Brackman1066's Reviews > The Attenbury Emeralds

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh
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's review
Oct 23, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: first-reads, mysteries

Jill Paton Walsh is in an odd situation here by taking on Dorothy Sayers' Wimsey / Vane characters. The issue isn't just that they're so well-known and loved, but also the fact that Sayers was writing contemporary mysteries, while Walsh is writing a historical one. The seams show. If you must use dialogue between characters to explain some aspects of life in the early 20th-century, it would make sense to have that dialogue involve someone who didn't live through those decades and who would almost certainly know how things were (for instance). The opening part of the book, where Peter Wimsey recounted to Harriet one of his early cases tried to do far too much "tell the reader what life was like c. 1920" and ended up sluggish. It was also slightly ridiculous because it's hard to think Harriet wouldn't have known most of it. Similarly jarring was the gratuitous name-dropping of contemporary pop culture and figures, which is over-common in historical mysteries and didn't (so far as I remember) happen in Sayers.

After the contemporary mystery got going, things smoothed out. I think Walsh was wise to write about these characters later in their lives, so that she has more freedom to make changes that work for her novel. The characters of Wimsey and Vane themselves are enjoyable and one the whole well-done. It's very hard to write someone else's characters without reducing them to mannerisms (exhibit A here is Vincent Lardo's version of Archie McNally) and Walsh succeeds. Helen and the Dowager Duchess are more mannered, but still well-done (and let's face it, we all enjoy seeing Helen be awful).

On the whole: entertaining, but didn't keep me up to finish it. Fun but forgettable.

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