Series: Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane #4
Published by Minotaur Books on 6/17/14
Genres: British mystery, Historical Mystery, Mystery
Source: the publisher
A new murder mystery featuring Lord Peter Wimsey - now a Duke - and his wife Harriet Vane, set in an Oxford college in the 1950s.
Peter Wimsey is pleased to discover that along with a Dukedom he has inherited the duties of 'visitor' at an Oxford college.When the fellows appeal to him to resolve a dispute, he and Harriet set off happily to spend some time in Oxford.
But the dispute turns out to be embittered. The voting is evenly balanced between two passionate parties - evenly balanced, that is, until several of the fellows unexpectedly die.The Warden has a casting vote, but the Warden has disappeared.
And the causes of death of the deceased fellows bear an uncanny resemblance to the murder methods in Peter's past cases - methods that Harriet has used in her published novels .
An elegiac feeling permeates The Last Scholar, Jill Paton Walsh’s latest addition to the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Peter is now in his sixties, and slowing down physically, though not in the least mentally. Harriet is also in her middle years, and the health of the Dowager Duchess, now in her eighties, is beginning to fail. But it’s not the age of the protagonists but the mystery itself that lends the book an autumnal air. As the murderer employs one method after another drawn from both Peter’s cases and Harriet’s books, I found myself revisiting Sayers’ original stories in my mind. The Late Scholar seems, in contrast, like a paler copy: its tones less vivid, its prose less vibrant and witty than Sayers’ own.
Walsh’s story doesn’t lack interest, though it feels initially a little weak. That weakness dissipates as the plot thickens and the first – or perhaps second? – body shows up. There were certainly twist and turns and red herrings enough to keep my interest through the end of the book. Walsh kept me guessing for some time over who and even why. That, along with the pleasure of revisiting such well-loved characters, made for an enjoyable read.
Walsh is a little less successful in recreating Sayers’ narrative voice and Peter’s characteristic banter. It’s true that with the responsibilities of the duchy on his shoulders (see The Attenbury Emeralds), Peter has largely left behind the silly-ass-about-town persona he employs in the early books, a process already begun in Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon. Yet in those books he still retains a playfulness, particularly with words – as does Harriet. Walsh tries with mixed success to evoke the same witty repartee between the pair, but somehow, their dialog, and indeed the prose generally, lacks verve. It’s as though Walsh is trying too hard; there’s a stiffness, a conscious carefulness to her writing in this book that I was less aware of in The Attenbury Emeralds.
It’s hard to tell whether there will ever be another Peter and Harriet novel. Peter’s duties to the ducal estate leave him little time for his own pursuits. He is only brought in on this case because the Duke of Denver has a traditional oversight role at the college. The life he and Harriet now lead is much less conducive to amateur detection than in their younger days. Perhaps I’m reading too much into Walsh’s choice of plot, but the reminders of so many old cases give this book a melancholic flavor, as if Walsh, and we, are bidding farewell to an old and well-loved friend.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2014