Sunday, February 5, 2017

Great English Mysteries - Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh's A PRESUMPTION OF DEATH

The truth will out, don't you know? And the truth is: I'm an inveterate reader of English mystery writers and Victorian authors. Looking at my Kindle, the other day, there are more than 300 books on it; most of them from British writers of one sort or another.

I don't much get into authors born post World War II because they often embellish with graphic sex and violence. I prefer my murders and tales clean and pure...with only the barest suggestion of sex and horror. I like suspense, but not too much violence. I love untangling the mysteries.

I began reading these authors (Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, Collins, Trollop, etc.) when I felt the desire to write a story of my own. I thought studying the established writers would be good for my stories. The first thing I learned about writing was that a talented writer can produce a vivid image of place and time with only a few lines or paragraphs. I was using up pages and pages for descriptions, at first.

Anyway, I thought I would write about writers and books a little, from time to time and the first book I'd like to trot out is A PRESUMPTION OF MURDER, by Jill Paton Walsh. If you read Walsh's biography, you will see that she was a follower of Dorothy L. Sayers. You can find a fairly good biography of Sayers here. She finished the manuscript for THRONES, DOMINATIONS, which Sayers left unfinished at her death in 1957 and went on to write three more Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane novels after that. A PRESUMPTION OF MURDER was the second of the four she wrote, and one of my favorites.

Below: Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers wrote eleven novel and two sets of short stories about her creation, Lord Peter. She said, in later years, she intended to put an end to Lord Peter via matrimony by introducing Harriet Vane. However, Lord Peter refused to die, in her mind, so she wrote one book about their murder-filled honeymoon and, later, the murder mystery in London which she was writing when she died.

Below: the village of Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire which looks much as I imagine Paggleham would.

Lord Peter books by Dorothy L. Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh (continuation after Sayers's death)

Whose Body? 1923  
Clouds of Witness 1926  
Unnatural Death 1927  
Lord Peter Views the Body (short stories) 1928  
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club 1928  
Strong Poison 1930  
Five Red Herrings 1931  
Have His Carcase 1932  
Hangman's Holiday (short stories) 1933  
Murder Must Advertise 1933  
The Nine Tailors 1934  
Gaudy Night 1935  
Busman's Honeymoon 1937  
Striding Folly (short stories) 1973
Thrones, Dominations (co-author Jill Paton Walsh) 1998  
A Presumption of Death (co-author Jill Paton Walsh) 2002

Below: I can imagine Talboys would have looked something like this:



The story takes place in the village of Paggleham, Hertfordshire. Lady Peter had evacuated to the village from London at the start of World War II, with her two children and the three children of her sister-in-law, Mary Wimsey Parker. Their home, Talboys, was introduced in an earlier novel, BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, another of my favorites, along with several of the local "color" characters, Superintendent Kirk and Miss Twittertown. At the time, the villagers were establishing and digging bomb shelters. The night of an air raid drill, a young woman, one of the Land Girls, was found dead on the High Street, after the drill.  

Underlying the murder mystery is the world of the war, Bunter and Lord Peter's long absence on a spying venture in Europe and the usual, lovely English village and country life. The lives of the several children are intertwined throughout and the threat of bombings and invasions looms ever over all.

I liked this story very much because we finally see Lord Peter and Harriet with their family, complete, in the English countryside, albeit, over-shadowed by the dangers of war and the threat of murder. The pleasant scenes are unforgettable. I am especially fond of how the love of Peter and Harriet has grown and blossomed.

It would be good to read all the Lord Peter novels in order of publication, especially from STRONG POISON forward. Those latter books build the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet very well. Oh, how I wish Dorothy Sayers were still writing; and that Jill Paton Walsh would keep on with the Lord Peter Wimsey stories.

I'll write about the other novels, too, in time, but this is my favorite right now. I hope you'll enjoy it too.


  1. love Lord Peter books , have read most of them. I'm like you love the British mystery's

  2. It was my mother, years ago, who told me how she loved them. I didn't read Lord Peter right away, though, so missed out for a while. Wonderful stories. Glad you like them too.

  3. Woo hoo! Thanks so much for the list! I am hooked on English mystery writers so will be checking these out. Thanks!


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