Monday, December 31, 2012

Gaudy Night & Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers are notable mysteries, but fans of the series generally cherish them even more for the relationship dynamics at play.

In Gaudy Night, Harriet Vane returns to her college at Oxford for a reunion. She does this with some trepidation -- after all, she has not been to Oxford since she was a dewy-eyed undergraduate, and the intervening years have been marred with, among other things, a notorious murder trial and a career as a successful mystery novelist. Harriet dreads the whispers and insinuations that are sure to follow her, as well as the persistent, irritating questions about her relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey -- a relationship that Harriet herself has a hard time defining. Harriet finds that the hall of academe are still the same sanctuary that she remembers . . . until a nasty note is stuffed in the pocket of her academic gown, and she picks up a smutty drawing blowing across the quad at night. She shrugs off the incidents, but at the start of the next term, the dean calls her up asking for help. It seems that a vicious poison pen is at work, intent upon disgracing the college and distressing its staff and students. Perhaps most upsetting is the fact that it appears to be one of the staff who is sending the notes. Has a life of academic celibacy driven one of the women mad -- or is there something else at work?

Gaudy Night focuses mostly on Harriet -- indeed, Lord Peter is abroad for most of the story. He does return towards the end of the book, but while he is away and Harriet is puzzling out the mystery on her own, we get to see a lot of character growth on Harriet's part. She's been resisting Lord Peter's gentlemanly advances for years -- will this be the book where she finally puts the ghost of Philip Boyes to rest and accepts the inevitable? (Hint: the summary of the next book -- or, in fact, the title -- pretty much gives away the answer that that question!)

Busman's Honeymoon finds Lord Peter and Harriet entering into a life of wedded bliss, and evading the press as much as possible as they honeymoon in a picturesque old house in Hertfordshire. This proves impossible, however, when the body of their landlord is found in the coal cellar. It seems that Lord Peter cannot escape his calling -- but can even Lord Peter solve a case where the evidence has been almost completely obliterated by his own presence in the house where the crime took place?

These two books are a strong conclusion to the series, and I'm glad to have thought of rereading them. Perhaps in another ten or fifteen years, I'll have forgotten the plots again and will be able to enjoy another read through!

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copies.)

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