I've always adored Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. The only one that I've never really got into is Gaudy Night, although I love its sequel Busman's honeymoon. Gaudy Night features Wimsey's love interest, Harriet, far more than it does the aristocratic sleuth. Harriet receives an invitation to her old Oxford college's "Gaudy", a reunion for old alumni. She's not entirely convinced that attending is a good idea, not with the reputation that she has acquired since her trial for the murder of her lover, but she decides to go and meet up with old friends. At first everything seems surprisingly good, but then Harriet discovers that there's a poison pen at work. As the poison pen's antics reach a crescendo, it becomes increasingly dangerous, and Harriet is asked by the college to investigate.

I still don't think that Gaudy Night is Sayer's best work. Perhaps of all of them it has aged the worst. I have an awful lot of respect for the women of Harriet's (fictional) college, who were in the vanguard of female education - Oxford had only recently started to award degrees to women (1920), when Gaudy was published (1935). Sayers herself was one of the first women to receive an Oxford degree. However the social mores of some of the women portrayed, most notably the poison pen herself, feel oddly dated. I know that people once thought and felt that way, I can remember it from my own childhood, but it now seems as remote as a belief that the earth was flat. (And, yes, I know some people still believe this! )

So, this remains my least favourite Sayers. However, in spite of not loving it as much as the others, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Oxford is lovingly portrayed. There are moments of great humour. Harriet is as usual delightful, witty, and extremely clever (if not quite as bright as Lord Peter), and for fans of the series Peter finally gets his girl. I doubt that there's a Sayers fan alive who didn't cheer when they got to the penultimate paragraph.

If you're just thinking of dipping a toe into the world of Lord Peter Wimsey, this would not be the novel with which to start. No murders, not as cleverly devised as most of the novels, felon pretty easy to spot, and lacking the charm of Wimsey and Bunter. But fans will enjoy it, and it has much going for it. Not a bad way to while away a few days of your reading life.


Shaz said…
I have a love/hate relationship with D.L. Sayers. She's better than Christie, but I'm still more passionate about Poirot.
Book-hound said…
As a character I prefer Lord PW, but, as you know, I'm a big Christie fan, although I'm more into Miss Marple than Poirot. Do love the little Belgian though.

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