When the fellows at an Oxford college appeal to Peter Wimsey to resolve a dispute, he and Harriet are happy to oblige. The dispute between the two passionate parties is evenly balanced, that is, until several of the fellows unexpectedly die. And the causes of death bear an uncanny resemblance to the murder methods in Peter's past cases - methods that Harriet has used in her novels.…
©2013 Jill Paton Walsh and the Trustees of Anthony Fleming, deceased (P)2014 W F Howes Ltd
"Sayers's fans won't be disappointed, and newcomers are in for a treat" (Guardian on The Attenbury Emeralds)
"A pitch-perfect Golden Age mystery; not a pastiche but a gem of a period puzzle that belongs on the shelf beside the Wimsey originals." (Financial Times on The Attenbury Emeralds)
I write this after reading some less than positive reviews from others. JPW has made a good effort to keep the Wimsey canon going, and has done quite well. The stories have progressed the timeline reasonably although there seems an undue concentration on the domestic arrangements rather than the 'plot'.
Generally JPW books are longer, slower and more ponderous than those of Dorothy Sayers herself. The originals were much tighter, even if Sayers had a predilection for literary quotations, a predilection that JPW overuses.
I think The Late Scholar is one of JPWs better efforts, along the lines of The Attenbury Diamonds (athough in that book the fire a Dukes Denver and ducal accession were unecessary distractions). I enjoyed its sense of time and style and a good evocation of Oxford, certainly as good as the Gaudy Night sense of the University.
The narration was not good and did not add to the experience nor help the book, but this is compared to Ian Carmichael who was made for the part, as a narrator or actor.
Yes there were mispronunciations, yes the was confusion over character voices (Parker was the wrong voice altogether), but overall the sense of the place and time and people was reasonable. I do not agree with the reviewer who could not finish the audiobook. I have listened to it three times this year (in full) and probably will do again in the next few months.
Just a few other points, in my subjective view:
- Contrary to the Publishers Note, Gaudy Night was not one of Sayers's best, it also was too slow and ponderous.
- The Wimsey canon is just that, about Lord Peter Wimsey, and should not be just a vehicle for Harriet Vane.
- I hope JPW does continue the canon, about and of Wimsey, preferably set in the pre-WWII years, because that is his real period.
- I hope Ian Carmichael can be convinced to revive from his eternal rest too give us the best narration, or if not then a IC clone.
The story is contrived. Too many bits brought in from earlier Sayers books in a very contrived way and lacking the development of relationship between Peter and Harriet. Lovely descriptions of Oxford but really not as good as Jill Paton walsh's earlier Sayers books.
Like the other reviewers I love Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael. Gordon Griffiths was a shock. You become used to it after a while but it lacks Peter's tone of irony and bunter's voice didn't seem to match at all.
I did listen all the way through but it was never gripping. If you have read all of the Sayers books then walsh's thrones and dominions! and the Attenborough emeralds are really good. Read them.
"Not as good as a DL Sayers but better than nothing"
Yes, because I'm addicted to DL Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane.
There was no one moment that stands out.
Sadly Edward Petherbridge has not lent his voice to this reading which is a great shame. While Gordon Griffin does a competent job, his quavering voice and mis-pronunciation of "Domina" amongst other things grated and in no way conjured the image of Peter Wimsey. Ian Carmichael and Edward Petherbridge have stamped my auditory memory so anyone else reading this book is doomed to failure.
The Late Scholar met my double passion for the Wimseys and Oxford, so on that score alone it has to be a winner.
Jill Paton Walsh is no Dorothy L Sayers, there is an element of dumbing down of the language and sentiment, perhaps she is trying too hard? Nonetheless, it's a competent work, not faultless but it feeds the insatiable desire to follow the central relationship of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. Quite what Miss Sayers would have made of this volume remains to be seen. Having said that, I still give it 7/10 as it is much better than a lot of historical whodunits on the market.
"Nearly as good as Dorothy"
I enjoyed listening and will no doubt listen to other Jill Paton Walsh.
Deliberately reminiscent of Gaudy Night.
Shame about the voice used for Charles, Wimsey's police inspector brother-in-law. Far too old.
The big let down was the relationship with the police. With a suspected serial killer on the loose, it is hard to imagine Wimsey being given the freedom he has. The police would have been all over the place.
On the narrator, I was momentarily devasted when I realised that Edward Petherbridge would not be reading this book to me. (Or even Ian Charmichael, as I've also learnt to associate him with Lord Peter through years of audiobooks, but Petherbridge brings the ennui of a very clever man's sarcasm and wit and false whimsy to everything.)
I grew to tolerate him. There's nothing particularly bad about his narration, except for Not Being Petherbridge. His voices are consistent, I especially liked Bunter, but there isn't any variation I noticed among the secondary characters, victims and villains, and in a cast of dozens, I might have used the extra help keeping them straight in my head. His tone for the narrator was a little stilted, but I think that might have been the writing style rather than any narrative choice on his part.
With the story as a whole, I don't think this was Paton Walsh's best take on Lord Peter. It relied on the original Sayers books too much (I know, a bit hypocritical, as I'm listening to a continuation on Sayers universe; obviously I'm desperately searching for more of what I love). What I mean is that some aspects of the plot were deliberately echoing things from early Lord Peter books, which became a bit frustrating, especially as it equated Harriet Vane with Dorothy L. Sayers (which Sayers said she disliked) in a way which was occasionally entertainly meta, but mostly annoying. It even occasionally tainted my enjoyment of the original book (I love The Nine Tailors, don't poop on it with logic, Walsh, I don't need to hear that).
I also think the exposition relied on Harriet as Peter's intellectual foil far too often. Harriet would say 'but, we don't know that, Peter', and Peter would explain all the things she missed, Sherlock to her Watson. I know that Bunter had occasionally been used in this way in the original books, but in this book Bunter was also a Sherlock (to Peter and Harriet's Watson), and Harriet was reduced to an intellectual sidekick, even when surrounded by Oxford dons and going off to research her academic work on slow days.
As a snap-shot of the 50s as the Wimseys would have known it, it was a strong book. I loved the idea of thinking about the politics of council housing, with estates being established on appropriated land, sitting next to the state of the modern housing crisis. There wasn't a strong sense of rationing (unlike in A Presumption of Death), but the continuation of the decline of the aristocracy, the birth of opportunities for boys (and characters) that didn't go to Eton, and ended up at Oxford, or miss the Oxbridge train altogether. Bunter's eldest wants to be an economist, and go to London School of Economics, and there's discussion of the limitations and isolation of Oxbridge, all of which I liked when reading with an eye on contemporary politics about the same. (However, since we have the benefit of prophetic knowledge by BEING ALIVE NOW, some of Peter and Harriet's musing seemed extremely optimistic. We have hardly moved away from a society where old Etonians run the place.)
The mystery is a little befuddled, and for the most part I didn't learn to care for any of the victims (except a tangentially-related suicide). I'm still not sure on one of the motivations, actually, I think I may have missed a nuance somewhere. In contrast to Gaudy Night, which is such a delight for its restraint in providing unnecessary bodies, this is filled with unnecessary deaths which add to a pattern, but don't seem to have much significance in themselves. The victims are definitely the equivalent of Prostitute #2 at the start of a CSI episode, rather than interesting academics whose names I can remember. Most of the secondary characters blurred into each other, (and were sometimes absurdly coincidental, inexplicably having all the information Harriet or Peter needed) and I only liked a bare few of them. (And, since it was a well-populated Oxford college, there were too many to keep track of, even if I could rely on Sayers for a few like Eilund Price and Marjorie Phelps etc.)
If you're struggling, I felt all the emotional impact from victims (both killed and alive) came in the last hour (15%) of the novel. It wasn't the denouement, necessarily, that brought the impact, but the emotional revelations of a character who is the survivor left after (some of) the deaths. That is probably worth waiting for, if the mystery is sliding by you.
It's a nice listen if you like getting your fix of Lord Peter as an aging man, with mostly-grown children. As a mystery, I don't think it succeeds really, but I'm not a crime fiction afficinado so YMMV. If you haven't listened/read any others of Paton Walsh, I'd recommend The Attenbury Emeralds with a thousand praises, and then meander over to A Presumption of Death, and then the others if they catch your fancy.
"Good enough but not Dorothy L Sayers"
I enjoyed revisiting Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane later on in life but the mystery plot was over-complicated and ultimately unsatisfying. The concept of using DLS's plots as Harriet's and then basing murders on them got tiring rather quickly. There was no sense of urgency in the detection which, with academics dropping like flies, there really should have been. What I did enjoy was the small details of Peter and Harriet's lives like the education of their children and the ageing of the Dowager Duchess.
The reading was better with some voices than others. The rendition of Peter and Harriet was OK but it was lucky there wasn't too much of Charles Parker as that sounded completely wrong to me.
"Enjoyable, but not the best"
I've enjoyed Jill Paton Walsh's previous recreations of the Wimsey detective stories and although this is a welcome addition, I must admit I don't think it's her best. SPOILER: The device of having a murderer using methods of murder inspired by Harriet's books (who, rather unbelievably, has apparently started to take her own inspiration from LPW's 'real-life' cases, as created by DL Sayers' books) must have seemed a fun idea in theory, but in practice it didn't work for me. It merely kept calling my attention to the fact I was reading fiction about other works of fiction. And sadly Gordon Griffin's narration did nothing to dispel the ghost of Ian Carmichael's wonderful readings of the other books. No light, quick witted tones here, but ponderous and slightly pompous speeches, which do tend to irritate. I know Peter Wimsey is meant to have aged since our last meeting with him, but in this reading he sounds like an elderly judge, while Bunter sounds so aged that I wondered if he was intended to expire before the end of the book. I'm sure Gordon Griffiths would be a great narrator for some books, but not this one.
I hope this review doesn't sound too negative. It's still an entertaining novel, and it's always good to catch up with Wimsey and Harriet. Although it's not the best, I have no regrets about buying it.
I was a bit wary that this would be major let down by both the author (not DL Sayers) and the narrator (not Ian Carmichael) but I was very pleasantly surprised. Great plot, major characters well written and true to their creator. Well done to Ms Walsh, she pulled it off,
"If you like Wimsey you should try Paton Walsh"
Heartwarming, inevitable, closure
As usual Harriet Vane stands forth here and her characterisation develops even further. Paton Walsh is a really good writer. She needs to be to follow DL Sayers and some of the early books when she picks up the story are a bit wooden. In this one, however, she is starting to relax and the story and the people flow better through the plot.The one thing I find challenging is that she continues to give the relationship between Wimsey / Vane and Bunter a dynamic that I rubs me up the wrong way. Yes it's now post war but it's a bit forced.
The Late Scholar is a bit like a pair of old slippers, warm, comfortable and good for sitting by the fire.
"Well worth the wait."
Any fans of Dorothy L Sayers detective Lord Peter Wimsey will not be disappointed with this book. The characterisation of the more mature Peter and Harriet is extremely well done.
"Meeting an old friend"
Jill Patton Walsh captures the atmosphere of the original Dorothy Sayers stories. Lord Peter and his wife have aged beautifully. Returning to an Oxford which I doubt remains the same it is nostalgic but not sentimental and the mystery is as complex as one would like. An excellent, comforting read which holds one's attention from beginning to end.
Not being a fan of this character I had no great expectations of this audible book. However, once I became used to the characters I really enjoyed the story and the background love story that meanders along in the background. Very enjoyable.
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