Thrones and Dominations

Dorothy L. Sayers, Author, Jill Paton Walsh, Author, Jill Paton Walsh, Joint Author St. Martin's Press $23.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-312-18196-3
After Sayers married off Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in Busman's Honeymoon (1937), she devoted herself to translating Dante's Divine Comedy. A few short stories later appeared, noting the arrival of three Wimsey sons, and there was a rumor that suggested Sayers had another Wimsey novel in the works. Forty years after Sayers's death, that book has been triumphantly completed by British novelist Walsh (a 1994 Booker Prize finalist for Knowledge of Angels), following the original outline. If it is true that Sayers wrote the beginning, Walsh has done her predecessor a great service. Once the cast and context are established through some long exposition, the pace picks up, particularly after theatrical producer Laurence Harwell, an acquaintance of the Wimseys, discovers his cherished wife Rosamund strangled. As the nation mourns the death of King George V, upper-class women purchase black wardrobes, some of which are augmented with stylish white collars, an element which later figures as a clue. Germany invades the Rhineland. Uncrowned, Edward VIII continues to socialize with Nazis and to rendezvous with Mrs. Simpson. Lord Peter is recruited to persuade Edward to accept his responsibilities, but abdication is inevitable. The mystery involves two cases of blackmail as well as a second murder. Despite a large cast of suspects, ranging from two inept felons to a society portrait painter, every lead seems to come to a dead end. Typical of Sayers's novels, the solution derives from coincidences and some awkward plot devices. But readers have always turned to her mysteries for other reasons, such as the way Peter and Harriet settle the tumult four months of marriage has visited upon them. Harriet uncomfortably accepts her position as Lady Peter, with money and servants, while maintaining her independent identity as a mystery writer. In fact, her discussion of a plot problem with Peter helps him break a suspect's alibi. Sayers fans will relish the cooperative sleuthing of Peter, Harriet and the self-effacing Bunter as Walsh deftly captures and subtley updates the spirit of the series, endowing the iconic characters with additional depth and complexity. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
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