Busman's Honeymoon

Busman's honeymoon isn't my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but it comes pretty close. Described by Dorothy L. Sayers as "a love story with detective interruptions" it is THE detective story in my opinion that comes closest to a true crossover between the cosy and realistic schools of detective fiction (see earlier post).

Peter is finally married to his Harriet. As a wedding present he is in the process of buying for her, Tallboys, the Elizabethan manor house that she has loved since childhood, and they are off to spend their honeymoon there. The marriage gets off to an unpropitious start however when they arrive at the house to find it shuttered and dark, and with no sign of the current owner. The owner turns up the following day - dead at the bottom of the cellar steps. It is clear that he has been murdered, and with no shortage of possible candidates Wimsey is reluctantly forced to investigate.

Sayers' last Wimsey novel (although he would reappear in several short stories, and in Jill Paton Walsh's sequels) is one of her best. All your favourite characters are here : Peter, Harriet, the Dowager Duchess, and of course Bunter. There are also several references back to the first book in the series Whose Body? with mentions of characters from that novel, and a lovely echo-back when Peter's last words in Honeymoon echo his first words in the first book of the series. Sayers is evidently aiming to tie the whole series neatly together with this, her final novel.

Honeymoon is very comical, but is also a crackingly good murder mystery, where Peter is finally revealed at his most human and realistic. There is plenty to laugh at in this book, but Sayers doesn't shy away from the reality of the situation either - the victim may be unpleasant, but there is still sympathy for his plight - as Peter says "It's a pity the dead are so quiet; it makes us ready to forget them." Neither does it shy away from the consequences of catching a murderer, the hunt for the murderer may be exciting, but it will end unhappily for the criminal. It's quite rare for crime fiction to admit that much as readers may admire the genre, the reality is very different.

Busman's honeymoon was originally developed as a play (there is a very entertaining film of the same name, aka Haunted honeymoon in the US, starring Robert Montgomery). The stage background is clear, the plot is very well structured, and Sayers' dialogue is much crisper than usual. There is still the odd foray into foreign tongues, but except for 2 lengthy discursions in French, these are much less than usual.

I just loved this book, it is light and fun, but also has a much darker side. Fans of Lord Peter will adore this, those who have never read him before will, I'm sure, also find it great fun. A complete delight.


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