April 5, 2014

The Late Scholar

      A blazing and golden autumn had transformed the city. A soft and gauzy autumnal mist drifted from the twin rivers, and tissue-wrapped the streets and buildings until nearly mid-morning. The plane trees on St. Giles were butter-yellow and adorned with little brown balls of seed-clusters. Carpets of gold were spread under the avenue of trees on Christ Church Meadow and the trees in the University Parks. Slightly overblown roses and clusters of rose-hips hung on in the Botanic Gardens, and the city was seized with the annual delectable contrast between the end of summer, and the start of a new university year. The autumn would be a time of beginning for ever after for each generation of students who arrived, recurring like the seasons, in that lovely phase of the year. ...
      And all day long from every quarter the clocks in college towers struck the time, taking, if you timed it, nearly twenty minutes from the first not to the last note, collectively approximate, however accurate one among them might be. Those bells insinuated themselves into memory, so that the sound of them would unwind generations of Oxford men and women back to their student days, and to their rash and joyful younger selves.
      In those streets you might have seen, that year, an older couple, walking together not hand in hand, but perfectly in step with each other, moving from one fine sight to another, seeming to walk in a dream. In Duke Humfrey's Library the man said to the woman, softly, 'And Bredon says no to all this...'
      Out in the courtyard again, the woman said to the man, 'Family tradition is a burden, Peter, which you should know better than most people.'
      'Give me time, Harriet. I'll get used to it,' he said.
      'Oxford feels itself again to me, Peter, she said. 'Does it to you?'

Jill Paton Walsh's mysteries, based on the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers are just so well done; after the new one, The Late Scholar,  was dangled in front of us, and then taken away again { :) } it was a treat to find the U.K. edition in the college library.  {The U.S. edition is now promised for June.}

Lord Peter Wimsey is now Duke of Denver, after the deaths of his nephew and then his brother, and he and Harriet live, with two Dowager Duchesses, at what is left of Bredon Hall.  Peter finds out, to his surprise, that he has also inherited the role of the Visitor to St. Severin's, one of the Oxford colleges, and that when a dispute arises among the Fellows, they can summon the Visitor to resolve it.

Peter, Harriet and Bunter travel to Oxford, where of course Peter and Harriet studied and later met. Peter is only supposed to decide whether the money-strapped College should sell a valuable rare book to invest in a land deal, but when he finds out that the Warden of the College has disappeared and several of the Fellows have been attacked, or died (or soon will), the plot thickens.

I mentioned that I just re-listened to the first of these books, and I did not find this one quite as wonderful. Very, very good, but a little more somber, a little elegiac, a little less delightful at every turn. That might be because the surrounding characters are a little less interesting, or it might be because all of my detectives are growing old. :)  But I did enjoy The Late Scholar, and I hope it's not the last.

{lovely image found here}


lyn said...

I enjoyed the elegiac feel of TLS & I just loved having Peter & Harriet back in Oxford again. It made me want to reread Gaudy Night for the umpteenth time. I must admit that I did get a little confused about the mystery & who was doing what & why. I enjoyed the discussion of the manuscript & the possible links to Alfred the Great too. I, too, hope it's not the last.

CGrace said...

Looks good! I had trouble getting into a few of the Lord Peter books, but you've inspired me to give them another go. How does the writing style of this book compare to Dorothy Sayers' writing?

Frances said...

So tempting! But I do need to read the original Sayers first. I have been promising to do so for years but have yet to even acquire the titles. But there is hope. I said the same of the Maigret novels forever but am now reading (and loving) them.

Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

Looking forward to this! Not quite sure how I feel about Peter becoming the Duke of Denver, though. All those deaths seem a bit hard on the family.