Twenty-First Century Books

The Late Scholar

The first Peter Wimsey novel I read was Strong Poison. I found it on a book-shelf in what we called the library (previous incarnations had had the room being our playroom, and before that the garden-room; it is not a grand room, simply where my father keeps his reference books) when I was about ten.

I fell in love with Lord Peter and subsequently collected as many of the other novels as I could. I have read, and own, almost all of them. I think there’s just one left for me to find.

I was, therefore, quite delighted to discover that Jill Paton Walsh – who so wonderfully completed Thrones, Dominations and added A Presumption of Death to the corpus – has added two more. Apparently I started with the most recent – The Late Scholar – but given that my love of Wimsey and Bunter did not begin at the beginning in any case, I doubt that this will cause me too many problems.

Anyhow. Time has moved on, and I was saddened to hear of Lord Saint-George’s death in the Battle of Britain and of Gerald, Duke of Denver’s, in a house fire, leaving the duchy to Peter. I am glad that his mother is still with us.

The Late Scholar returns us to Oxford, where both Peter and his wife, the crime-novelist Harriet Vane, were at university, and where they were married. St Severin’s College, of which Peter has unexpectedly become Visitor, is in trouble, the Fellows arguing over whether to sell a medieval (possibly one of King Alfred’s) manuscript. And then one of them dies. So Peter and Harriet, the wonderful Bunter in tow, go to Oxford. And discover there were other attempts. Attempts which copied those of Harriet’s crime novels, which in their turn were based on some of Peter’s cases.

It was a suitably complicated puzzle – Wimsey’s preferred method of knowing how to knowing who not helping – with old friends from previous novels making appearances, from Peter’s friend and brother-in-law Charles Parker to Harriet’s artist friends in London, all leading to a really quite dramatic conclusion.

If Harriet seemed a little staid from her years of marriage and Peter’s habit of quoting others somewhat suppressed, neither of these detract from what is otherwise an excellent continuation of Peter Wimsey’s detecting career, even now he is Duke of Denver. I was quite pleased that, despite the years since I last read a Sayers novel, I could still recognise which of her novels had been paid homage to in this one, with its copy-cat murderer.

It is not often that I like the work of those writing new stories for much-loved characters once the original creator has died, but Jill Paton Walsh’s novels I do. I look forward to finding The Attenbury Emeralds.

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