Fancying a literary character? Murder Most Foul…

If we are honest, I think many of us have come across a character in a novel that we would really like to meet. Those of us who grew up in the twentieth century many have encountered Jo in “Little Women”, while younger people may well have obsessed about any of the Harry Potter characters. Admittedly, it may also have depended on if we saw a tv or film version with an actor in that really carried the character well; Alan Rickman in just about anything, David Tennant ditto, not forgetting Jason Isaacs introduction to the Kate Atkinson books, which seem on a quick glance better than the scripts that BBC 1 have filmed. Not that I saw the most recent episode, owing to a mouse incursion in front of the tv. Daughter + cat to the rescue…

The hardcore favourite in this house for all though is Lord Peter Wimsey. From a young age offspring were subjected to videos, audio books and the novels of Dorothy L Sayers, and the tv versions at least have remained well up in the Desert Island Discs of programmes to watch. I realise that Sayers has her critics; only the other day a friend was remarking how dated her style is. They are complex books, of the Golden Age with all that implies about class, money and coincidence. They do remain with the reader/ viewer for so long, and attack such meaty issues as the death penalty head on. They are far more complex in their plot and settings than Agatha’s, which may partly account for there being far fewer of them, and they are far more difficult to film. But who can forget Ian Carmichael and Edward Petherbridge carrying off the honours as Lord Peter in the tv versions…even though some of the other casting is pretty wince inducing…

Our favourite is Nine Tailors, which is set largely in the sort of fenland village well known to husband and self, where the highest point and therefore sanctuary in time of flood was the church. When we first moved “Up North” there were historic local floods and we wondered if we would have to copy the novel. Happily for us the book is accurate about medieval building design!

Having read and reread the Sayers canon, it was good to discover that Jill Paton Walsh was picking up the characters of Lord Peter, Bunter and Harriet Vane and continuing beyond Busman’s Honeymoon to bring new mysteries and stories of sleuthing into wartime and beyond. There was thought to be some overlap of writing in the first of the new Lord Peter novels, Thrones and Dominations and the subsequent novel, but The Attenbury Emeralds is pure Walsh, being set in 1951. Wartime rationing and realities, financial challenges and family developments are the background for this novel which makes for complex reading. The list of characters in the front comes in very handy!

I must admit to struggling with the first few chapters where Peter recounts the tale of a long ago mystery,but it is necessary to the novel as a whole. When the novel really hits its stride there are all sorts of details which are fascinating to anyone with a working knowledge of the history of the characters.The mystery and connected murders is very complex, but eventually mostly becomes clear.I am trying to imagine coming to this novel without background knowledge of the Sayers writing, and I would perhaps suggest reading a few of the sixteen Sayers stories first if you don’t know them. This new book is undoubtedly enjoyable for fans, and adds a great new story for all of us who wondered what happened next in the lives of the main characters.


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