Virtual Voices

Review: The Attenbury Emeralds

Books

In the 1930s, Christian apologist and intellectual Dorothy L. Sayers wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey murder mysteries, the books that would give her enduring fame. They featured a cast of sophisticated characters, including the aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, his detective novelist wife Harriet Vane, and his manservant and fellow ex-soldier Bunter.

With permission from Sayers' literary estate, respected novelist Jill Paton Walsh took up Sayers's unfinished final manuscript and completed it to much acclaim. The Attenbury Emeralds (Minotaur Books, 2011) is the third book featuring Sayers' characters that Walsh has written.

The book, set in the years after World War II, begins with Peter recounting to his wife the history of his first case, solved 30 years prior. As he concludes his narrative, the current owner of the Attenbury emeralds knocks on the door, disheveled and upset, seeking Peter's help with a new development in the emeralds' history. Lord Peter and Harriet take on the case.

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Unfortunately, much of Walsh's earlier skill with Sayers' characters is gone. The narrative is riddled with problems: clunky, indelicate writing; a didactic Harriet acting as foil to Peter; and a number of confusing mysteries and unnecessary tragedies. Worse, the quotations that made Sayers's prose spring to life are stale and familiar. There is nothing new here.

Still, if you come to the book without preconceived notions, and understand that Walsh is borrowing Lord Peter and his crew to write her own story, the book could be an enjoyable, even witty read, full of amusing characters and a complex plot. But it certainly is not vintage Dorothy Sayers.

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