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Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane #2

A Presumption of Death

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While Lord Peter is abroad on a secret mission, Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey, takes their children to safety in the country. But there's no escape from rumors of spies abound, glamorous RAF pilots and flirtatious land-girls scandalize the villagers, and the blackout makes rural lanes as sinister as London's alleys. And when a practice air-raid ends with a young woman's death, it's almost a shock to hear that the cause is not enemy action, but murder. Or is it? With Peter away, Harriet sets out to find out whodunit...and the chilling reason why.

384 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Jill Paton Walsh

86 books198 followers
Jill Paton Walsh was born Gillian Bliss in London on April 29th, 1937. She was educated at St. Michael's Convent, North Finchley, and at St. Anne's College, Oxford. From 1959 to 1962 she taught English at Enfield Girls' Grammar School.

Jill Paton Walsh has won the Book World Festival Award, 1970, for Fireweed; the Whitbread Prize, 1974 (for a Children's novel) for The Emperor's Winding Sheet; The Boston Globe-Horn Book Award 1976 for Unleaving; The Universe Prize, 1984 for A Parcel of Patterns; and the Smarties Grand Prix, 1984, for Gaffer Samson's Luck.

* Imogen Quy
* Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 329 reviews
Profile Image for Susan.
2,644 reviews598 followers
February 7, 2017
Having greatly enjoyed, “Thrones, Dominations,” I was keen to read the second in the Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane series, continued by author Jill Paton Walsh. This begins in 1939, with England in the early days of the Second World War. Lord Peter is away on a dangerous mission overseas and Harriet has closed up the London house and retreated to Talboys with her two sons, Bredon, aged three, and Paul, who is nearly one. She also has the care of the children of Charles and Mary Parker; Charlie, Polly and Harriet.

The local village has changed, with land girls and troops bringing new faces and the community preparing itself for war with air raid practice. Most of the village intend to use the cellars of the local public house as a shelter, but the Methodists are unhappy about taking refuge in a public house, so nearby caves are utilised for them. However, although the practice seems to go well, when the all clear sounds and everyone emerges into the village, it is to find the body of a young woman dead in the middle of the street…

With Superintendent Kirk short staffed, he asks Harriet for help. She soon discovers the young lady, Wendy Percival, is nicknamed, “Wicked Wendy,” and is known as something of a flirt. However, although she has caused some disruption among several young men, it seems the case is not going to be a simple one to solve.

I really enjoyed this novel, even if I did not find it worked quite as well as the first. I like the fact that Walsh has brought in new characters, although she does seem to want to use them all and sometimes it seems that, despite the advice to only travel where absolutely necessary, almost everyone is haring about the country visiting each other. Still, we have Helen; Harriet’s disapproving sister in law, who is always interesting as a character, the delightful Dowager Duchess and Mary Parker, among others. I thought the author really portrayed the period well and the mystery, if slightly confusing at times, made you think about the choices that sometimes had to be made in war time. I look forward to reading on and will certainly read the next in the series.

Profile Image for Grace Tjan.
188 reviews506 followers
April 14, 2011
"If anybody ever marries you, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle."

Set in the early days of WW II, this book is an enjoyable, plausible continuation of the Wimsey-Vane marriage post Busman’s Honeymoon, Sayers’ last complete Lord Peter mystery. Walsh created reasonably faithful versions of both the central characters, but somehow was not entirely successful in recreating the spark between them, which for me has always been one of the most delightful aspects of the series since they met in Strong Poison. They do banter, and throw erudite, quotation-laden barbs at each other, but the writing doesn’t quite capture the mordant wit and wry humor of the original. But never mind, as “a facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought”*, anyway. What bothers me more is that Lord Peter doesn’t show up until the story is almost halfway through (he was too busy spying for England behind enemy lines): Walsh’ domesticated Lady Peter (nee Vane) is just not a terribly interesting character in her own right. Where is the woman who, during her busman’s honeymoon, contemplated the word “husband” and came up with “…a repressive word, that, when you came to think of it, compounded of a grumble and a thump”?

And Bunter with a wife and kid? Sacrilege! Bunter is the quintessential gentleman’s gentleman and should be solely devoted to Lord Peter for eternity.

On the plus side, Walsh’s WW II-in-a-small-English-village setting is perfectly believable, the mystery is coherent (and neatly solved) --- and the book incorporated several letters written in character by Sayers (anything from Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver is always a fun epistolary treat). So if you badly need your Sayers fix and have gone through all the originals, it is not a bad idea to while away a few enjoyable hours with this book.

*Lord Peter Wimsey, Gaudy Night.
141 reviews5 followers
August 4, 2012
O, fie on you, Jill Paton Walsh! The ersatz Sayers on offer here is about as convincing as a cubic zirconia - for example, the way Walsh spells every damn thing out makes it clear that she doesn't trust her readers to be intelligent, where Sayers alludes to literature without attribution and makes the occasional important point in untranslated French or Latin (placet?). What's worse, reading Walsh's fake Sayers makes me more critical of the real Sayers, to the point of not enjoying it as much. One wishes the real Sayers had been as productive as, say, Christie - but failing that, we should all write fanfic and skip this crap.
Profile Image for Charles  van Buren.
1,725 reviews180 followers
June 4, 2023
Murder, war and spies

Another well written volume in Jill Paton Walsh's continuation of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. More than just a pastiche of Sayers work, Walsh's writing is new adventures featuring both Lord Peter and his wife Harriet Vane.

A PRESUMPTION OF DEATH is set in the early days of World War Two and features both murder and German spies. I did find parts of it a little obvious and very easy to anticipate, so four stars instead of five.
Profile Image for Bev.
2,901 reviews258 followers
August 8, 2011
Ruth Rendell wondered, "Will Paton Walsh do it again?" My answer? Unfortunately, yes. Paton Walsh does not have the classic background of a Sayers. One of the delights of reading Sayers' work is all the quotations she would sprinkle through the pages. Not just to say, "look what I know" but as a natural part of the characters of Peter and Harriet. Paton Walsh may write very good mysteries of her own...but she really doesn't do Lord Peter well. I've read the Wimsey papers that this story is based on. As fragmentary as those are they are far superior to this novel--with all the flavor of Sayers' writing. This has none.
Profile Image for Renee Wolcott.
138 reviews5 followers
August 23, 2010
Alas! The Lord Peter Wimsey stories and novels are my favorite mysteries of all time, and Jill Paton Walsh did a beautiful job of completing Dorothy Sayers' unfinished novel, "Thrones, Dominations," after the writer's death. This novel is more completely from Walsh's imagination, and it shows. Its inspiration comes from several short articles and notes that Sayers published during World War II, describing the Wimsey family's challenges. However, its weak plot--Harriet and Peter working together (long-distance) to solve the village murder of one of the "land-girls" during an air raid practice drill--is Walsh's own. While it includes many of the elements Sayers employed so cleverly--codes, spies, literary references--the spark that made the characters real is completely missing.
Profile Image for Jane Jago.
Author 83 books168 followers
September 12, 2016
It was never going to be anything but five stars methinks.

Another tour de force from Jill Paton Walsh.

I finished this book feeling satisfactorily replete. I really, really like Harriet and Peter. The writing is spare and elegant. The evocation of time and place is spot on. And the storyline is just complex enough to make it interesting.
Profile Image for Angela Mitchell.
Author 5 books13 followers
April 14, 2015
I read somewhere that Jill Paton Walsh was such a fan of Harriet Vane's that Gaudy Night inspired her to attend Oxford. It's a wonderful little detail, and I love hearing stuff like that.

But unfortunately for me as a Lord Peter Wimsey fan, it seems that Walsh's identification with Harriet means that Lord Peter is being winnowed out of her version of Sayers's stories almost completely.

So once again, as with Walsh's Sayers continuation Thrones, Dominations, we have a solid, competently written book that doesn't feel much like part of the "Lord Peter" series except in name only. Most of the book takes place in WWII England, at Talboys (Harriet's childhood home, and the setting of Busman's Honeymoon), and Peter is absent for most of the book, off on mysterious wartime missions.

I really felt like this Harriet-centric narrative device was a mistake. We're left with Harriet's rather straightforward, plainer personality, and without even a little of the Wimsey sparkle, the book drags for long sections. The only relief is a surprisingly enjoyable portrait of Bunter, whose character is believably expanded and who is one of the book's bright spots.

But nobody else really feels like themselves. In Walsh's hands, Harriet lacks the quiet wit that marked her in Sayers's work, and here she's more humorless than ever. Kirk and Twitterton are both rather grim and seem to return just for fan-service (and they're completely unlike their Busman's Honeymoon selves).

But it's the bright, mercurial characters that suffer most -- the Dowager is, like Peter, barely recognizable in Walsh's hands -- a shadow of her usually wonderful, rambling, stream-of-consciousness self, Jerry (Pickled Gherkins) is utterly lacking his usual breezy charm, and worst of all, Walsh cannot even seem to write Miss Climpson, who is presented without her ever-present breathless over-emphasis and italics (surely Miss Climpson's funny and faintly breathless and distinctive voice (!!!) could have and should have been better captured).

It's as if Walsh is writing these faintly dry, academic, competent fan-fictions that happen to include Sayers characters, but she can't seem to capture the real vividness of the characters themselves.

Lord Peter does return to the narrative here eventually, but he's once again rather sparkless. It's not that I think he should be dancing jigs in wartime, but Lord Peter does tend to whistle in the dark, and in addition to that, a sense of humor can be slyly evident as a personality trait even under pressure. With Lord Peter, in fact? Especially under pressure!

But not here. As before, the character just doesn't feel much like Lord Peter at all -- once again, Walsh's take on Lord Peter is rather humorless and stuffy, with little wit or wordplay. Worst of all, she has Lord Peter apologizing repeatedly for being so "foolish" in the past -- this comes up repeatedly, and annoyed me a lot. Lord Peter's 'laughing on the outside' tomfoolery isn't actually foolish, and that's what's fun about the character. He's usually clowning around right when the danger is greatest or when his heart is breaking -- so for Walsh to essentially dismiss and criticize the earlier Sayers (real) Lord Peter as some kind of flighty annoyance is upsetting if you're a fan of the series.

While this was an interesting story that brought to life WWII Britain, I ultimately felt this one was less successful than Thrones, Dominations, which I also felt was simply an okay mystery, and a substandard attempt at Lord Peter. However, where Thrones offered a mystery that felt like Sayers, the mystery here not only is very oddly presented and explored, it's almost thrown away by the end of the book. Both books are well-researched and presented, and Walsh obviously enjoys Sayers's works, but it's like hearing a barely competent musician play Mozart -- there's little real feeling to what feels like an almost academic exercise.

I will keep reading Walsh's take -- substandard Lord Peter is better in a weird way than none at all, and I'm interested to see where she takes the characters. But it's been a quiet disappointment, as she has taken so much of the dazzle and dash of one of my favorite characters and made him rather ordinary -- that's the real crime here.

I hope I'm explaining myself well. It's a decent book, but in it we see only the palest reflection of one of the great literary characters of all time. As an example -- one of my favorite moments in the Lord Peter Wimsey series is a moment in the book Strong Poison, when Lord Peter is rambling humorously at Harriet about the case (while making yet another marriage proposal), and charmed in spite of herself, she tells him that if anyone ever does marry him, it will be for the pleasure of hearing him "talk piffle."

That's my problem with Walsh's take on the characters. There's plenty of mystery -- but no piffle.
Profile Image for Jane.
Author 10 books822 followers
December 29, 2013
Where I got the book: my bookshelf.

All in all, this is probably the weakest of the Paton Walsh Wimsey books. Paton Walsh does a reasonable facsimile of Sayers' high-life dialogue, but falls down when it comes to rendering the speech of ordinary people--and this novel puts the Wimseys among the villagers of Paggleham, where Harriet and the children are escaping from the London Blitz while Peter--who, by this time, must be getting a bit geriatric for intelligence work--goes off to Destinations Unknown to do something or the other, purely, I suspect, to raise tension as Harriet worries whether he'll return.

Paton Walsh seems determined to get as many characters from the Wimsey books into this one as possible, along with some code-breaking à la The Nine Tailors. The overall effect is something of a patchwork pastiche, not altogether pleasing to the palate. She's imitating the wartime Wimsey stories, of course; ghoul as I am, I'd much rather she'd dealt with the death of young Jerry, because she handles Wimsey tragic better than Wimsey whimsical.

One for the fans, entirely, with nothing much to commend it to the general reader. An OK mystery, but just OK.
Profile Image for Brenda Clough.
Author 66 books105 followers
March 17, 2015
I find it difficult to believe that these people really are Lord Peter and Harriett.
September 11, 2015
Had read this book some years ago & was appalled at how bad it is. It's a mystery to me how Sayers' Trustees allowed Paton Walsh to publish "The Attenbury Emeralds" & "The Late Scholar". If I were a Trustee, I'd have booted her from the Sayers Production Line immediately.

In fact, I was wondering a few days ago (after abandoning "The Late Scholar") who could possibly write Wimsey novels with the same flair, erudition & readability as Sayers. The one & only possibility that came up was Antonia Forest. Too bad she's dead...

"A Presumption of Death" is so awful that I felt embarrassed, reading it. Not embarrassed to be SEEN reading it, or to admit to having read it. But embarrassed for Jill Paton Walsh that she actually thought it good enough to shove into the maws of a reading public. Who might then respond the way I have.
46 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2008
I hate to say it, but this book is barely worth the time. The murder plot is lame and overly complicated (think HAVE HIS CARCASE but without Sayers' wit to save the day). And what is up with Walsh messing up the kids' names? Surely a little research wasn't beyond her?
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,903 reviews199 followers
July 25, 2014
The outbreak of Second World War finds Lord Peter Wimsey’s family — his wife Harriet Vane and their two toddler sons — and Lord Peter’s nieces and nephew moved from London to the relative security of the village of Paggleham in Hertfordshire.

Lord Peter has moonlighted as a pseudo-diplomat for Her Majesty’s Home Office in several of the novels, but, with the outbreak of the Second World War, he spends more time on the Continent than he does in England. So it is Harriet (now more often called Lady Peter) who bears the brunt of the investigation into the murder of a promiscuous Land Girl named Wendy Percival. The girl’s tarty ways had led to her being called “Wicked Wendy” behind her back, but who would want to kill her?

Harriet, asking on the official request of police Superintendent Kirk, begins questioning Wicked Wendy’s fellow Land Girls and her flock of would-be suitors. However, the mentally suspect retired dentist Mrs. Spright insists that the sleepy village of Paggleham provides a superb hiding place for a nest of German spies; he blames them for Wendy Percival’s death. Could this far-fetched claim be true? Or have the pressures of war pushed Mrs. Spright into paranoid delusion?

Author Jill Paton Walsh crafted A Presumption of Death from a series by Dorothy L. Sayers that ran in the Spectator during three months in the winter of 1939–40 purporting to be letters written by one Wimsey family member to another family member or to a character from one of the novels. The “letters” — termed The Wimsey Papers — were the standard morale-boosting fare popular in the Allied press, and they dwell on everyday life, as such letters would in real life: rationing, black-outs, air raid practices, and the exodus of young men; however, the letters also allowed Sayers to opine on the execution of the war and on other political matters. Walsh skillfully uses these threads to weave a most excellent mystery — rather better than Thrones, Dominations, in my opinion. In addition, I loved the glimpse into the Home Front during the so-called Phony War. I also appreciated that Walsh introduces more twists than Sayers usually did in her Lord Peter Wimsey novels — although readers will see one of them coming long before Harriet does.

Some readers decry that Lord Peter comes into the novel so late; however, I loved seeing Harriet practice what she has so long studied for writing her Robert Templeton mystery novels and what she learned working with her husband. Ms. Walsh, don’t listen to the naysayers. We want more Harriet Vane, not less!
Profile Image for Rachel.
151 reviews
February 12, 2008
A continuation of the Peter Wimsey/Harriot Vane family story. The author finished a manuscript which Dorthey Sayers was working on at the time of her death for the book 'Thrones, Dominions' so I guess she thought she could write another story all on her own. I believe there are elements of the story that she has says Sayers was working on so it isn't entirely her own work. However, she just isn't Dorthey Sayers and can't write as well.
Profile Image for Emily.
186 reviews5 followers
September 17, 2012
Eh, she's not Sayers by a long shot, but it's not too bad.

The characters aren't Sayers. They're random people with Sayers' character names. The plot is pretty thin, and all the wartime "historical" stuff didn't really add anything.

Pretty disappointing overall. I would not recommend this to a Sayers fan looking for more of the same.
341 reviews
February 21, 2015
Sigh. It's just not Sayers. It lacks the sparkle, the wit, the new and evolving facets of Peter and Harriet's characters that mark each book. This is imitative, and while proficient in certain respects, it is not original and so disappoints.
Profile Image for Meg.
1,514 reviews10 followers
March 25, 2022
It is 1939 and England is at war. Harriett is at Talboys with her two sons, Bredon and Paul, and Mary's 3 children while Lord Peter and Bunter are away on a secret mission for the crown. I'll have to admit that that beginning of this book was pretty dull with all the talk of rationing, practicing air raid drills, assembling anderson shelters and all the other war time talk. I guess I shouldn't say that it was boring per se because it was interesting to hear about but it wasn't what I want to read in a Lord Peter book - I want a mystery! Before long we get one when a young village woman is murdered in the street during a practice air raid drill. The only people who could have killed here were those not in the shelters. Superintendent Kurk asks Harriett to help question local people as he has lost men to the war effort. Harriett plods along and the list of suspects are narrowed to two local boys who were fighting over her affections and a RAF pilot recovering from an ankle injury. When the RAF pilot goes missing, it is assumed that he is the guilty party. Luckily Lord Peter and Bunter are home by now so the real investigating can begin. Through his work, Lord Peter knows that the real RAF pilot was killed in action and the one in the village was really a German spy living under the alias of the English RAF pilot. When his body turns up in the backyard of a villager, Lord Peter and Harriet have a second murder to solve. They figure out that the real RAF pilot had a pregnant fiancé so they go to question her and they learn that she has a brother who is also a pilot. They put 2 and 2 together and learned that the brother had heard that the injured pilot was in the village and he went to see him to find out why he hadn't gotten in contact with his sister. But instead of a discussion, the injured pilot attacked him so the brother fought back and killed him in self defense. It was only once he was dead that the brother realized that it wasn't the man he knew so he hid the body. They also figured out the murder of the village woman the same way. She must have recognized the German spy from her travels abroad and knew that he wasn't a RAF pilot so he had to kill her or else his cover would be blown. Not the best mystery of the bunch but still enjoyable to spend time with Lord Peter, Harriet and their growing family. My favorite part was at the end where it is revealed that Lord Peter's young nephew, Charlie, had intercepted the German spy's coded messages on his crystal machine and Lord Peter helped him deliver it to the war authorities and promised him a bicycle for his efforts. This book has a Foyle’s War feel to it.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Olga Godim.
Author 12 books71 followers
May 22, 2022
3.5 stars
This novel is advertised as a Peter Wimsey sequel, based of Dorothy Sayers's famous mystery series, but I think it would be a mistake to open this book with the expectations of seeing Sayers's Lord Peter and Co. The readers who do that are sure to be disappointed. The story or the writing or the characters have no similarity with Sayers's and her aristocratic sleuth. Only the names of the leading characters are the same, and even that seems accidental, more to do with marketing than with literary merits.
This book stands on its own as a strong piece of historical fiction. The action takes place in England in the spring of 1940, just before the Blitz, with all the inherent fears and anguish and horrors of the escalating war in Europe. The murder mystery is not as important as the life of the English citizens the author depicts: the food rationing, the terrible news from the continent, the refugees, the young pilots dying in air combat.
The tension is palpable throughout the story, but not because of the murder. In fact, the murder investigation stays firmly in the background, a metaphorical nod to Sayers, nothing more, while the plot focuses on the everyday life and how multiple characters deal with the threat of the German invasion. A small English village and its mundane denizens appear defiant and victorious despite the mighty German war machine thrown against them.
This novel's one serious flaw unfolds only when the author actually tries to bring Dorothy Sayers's Peter Wimsey to life. When Peter tries (and fails) to banter with Harriet or toss around classical quotes. Those fragments are the weakest in the book. They feel alien to the flow of the story. Otherwise, a decent historical novel.
Profile Image for Esdaile.
337 reviews53 followers
June 21, 2020
A Presumption of Death is written under false pretences if it is pretending to be a seamless continuation of the works of Dorothy L Sayers. The blurb on the back of the book describes Thrones, Dominations, but a cursory glance might mislead someone to thinking it refers to the book at hand. It is a quotation from Ruth Rendell in the Sunday Times that " It is impossible to tell where Dorothy L. Sayers ends and Jill Paton Walsh begins. It is simply like reading another Sayers novel." If Thrones, Dominions is anything like A Presumption of Death, and it is reasonable to expect that it is, it is not simply like reading a Dorothy L Sayers novel. Does Ruth Rendell believe what she claims? A similar puff comes from P.D. James. Perhaps we should not be surprised. Both Ruth Rendell and P.D. James are two writers who strive to write in the same class as Dorothy L Sayers or Agatha Christie and fail. By expressing the opinion that it is impossible to tell Stalk from Butter, they are promoting their own brand of second grade margarine.

The novel takes place during the days of the phoney war. Two local murders are linked artfully albeit in no very challenging or especially twist of plot, to a case of espionage. Lord Peter Wimsey is away on a secret mission and appears after half the book is done. The characters in this book are reasonably well drawn and Lord Peter Wimsey is sympathetically presented in a Brideshead Revisited atmosphere of a collapsing hierachy, for the old social order and hierarchies are being undermined by the socialist imperatives of war. Harriet. Lord Peter's wife, comes from a lower class and the writer is skilful at portraying Harriet's acute awareness of the fact coupled with her sense, conveyed to the reader, that the times are changing in favour of less class distinction. Harriet is a convincing character and I dislike her: virtuous, self-deprecating towards herself and others but too much so to convince as humble. There is a touch of Uriah Heep about her, for in reality Harriet is very satisfied with herself and I do not think she believes in her own protestations about how inept she is or how modest her abilities. She is like the painter who says “I just dab a bit” or the writer who says ”I just scribble a bit” while in their heart of hearts they are mightily pleased with themselves and believe that they thoroughly deserve all the praise they receive, yet would die rather than admit even to themselves. Harriet is a prig and it is tiresome to read a novel from the exclusive perspective of a prig.

The novel is colourful nevertheless and trundles along at an easy pace. The writer tries to sound authentic for the time she is writing in, but she tries too hard. There are frequent references to brands of the time, too many such references, it is all nudge nudge wink wink, that's a reference typical for the time geddit??, reminiscent of integrated advertising. Here is the Horlicks, here the Quaker oats, here the egg powder, here the wireless. A contemporary writer, taking such things for granted, would not have mentioned them all the time, would not have stressed them, because they would be so familiar as to be in the background which did not require stressing.

Both the characters and the reader are not granted high expectations in terms of knowledge or education. Harriet does not have the benefits of Lord Peter's education it is true, but it is going too far I think to demonstrate this fact by having Harriet think/write "he would of" instead of "he would have" while the "who....to" is a modernism instead of "to ....whom" is not I think how she would of, sorry have, expressed herself. But some mdoernisms slip through the thickly meshed net: I doubt that people in Harriet's circumstances unconsciously described a person as sexy.

Whereas Dorothy L Sayers carried her education lightly, Jill Paton Walsh is heavy handed with hers. Every chapter is preceded by a quotation from a famous writer. I can see no common thread linking up the quotations and they give me the impression of being there to make the reader feel he or she is reading an "uplifting" or very "cultured" book. The quotations include a date which is that of publication of the quoted writer's work. In the case of Shakespeare this is especially unhelpful: William Shakespeare, sonnet 146, 1609. By the way,does Jill Paton Walsh not even expect her readers to understand Latin numerals which are nearly always used to refer to the sonnets? Providing dates to a play and the sonnets gives the misleading impression that these may be dates of composition or close to it. Does Jill Paton Walsh think her readers are unaware that the year of composition of the Sonnets or King Lear is unknown? What is the point of giving these dates after quotations? It is the sort of thing Harriet the priggish heroine might have done.
This book abounds with a sense of self-importance which in my opinion it does not merit. Worse, it has in some mysterious way soured my taste for the original writer. I hope that will pass. Perhaps there is more in the title than I at first saw. The book is a presumption indeed, perhaps a presumption of a death which never took place. "It's a possibility Bunter" Wimsey might have said. "A distinct possibility." in that way of his, reflecting genuinely self-deprecating humour, a humour which Dorothy L Sayers books possessed and which this poor imitation lacks.
Profile Image for Alan Teder.
1,992 reviews103 followers
April 15, 2020
The Wartime Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey
Review of the Hodder & Stoughton paperback edition (2014) of the original Hodder & Stoughton hardcover (2002).

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) has a co-writer credit here as some letters by Wimsey's mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, are used for the Introduction and the Afterword. These are excerpted from the The Wimsey Papers which were a series of Wimsey family letters that Sayers wrote for The Spectator newspaper in 1939 to document the fictional family's activities in the early stages of World War II.

Just as with the preceding book Thrones, Dominations (1936/1998), Jill Paton Walsh carries on seamlessly from Sayers here. There is a parallel with Sayers' Gaudy Night (1935), as Peter Wimsey is off-stage on a spying mission somewhere in the Occupied European Territories for about 2/3rds of the book, and Harriet Vane is the primary detective just as she was in the early part of the Oxford University mystery. Vane is with the Wimsey children and nieces and nephews at Wimsey's Talboy country home to escape the wartime bombing of London. A murder in the local village requires an extra hand for an unofficial investigation as the local police force is shorthanded due to wartime recruitment.

As with all the Wimsey/Vane books, A Presumption of Death was a delight to read in its Golden Age of Crime stylings.
166 reviews
February 14, 2012
Another book with author credits for both Sayers and Paton Walsh, this is really Paton Walsh's but draws on Sayers's letters for the circumstances of Peter and Harriet's life at the start of WWII.

The story is set in the early days of the war, Harriet and the children are living in Talboys, Peter is away at the start on intelligence work. One night as the village practices the procedures for an air raid, a Land Girl is murdered. Harriet is asked by the police to help with the investigation.

It is an enjoyable enough read, I enjoy reading about WWII, but this book definitely lacks Sayers' ability to not talk down to the reader. The period detail seems less natural, but maybe I do Paton Walsh a disservice, the "period" detail in Sayers' books was not "period" after all. More grating though was the occasional use of words that I cannot imagine Sayers using - I shuddered at the use of "snog". There are times when the characters' words are spot-on, for example the Harriet/Bunter meeting in London and others when it all seems off to me, like Jerry talking about the Spitfire. It's strange that some parts can be so right, and others...

Profile Image for Brittany.
1,245 reviews127 followers
July 26, 2018
Normally I am dead-set against authors continuing the efforts of another author. However, there are always exceptions, and Jillian Walsh is one of them.

A Presumption of Death is a very fast, satisfying read. I do enjoy Harriet Vane, and Walsh does an almost-seamless job picking up where Sayers left off. The part of the book I thought felt least Sayers-like, the letters (I thought they came off too forced) turns out to be the only part entirely written by Sayers, so that goes to show how much I know. The Lord Peter Wimsey novels are the epitome of what a good historical mystery should be. Well-paced and nicely-detailed (without overdoing it) and absorbing. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Janet.
736 reviews6 followers
July 26, 2008
Not bad as a continuation of Sayers' great series. Walsh does a great job bringing Lord Peter and Harriet to life, a so so job on other characters, and not such a great job on the mystery. I did enjoy the evocation of war time England, but it was overdone until it started feeling a bit like a lecture disguised as a novel.
Profile Image for Lisa.
Author 5 books30 followers
August 1, 2020
The second Wimsey/Vane book authored by Jill Paton Walsh as successor to Dorothy Sayers--and it's even better than the first (Thrones, Dominations). A great plot with an interesting mystery, a look at life on the "British home front" during WWII, and unforgettable scenes with Bunter and of Harriet decoding a message that could save Peter's life. Brava!
204 reviews
August 21, 2011
I loved all of the Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. This "completed" posthumous final one is not worth the time. Don't recomment it.
Profile Image for Kathy Davie.
4,681 reviews704 followers
January 11, 2013
Second in the Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane secondary historical mystery series that carries on from the original Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers.

My Take
There's a subtle difference between this story and Thrones, Dominations . And it could well be just my imagination not believing that Walsh could do as well as Sayers. It is a cleverly written story. Walsh has used a series of letters Sayers wrote for the Spectator as the bones for this story. And I'm most grateful.

I did thoroughly enjoy this story, and, yes, part of the reason could well be that I simply adore the characters and am desperate to not have to end my acquaintance with them.

That said, this was an interesting look at living in an English village during wartime with all the lack of privacy that comes from living in one another's pockets and the subterfuge used to get around rationing. What with pig-sharing and secret egg stashes. There's also the countryside's view of the young children who were sent out to them and the trials and tribulations experienced by the villagers in dealing with this influx.

A very Wimsey-ical comment: to light up the Albert Memorial to make it easier for Hitler's bombs to find it.

Part of Duke's Denver has been taken over to use as a boys' school and it irks the hell out of Helen. Fortunately, she's rarely there and Gerald really gets into it. An enjoyment Helen would have put a stop to.

Oh lord, then there's one of the children telling Mummy [Harriet] that he thinks he would understand better "if only you wouldn't explain".

There's an interesting amount of criticism about the war, mostly about the uselessness of politicians. Neville Chamberlain starts as the prime minister, but it isn't that long before Winston Churchill is giving his famous speech.

Crack me up! The dowager duchess is concerned about finding a gas mask that will match the dress-pattern exactly! What? Is Harriet going to color coordinate whenever the air raid sirens sound? The duchess does sound off on an interesting note about the conflict between grown-ups who want children to be children for so very long while children are so anxious to grow up. She mentions the Wimseys in the past who accomplished so very much while still in their teens because they weren't treated as children. An interesting dichotomy.

This seems like a loose end when, early in the story, St. George strongly suggests that Harriet move herself and the children to Duke's Denver. But then nothing seems to come of this.

Yes, war can be quite effective at creating changes. At one point, Miss Climpson writes that "one young lady...standing in for her brother…" at an armaments factory is shocked by how easy the work is. And this after listening to him complain about how hard it is. That it's opened her eyes and she won't be doing any more waiting on anybody.

Ooh, this was interesting...Bunter is making lead shot, and I recently read a post on the man who discovered an efficient way to create round lead shot. Oooh, gross. My imagination was accurately at work about the illegal slaughtering that occurred in the Wimseys' slaughtering shed. Ick, ick, ick…!

I love this series. It's a little bit Agatha Christie and a little bit Dorothy Dunnett. Homey and intellectual in a warm and cozy way.

And Harriet comes to realize how very much she loves her husband.

The Story
Peter is off spying and Harriet has retreated to Talboys in Hertfordshire with their two sons and Lady Mary and Parker's three children. It's an awkward spot for Harriet. On the one hand she's Dr. Vane's daughter returned. On the other hand, she's returned as Lady Peter Wimsey.

Still, it does provide Harriet with breathing space to find a common ground between the two. A place where she can be comfortable. And, with Peter away doing dangerous work, Superintendent Kirk soon helps to occupy her time.

The Characters
Harriet, Lady Peter, is an author of detective stories and she is married to Lord Peter Wimsey, who has run off to do his usual run of spying and diplomacy for the Foreign Office. They have two children now: Bredon is three and Paul is a year old. Lady Mary and CID Chief Inspector Charles Parker's children are with Harriet as it's safer there for the children. Charles Peter is ten (call him Charlie); Mary is called Polly; and, little Harriet is three. Mrs. Trapp has come into the country with them while Bunter is off with Peter. Hope Fanshaw Bunter is doing some sort of war work with her photography while their baby is staying with her parents. Sadie and Queenie are the Talboy maids.

Sam Bateson from the next door farm is young Charlie's best friend. John Bateson is his dad and one of the pig-sharers along with the Ruddles, Twitteron, Goodacre, the Lugs, Puffets, Wimseys, Simcox, and the Raikes. Dang, these must be some really big pigs!

Honoria Lucasta Wimsey is the Dowager Duchess of Denver, Peter's mother. She's an absolute sweetheart. Gerald is another son, the oldest, and therefore the Duke of Denver. Jerry is Lord St. George, the heir, and he's signed up with the Royal Air Force. He's still pushing his luck with Harriet; especially now that Peter's away. He does however bring young Charlie a crystal set that he and Sam spend hours over. Helen is the current duchess and a major pain. She's demanding that Harriet apply to boarding school for Bredon. Personally, I think the English should aim Helen at the Germans. They'd surrender within days, if not hours.

Miss Aggie Twitterton is a 40-something maiden lady whom we first met in Busman's Honeymoon; she keeps hens and is said to be haunting the lanes late at night. Jake Datchett, a farmer's son, and Archie Lugg, Fred's son who works as a handyman, were both involved with Wicked Wendy. Fred Lugg is fire watching the night Wicked Wendy is found; he's the village undertaker. Mrs. Ruddle is a gossipy thing, always dropping in on Mrs. Trapp; her husband Bert is doing up bunkbeds for the Methodists in their air raid shelter. Constable Jack Baker doesn't seem to do much other than count heads during air raids. Mrs. Susan Hodge owns the cottage Harriet would like to rent or put the land-girls in. George Withers owns the garden with the unusual harvest. Simon Goodacre is the vicar whose wife tracks which villager can handle how many refugees. Dr. Jellyfield is the village doctor. Mr. Gudgeon and his wife run the village pub, the Crown, where the Presbyterians shelter from the air raids. Mrs. Spright used to be a dentist over at Broxford only she's retired and seeing Germans behind every bush. Sometimes she's even right! Mrs. Marbleham, formerly of London, is most upset about living above a greengrocer; she and her family won't be eating any of that pig's forage! Flight Lieutenant Alan Brinklow has a broken ankle from having to bail out from his plane and he's recuperating in the village at Yew Tree Lane cottage.

Superintendent Kirk asks Harriet for help since Lord Peter isn't available. Bungo is something with some hush-hush department. He shows up at Talboys with a cipher that only Harriet can decode.

The land-girls include Wendy Percival, a.k.a., Wicked Wendy, is out gallivanting as much as she can of an evening. Of good family, she's done some traveling and knew several languages. Muriel is the suspicious one while Rita is only a touch more friendly.

Brigadier Baldock is in charge over at Steen Manor where John Birdlap, one of Wendy's suitors, is stationed.

Miss Climpson is put to work by Harriet. Mrs. Quarley is Joan's mother. Joan was supposed to marry Brinklow and, um, she's pregnant. Jeff Quarley is a pilot and Joan's brother. He also moonlights as Mike Newcastle. He certainly does have some good reasons. Wing-Commander Thompson is his CO.

The Cover
The cover is golden and red. The top half is a gold background with black silhouettes in a montage of events in the story from Harriet walking down the lane, the church where the fire warden squats, to the warplanes flying overhead. The bottom half of the cover is red with a gold title.

Well, it is A Presumption of Death which creates the possibility of the imposture in the first place.
Profile Image for Kristin Boldon.
1,129 reviews27 followers
November 15, 2022
This continuation of the Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane mysteries frustrated me regularly. Harriet kept acting and thinking in ways that were rather stupid and slow and thus completely out of character. Yet it also sometimes delighted me, in its continuation of the lives of beloved characters but more in its details of life in WWII like the way that a small town handles justice and fairness in its pig club, but also details about the war that I wasn't as aware of as an American, like the significance of Holland. I read this book quickly and stayed up late to finish it but can't bring myself to feel it deserves anything above 3 stars.

I think Walsh is mostly good at writing Harriet, but stumbles even more with Peter. He's offstage for much of the book but when he finally returns, it's anticlimactic. I really enjoyed Thrones, Dominations. This one was a disappointment.
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