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6 April 2012

Published paperback H&S 2011.

This one was a book for my birthday. The giver knows that I’ve always loved the work by Dorothy Sayers, and that I now enjoy the continuance of the Lord Peter Wimsey books by Jill Paton Walsh, hence the arrival of this one. And again it’s a very good book.

Walsh wrote four excellent mystery novels before she started sitting down about every five years to add another to the Wimsey saga, and my deepest regret is that she doesn’t write a bit faster. This one appeared in hardcover in 2010, which means that I still have three years to wait for the next supposing she does write one. I am compensated by this book being around 120,000 by my calculations so that it’s a solid read and not something that’s over in a couple of hours.

It’s a solid read from another perspective as well. It’s really a double mystery, plus a look at serious and major social changes over the period covered by the book. So the mysteries. They start with Peter telling Harriet all about the original disappearance of the Attenbury Emeralds in 1921. Peter solved that, returned the gems, and discovers that, thirty years later, there may have been some dubious and continuing – events around the original theft that he didn’t know about at the time.

Now the son of the then Lord Attenbury arrives to beg Peter’s help because while he has the main emerald safely in a bank vault, someone has appeared who is claiming that the main emerald is theirs and that they can prove it. The bank is refusing to allow the emerald to be removed by the Attenbury’s, who need to sell it to pay death duties, and the family is panic-stricken, fearing that they may have to sell their home and all their land to satisfy legal demands.

Peter now starts to investigate and finds that there also seems to have been an odd series of lethal events occurring around the main emerald at certain intervals. Are they coincidence or something more sinister? The two mysteries are very well written, interesting and perfectly placed, each within their social setting.

But even more fascinating is the slow creep of social change as typified within the Wimsey family and others around them. We find that the ebullient and charming young man of several of the earlier books set prior to WWII, and who was the Wimsey heir, has died in the Battle of Britain. This is perfectly in character as he was written by Dorothy Sayers. But it means that Peter is now the heir, and his sons after him, something he and Harriet had never wanted. (Nor I may add, had his sister-in-law, who makes it abundantly clear in several scathing episodes that she believes Harriet totally unsuitable for the position and too middle-class to be able to cope if or when it becomes hers.)

The three Wimsey sons having grown up with Bunter’s son (PB) who is of similar age, consider him a friend and equal, while Bunter continues as Peter’s manservant. That relationship having all the warmth and comfort of an old and favourite overcoat and suiting them both while being misunderstood by Peter’s sons. One of the major preoccupations throughout the book is that of death duties and I can well understand it. The British system bankrupts families that are in possession of lands and very large old houses and I am at a loss to see why they feel this is fair or equitable.

In Emeralds, both the Attenbury family, desperate to clear title to their emerald so they can sell that and don’t have to lose their home and estate, and the Wimseys, who although they don’t know it for much of the book, are going to have similar trouble. They make decisions that are opposite to each other, and they too mirror the ongoing social changes of the times. Peter’s investigation’s of the issues surrounding the main emerald from 1921 to 1951 cast considerable light onto a few of the war years’ events, and how they affected some of the aristocracy involved. Lady Diana’s story of the bombing of the nightclub in which she and a number of her friends were partying is chilling.

The relationships and occurrences of this book flow seamlessly on from Dorothy Sayers own works. We get another look at Peter’s brother Gerald, and his marriage to Helen, and when that ends as it does, it is a natural conclusion, both in his death and her attitude of resentment and outrage. We see Peter and Harriet settled into a happy middle-age, her writing has continued (and continued to sell well.) Their affection is obvious, and their literate banter is as warm and witty as ever. Bunter is married to his photographer, Hope, they have a son, whom they want to give a strong start in life hence the boy’s attendance at the same school as Peter’s sons and the Bunters too are in a settled and fulfilled marriage.

Times are changing all around them, and what shows clearly throughout the course of the book, is that those whose anchors are based in friendship and family affection or love will weather that storm. Those who rely on title and money alone, will come to grief and not always by the hand of strangers. The book is far more than a mystery, it shows the times, how they are and how they will effect those who live in them, and once I finished the book and placed it on the Sayers section of my permanent library, I could only hope that the author keeps writing because I am eage r- very eager – to find out what will happen next to Peter, Harriet, Bunter and all of their respective families and friends.

 

 

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