Advertise – Book 10 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers.


This cover, produced by HarperTorch in May 1995, is boringly generic. They have taken one of the original images and plonked it into the middle of a white cover. The best part of this cover is the period feel of the font, which is well done.


This edition was produced by Four Square Books in 1962 and is a far better effort. There is a real sense of drama conveyed by the crumpled body at the bottom of the twisting staircase with all the advertisements behind him on the wall. My big quibble with this cover is that ugly black block for the title font – if it wasn’t for that, this one would be my favourite.


Published in 1967 by Avon Books, this edition is my favourite. I love the marble effect of the cover and the lovely art deco effect produced on both the image and the fonts for the author and title, which look as if they have actually been designed to complement each other.


This edition, published by HarperPerennial in 1993 is another good effort. The staircase looks far more seedy and shadow of the hapless victim on the wall while falling to his death gives a rather creepy feel to the cover.


This Dutch edition, produced by Uitgeverij Het Spectrum is another blast from the past as it was produced in 1961. I like the punchy effect of the cream and black against the red, which I think would have been a much stronger colour before it faded with age. The figure falling headfirst down the stairs gives lots of drama to the cover, making it appealing and eye-catching. Which is your favourite?

Review of The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh


You’ve just finished re-reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors for the nth time with a deep sigh… ‘They don’t write them like that, anymore,’ you mutter, kicking the cat in disgust.  However, Jill Paton Walsh, an accomplished murder mystery writer in her own right has adopted The Mantle and has written three more Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. I’ve just completed The Attenbury Emeralds – and while she may not have the exact feel of Sayers, she has skilfully negotiated the timeline so that it isn’t such a big issue.

attenburyIt was 1921 when Lord Peter Wimsey first encountered the Attenbury emeralds. The recovery of the magnificent gem in Lord Attenbury’s most dazzling heirloom made headlines – and launched a shell-shocked young aristocrat on his career as a detective.

Now it is 1951: a happily married Lord Peter has just shared the secrets of that mystery with his wife, the detective novelist Harriet Vane. Then the new young Lord Attenbury – grandson of Lord Peter’s first client – seeks his help again, this time to prove who owns the gigantic emerald that Wimsey last saw in 1921. It will be the most intricate and challenging mystery he has ever faced…

It certainly is intricate. Walsh weaves through a series of timelines with assurance and skill, as we follow the very complicated fate of this amazing gem. Several surprises are served up along the way – and you may guess whodunit – I didn’t, but then I generally don’t try very hard when I’m in the hands of a really good mystery spinner, preferring to just allow the story to whip me long in its wake. But, for me, the highlight of this novel isn’t necessarily the labyrinthine plot, it’s catching up with a host of other favourite characters – Charles, Helen, Gerald and, of course, Bunter. Who in 1951 is an outright anachronism.

So, does Walsh pull it off? Yes, in my opinion she certainly does. By jumping ahead to the fifties, the fact that Lord Peter’s speech and mannerisms have changed is completely believable and the impact of death duties and a new mood sweeping the country on aristocratic families works very well. Sayers’ wonderful, complex detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, may not have quite the dynamic intensity in Walsh’s reincarnation – but then again, he is now well into middle age, after years of domestic bliss. The angst-ridden edge that haunted many of the earlier novels during his long, sometimes desperate, courtship of Harriet Vane, alongside his guilty misery whenever he successfully tracked down a murderer, is bound to be blunted.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and successful transition of one of detective fiction’s most famous and well-loved characters. It was a very big ask for any author to take this project on, but Jill Paton Walsh has definitely fulfilled the brief.