English novelist Dorothy Sayers, friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, was best known for eleven Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, written between 1923English novelist Dorothy Sayers, friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, was best known for eleven Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, written between 1923 and 1935. She set aside her twelfth, unfinished Lord Peter manuscript in 1936, a manuscript that would be handed over sixty years later to award-winning literary author Jill Paton Walsh to finish. Sayers’s fans were ecstatic.
The Attenbury Emeralds is Walsh’s third mystery writing as Sayers. It’s 1951 and Lord Peter, now 60, and his wife, Harriet Vane, live in a far different world than did Sayers’s wealthy sleuth. Dreary yet hopeful post-war London is in debt to America and relentlessly moving towards egalitarianism. The mystery’s first half is advanced purely by dialog, with easy-going Lord Peter and his genteel butler Mervyn Bunter telling Harriet about how Lord Peter solved the puzzle of the Attenbury emerald’s disappearance thirty years earlier. “Righty-ho” and “quick as bob’s uncle,” once Walsh turns to the 1951-era complications, her writing gathers force. Murders and a doppelgänger emerald beset Lord Peter as he puzzles out a new plot surrounding the mysterious gem. A good introduction to both Sayers and Walsh.
(I wrote this for HNS Review, their quarterly publication.) ...more
This is a gorgeous, satisfying book. If you liked Dr. Zhivago, you'll love Alice in Exile. It's also a bit like Alan Furst's books, which also evoke aThis is a gorgeous, satisfying book. If you liked Dr. Zhivago, you'll love Alice in Exile. It's also a bit like Alan Furst's books, which also evoke a tender, somewhat melancholy mood that brings to life not only a past era but a past sensibility, both good and bad.
Read is slightly notorious in Great Britain for being a Catholic anti-feminist. It doesn't show in Alice in Exile, in fact, he does a really marvelous job of giving us the world through 1913 suffragette Alice's eyes. She's young and naive, yes, but she's never less than brave and resourceful in facing them.
Alice Fry is studying languages at the university, something she's able to do because her father has a bit of money, just enough that he can be a radical publisher and take care of his family, which in those days meant servants. Alice falls in love with Edward Cobb, the heir of a baronet, that is, a man who has too much money to ignore but who is not descended from aristocracy. And he falls in love with her.
Society, though, conspires against the couple, and they break it off. Without telling Edward that she's pregnant, Alice accepts a job offer with a Russian baron - she'll be the governess to his two younger children. He is a womanizer, or rather a connoisseur of women...
All of this plays out with the coming war looming in the background, and then it's upon the characters.
One of the real pleasures of the book is its measured pace. So much is from the interior, intelligent viewpoints. It's not a book that would make it past the relentless show! don't tell! of today's agents.
Here's Edward, arguing about women getting the vote with the conservative woman his family wants him to marry (p. 56):
"So what are the intelligent arguments against it?" "Oh, there are a number. First of all, most women are simply not interested in politics and quite rightly see their proper sphere of power and influence in the home."
"But there are women like you," said Edward, "who know as much if not more than most men about what is going on in the world."
"Of course, but first of all we are a small minority and always will be, and secondly our influence is more effective if it is exercised through men.... It sounds fine to say that women should be independent of their fathers and husbands; some idiots even make it sound like the emancipation of slaves; but in reality it's a Gradgrind's and Casanova's charter that will make working-class women into wage-slaves and middle-class girls into sluts."
Elspeth spat out the word 'slut' with a particular vehemence and glanced sharply at Edward as if to say that he should know whom she had in mind. Or did he imagine it? Edward may have been sensitive to the charge that he was behaving dishonourably in sleeping with Alice Fry, but he was surprised to find in Elspeth so strong an apologist for a strict sexual morality... did he feel unmoved by Elspeth's beauty because he had been so frequently and thoroughly satisfied by Alice?
Here's sample, from page 221, about Alice's second Easter in Russia:
... during the long liturgy of the Easter Vigil, in the church packed not just with the villagers, but also with the walking wounded from the house, she did not feel the 'enlightened' superiority to the superstitions of the peasantry that she had shared with Baron Rettenberg the year before.
Quite to the contrary, the faith and hope that animated the candlelit faces struck her as more real and so, in a sense, more true than the sneer of the sceptic; it was as if the stone gargoyles or wooden carvings from the Middle Ages had come to life, drawing her into the certainties of an age of faith.
The book is about love and war, England and Russia, adultery, justice, faith, and families. It's a marvelous read. ...more