Jill Paton Walsh has the daunting task of continuing the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries in a fashion Dorothy L Sayers would have approved. After completing two unfinished Sayers’ manuscripts (Thrones, Dominations and A Presumption of Death, Paton Walsh followed with her original story The Attenbury Emeralds, and now follows it with the fourth, The Late Scholar.
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Auntie M had the great good fortune to meet Paton Walsh, along with her husband, children’s literature author and world-known scholar, John Rowe Townsend, at St Hilda’s in Oxford last summer, where Paton Walsh was the keynote speaker. Townsend died this March and Paton Walsh has Auntie M’s sincerest condolences.

In her keynote speech, Paton Walsh described the joys and heartaches of publishing. A Booker-Prize nominated and Whitebread Prize-winning author of children’s books, mysteries and novels, she spoke with passion of her love for literature in all its forms, and displayed a comprehensive knowledge of its history.
the late scholar

So it is no surprise that Paton Walsh has embraced the Sayers canon and with each successive novel, drawn even closer to the originals. With this fourth incantation, The Late Scholar, she has created a love letter to Oxford in all its glory, while maintaining the personalities and charm of the original characters.

Now the Duke and Duchess of Denver, roles that do not rest easily on their shoulders, the Wimsey’s are adjusting to British life after WWII. Their son’s, Bredon and Paul, are both at prep schools and eyeing their futures in the new world order when Peter is approached by Oxford’s St Severin’s College. As Duke, he wears the title of their Visitor, the college’s royal patron, a mostly ceremonial position.

But in this instance, the college faculty and its warden have been unable to agree on whether to sell a rare manuscript in their possession to allow the purchase of land that may or may not raise enough funds to allow the college to pull out of financial hardship. According to St. Severin’s charter, the Visitor is the tie-breaker in these situations, requiring a visit to Oxford, land of both Wimsey’s alma maters. Accompanying them is Peter’s long-time butler and family friend, Bunter.

It’s a hornets nest that awaits them, as the Warden has suddenly disappeared without explanation, and faculty member starts to die by methods that echo those in Harriet’s detective novels. There are several accidents that may or may not be other attempts, and the Wimsey’s must call on old friends to get to the bottom of a very dodgy situation at the college.

It’s like coming home again for Peter and Harriet–Sayers’ fans will understand references to Gaudy Night–and they and the reader will revel in the time-honored traditions that both Wimsey’s understand only too well. The sights and feel of Oxford and its environs is captured perfectly, and anyone who has never been to Oxford should well take note: this volume will make you want to visit.

The story spins out along complicated lines, with discreet questioning and investigation on both of their parts, feeling out personalities at High Table dinners, consulting former Fellows and colleagues for gossip. Their personal lives jut in and out as well, with a surprise visit from their sons, as well as facing the aging of Peter’s mother, the beloved Dowager Duchess. The proximity of murder pushed death into their thoughts far too often, but is balanced by the romantic reminiscing of the couple.

Absolutely a must for fans of Golden Age mysteries, where Harriet Vane holds her own in what is still largely a man’s world.

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