Jill Paton Walsh: The Late Scholar Sunday, Jul 20 2014 

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.
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.

Michael Robotham: Say You’re Sorry Sunday, Mar 24 2013 

The incomparable Michael Robotham is back with my favorite psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin, in his newest addition to this stunning series. 13528436

The book opens with the musings of one of the two Bingham girls, two teens who went missing one night three years ago. It is Piper who talks to readers throughout the novel as she writes in her journal. Through her they learn of the horrors the girls have lived through for years. until one of them risks a daring escape.

Joe struggles with broken marriage and his relationship with his two daughters, most notably the older, Charlotte, a teen who prefers “Charlie,” and whom Joe describes as having “a smart mouth and a dozen different moods.”

Despite the heavy snow, Charlie is on her way up to London to spend four days with her father in Oxford. He’s to counsel her on a doubtful boyfriend and her behavior with the boy;  they will spend time together after his talk at a mental health symposium.

From the train window just outside Oxford, the train slows with the weather. Joe and Charlies glimpse a line of policemen moving across a snowy field. As their train moves slowly forward, they sees white-clothed crime scene officers struggling in the wind, trying to erect a canvas tent over the edge of a lake. They see what they are trying to shield: a body, trapped beneath the ice.

Their first full day together is interrupted by the sudden appearance of detectives, looking for Joe to consult on the ghastly murder of a couple in nearby farmhouse. Joe is not inclined to cooperate; this kind of thing has gotten him into trouble before. But Charlie, bored with the ancient town after one shopping spree, wants to see her dad at work, and soon Joe agrees to help with the case.

As he investigates, it soon becomes clear that these murders and the disappeared girls are related.

But will Joe figure out the murderer in time to save one of the missing girls?

The device Robotham uses of having Piper document her past and current habitats is chilling; her thoughts, so controlled and matter-of-fact to reality, show readers a young woman who was barely seen before, but will never be forgotten again.

For readers of the series who understand the struggle Joe has endured over several books, the ending will move you to tears.

Well-written, compelling, with complex characters, Say You’re Sorry‘s layered title will show readers its true meaning.