Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Duke And The Dons

This is the fourth Wimsey which was written by Jill Paton Walsh, donning the mantle of the late Dorothy Leigh Sayers. And this one is all JPW's own work  - she has not referred to any of the DLS notes and manuscripts used in previous books.
It is set in Oxford around 1954.
Peter is summoned back to the dreaming spires to oversee a decision being made at a small college of which he is The Visitor.
This is an ancient honour, bestowed on the Dukes of Denver [Peter has now succeeded to the title, following the death of his brother] and much of the plot centres on the arcane practices of this College, and decision making by the Dons.
One review I read [afterwards - I try not to read them beforehand!] said "Wimsey-purists will not be too happy" and I can see what is meant.
Good things - there are some interesting characters, and the plot hangs together. She has managed to get the tone of conversations between Harriet and Peter - what DLS always called "piffling" -just about right [although I am not sure we needed those coy references to their sex life] Her attention to detail is meticulous, and there are plenty of allusions to current events and real people [Tolkein, C S Lewis, Harold Macmillan etc] to help fix the date. 
However, I would quibble with her about Victor Gollancz being the originator of the Italian term for crime fiction being "Giallo" because VG used yellow dust jackets [giallo is the Italian word for yellow]. I understood it to have come from the Italian publishers Mondadori, who published a series of lutein crime novels Il Giallo Mondadori. But as VG published DLS's works, I suppose JPW wants to put in a mention [I wish the copy I was reading had been proof read properly. It was irritating to see Gollancz spelled incorrectly]
But on the whole it was fun, I like the way she brings in other family members [children, the Dowager Duchess, brother in law Charles etc] but I am not quite convinced by her depiction of Peter - he is in his early sixties, and she describes him 'skipping down the stairs like an elderly Fred Astaire'. Fred himself would have been in his late 50s at this point. 
I am giving away nothing about the plot, as I do not want to spoil it for anyone. But I am a little concerned that a senior member of the College has been missing for three months, and nobody appears to have done anything much about finding him, until Peter arrives and organises a [fruitless] search of the College. In the real world, people usually look for missing people long before that, if they don't turn up for work! I have long suspected that the rarefied atmosphere of Oxford Colleges is not the real world!
There is still plenty of good food, produced by Bunter and others [but no comments about the gradual end of rationing, unless I missed them] which led me onto my research into Ploughman's Lunches. 
I'm not as much of a Wimsey-Purist as others, so I will give this ****
[my favourite TV adaptations were the Edward Petherbridge/Harriet Walters ones. They would be of the right age now to play this latest story]


  1. Ooh yes, let's have some more Petherbridge/Walters TV adaptations! I might give that book a try - I enjoyed "Thrones and Dominations" and "The Attenbury Diamonds" although not as much as the real DLS books.

    1. Check out Presumption of Death too. But I agree, JPW is not as good as DLS


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