Sayers, Dorothy L. & Jill Paton Walsh. Thrones, Dominations.

NY: St. Martin, 1998.

I originally had my doubts about this book. Continuations by other hands of the lives, adventures, and cases of well-known fictional detectives almost never work, from Sherlock Holmes on. But this is actually a pretty good effort, as shown by the fact that after the first chapter or two, you’ve forgotten that Sayers didn’t actually write it, that she left only an incomplete plot outline. It’s 1936, a few months after the events of Busman’s Honeymoon, and Lord Peter Wimsey and his new wife, novelist Harriet née Vane, have just returned to London from a brief sojourn in Paris.

They’re settling into a new house and are still cautiously dancing around each other as they come to terms with their mutually changed status and relationship, as is to be expected of two strong-minded professional people of relatively mature years and established lifestyles. Harriet especially is having trouble with her new novel, since she no longer has to approach writing as a “job” for her own financial support; she now finds she must adopt more artistic motives or else probably give it up. Peter, on the other hand, has long had things all his own way as regards his criminological avocation and he’s trying hard to not make Harriet feel put upon. Parallel to this, we get to know another, much younger couple, Laurence and Rosamund Harwell, who are famous in society for having married for love, not advantage. Of course, their private personalities and relationship are somewhat different from their public appearance. Laurence, born to wealth, is a theater “angel,” supporting the production of new plays which often lose money, while the gorgeous Rosamund’s father lost his more modest fortune and spent ten months as a guest of His Majesty for financial fraud. She’s also being pursued by a pathetically besotted young poet-playwright. And then, of course, Rosamund is found strangled in their cottage in the country and Lord Peter, as an acquaintance of the Harwells, is invited to assist in the investigation by his brother-in-law and good friend, DCI Charles Parker. Walsh seems to have Sayers’s narrative style down pat (though she tends to minimize Wimsey’s penchant for strewing classical quotations through every conversation) and she certainly understands the established characters. In fact, Peter and Harriet are a bit less flighty here, which I think is an improvement. She sets the story firmly in the period, with the death of the old king and the country’s growing doubts about the suitability of the new one, as well as developing political events in Germany. (Of course, Walsh has the advantage of knowing what the future holds for Britain, which for Sayers was simply current events.) And even though I guessed the significance of the “maguffin” shortly after its appearance, I can’t fault the mystery plot itself. I don’t think Sayers’s long-time fans will be disappointed.

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Published in: on 26 April 2011 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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