Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Attenbury Emeralds
By Jill Paton Walsh, based on the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers

I've always been a fan of Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter mysteries, and was thrilled when Jill Paton Walsh completed an unfinished manuscript and published Thrones, Dominations several years ago. This was followed a few years later by A Presumption of Death and now by The Attenbury Emeralds. Although some Lord Peter fans are purists and prefer those stories featuring the aristocratic sleuth and his “gentleman’s gentleman” Bunter, I have always enjoyed those stories including Harriet Vane as well. Harriet, a mysterious novelist, is the great love of Lord Peter’s life. She eventually becomes his wife, and the two work together to solve crimes. Thrones, Dominations picks up their story after the honeymoon, on the eve of the Second World War. A Presumption of Death sees them through the war, and The Attenbury Emeralds finds them, along with the rest of England, struggling to survive the peace and all the changes the war has wrought upon the world they knew. All are good mysteries, with relatively intricate plots. Paton Walsh does a nice job of recreating the voices of the main characters and demonstrating how WWII was a great social and economic leveler, leaving no family, however aristocratic, untouched. The contrast is made very sharply in this book, which follows Lord Peter from his first case in 1921 through a related case in 1951. The tale of the original theft and recovery of the Attenbury family’s famous emeralds is narrated by both Peter and Bunter as they bring Harriet up to speed. The crime would seem to have been solved thirty years ago, but was it? It seems the emerald in the Attenbury family vault may not be the one they have owned for decades. Just when the current Lord Attenbury is hard up for cash and wants to sell the emerald to cover death duties on the family estate, a mysterious and anonymous communication has been received by the bank, claiming ownership of the emerald. The Attenburys will be ruined, and ask Lord Peter to help sort the whole mess out.

There is a more modern sensibility to this story; I found that sometimes this worked, and sometimes it didn't. Peter and Harriet’s relationship still comes across as strong and true, and the shifting social strata and its effect on the friendship between Peter and Bunter is handled well. Overall, I liked this book, but I pegged the criminal early on and thought there were not quite enough red herrings. However, this didn't diminish my enjoyment. While I will always be a bigger fan of Lord Peter between the wars, I am still happy to read of the adventures and misadventures of the Wimsey family as they come to grips with the inevitable march of progress.


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