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Book Note: Dorothy L. Sayers, Busman's Honeymoon (#2)

I read this book about 17-Sep-2002. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1937. This note was last modified Thursday, 22-May-2014 19:44:45 PDT.

This is book 13 of the "Lord Peter Wimsey" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


Second part of the triumphant conclusion of the story of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Gaudy Night ends in May. This picks up at their wedding, in October, so it's close to a direct sequel. Some of the intervening time is covered in extracts of letters and diary entries to or from the dowager duchess or the duchess of Denver. This is where Peter's mother really comes into her own. We also get some very important bits of backstory on Peter and Bunter.

On their honeymoon, in their new vacation cottage, Harriet and Peter find the corpse of the man they bought the house from, in the basement. With the money still in his pocket. (The house transaction was by check, and not in person). They find him just late enough that all the clues have been cleaned away before they know to look for them.

In between what they can do looking for clues, this book is about Harriet and Peter starting to try to figure out how to live together—something neither of them has given sufficient thought to previously. And dealing with some cultural standards that they personally reject; "By the way, you don't insist on a husband's right to read his wife's letters, do you?" Shudder. And she meant the letters she sends, not just the ones she receives.

I really liked the development of the actual mystery in this book, despite the dedication ending with "If there is but a ha'porth of detection to an intolerable deal of saccharine, let the occasion be the excuse." Lots and lots of first-rate red herrings (and some milder ones) accumulate (giving them a good cross-section through the life of the village), and a very few bits of actual relevant fact. Several fairly good suspects are trailed by. Some ingenious schemes are considered (there's rarely enough evidence to actually reject any of them).

And things finally break loose in a blow-out scene just after the funeral, and just before Peter and Harriet leave (having lost the rented furniture to the dead man's creditors), when various things and people nudge memories loose, provide bits of information, and even cough up some tangible evidence. (I do still feel she cheated by not specifically showing Tom Puffet picking up the black fishing line earlier, though.)

"If there is a god or a judgement -- what next? What have we done?"
"I don't know. But I don't suppose anything we could do would prejudice the defense."

And then there's a nice tail dealing (in summary) with the mechanics of the official police investigation and trial, and the emotional consequences of helping condemn a man to death. Considerably more information here about Harriet and Peter's relationship, and how it's developing, and it continues to sound very healthy indeed.

And it rounds off nicely back with the dowager Duchess of Denver, and Harriet meeting some of the family ghosts that share the estate with them. All very nicely down-played.

One thing I've been finding startling about both these and the early Rex Stout novels is that they're contemporary with Doc Smith. Is that appalling, or what? It's really very intersting. Similarities and differences, social, linguistic, and so forth. Of course there are lots of other reasons for differences, nationality and genre for example. And these are at the end of Sayers' career, and fairly early in Smith's.

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David Dyer-Bennet