Tag Archives: Lord Peter Wimsey mystery

Review of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers


When I was younger, I was completely besotted by Lord Peter Wimsey. I burned through all the books and then reread them –  always a rare event for me. There are far too many good books out there in the world to waste time revisiting ones I’ve already sampled. Besides – what if the next time around, I find that the whole experience is less exciting or enjoyable? Then I’ve ruined both reading episodes… But when Himself reread this book as a treat after a particularly gruelling spell at work – I scooped it up afterwards and tucked in, convinced that Sayers is a writer of such quality, I wouldn’t regret revisiting this desperate adventure.

Can Lord Peter Wimsey prove that Harriet Vane is not guilty of murder – or find the real poisoner in time to save her from the strong poisongallows? Impossible, it seems. The Crown’s case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge’s summing up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of killing her lover. And Harriet Vane shall hang. But the jury disagrees…

And THAT is how a book blurb should read, people! We have a clear idea of exactly what the first set of problems besetting Lord Peter will be in punchy, concise language, so the reader can decide whether they like the book, or not without having at least the first half of the main plot points blurted out on the back cover.

The quality doesn’t end there. This is a joy to read. I loved the drama and Lord Peter’s reaction. I loved all the characters peopling the story and the final section, purportedly by Peter’s uncle, is just outstanding. The prose stands up very well, because Sayers doesn’t see fit to layer her book in swathes of heavy description using every multi-syllabic word she can cram onto the page. Like all great writers, she has an inborn instinct about what needs to be said and the best way to say it. Of course, this was written in the days when anyone found guilty of murder was hanged, so there is real tension in this story, as Lord Peter battles to clear Harriet’s name. It is – literally – a matter of life and death.

What I’d forgotten from my first reading, was just how much humour is also woven into the tale. I giggled aloud at some of Lord Peter’s drier comments – and the séance scene is not only gripping, but regularly tips into outright farce. As for the scenes between Lord Peter and Harriet – they crackle with intensity and this granny – who regularly rolls her eyes at the noisy snogging sessions in films – still found her heart beating faster at Lord Peter’s passionate championing of Harriet.

It is a gem of a book. Truly. As is the whole series. And if you haven’t read them, and you have ever enjoyed a crime novel, then track down Lord Peter Wimsey’s adventures. You’ll thank me if you do.

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.