When the fellows at an Oxford college appeal to Peter Wimsey to resolve a dispute, he and Harriet are happy to oblige. The dispute between the two passionate parties is evenly balanced, that is, until several of the fellows unexpectedly die. And the causes of death bear an uncanny resemblance to the murder methods in Peter's past cases - methods that Harriet has used in her novels....
"Sayers's fans won't be disappointed, and newcomers are in for a treat" (Guardian on The Attenbury Emeralds) "A pitch-perfect Golden Age mystery; not a pastiche but a gem of a period puzzle that belongs on the shelf beside the Wimsey originals." (Financial Times on The Attenbury Emeralds)
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Not as good as a DL Sayers but better than nothing
Would you listen to The Late Scholar again? Why?
Yes, because I'm addicted to DL Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane.
What was one of the most memorable moments of The Late Scholar?
There was no one moment that stands out.
What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?
Sadly Edward Petherbridge has not lent his voice to this reading which is a great shame. While Gordon Griffin does a competent job, his quavering voice and mis-pronunciation of "Domina" amongst other things grated and in no way conjured the image of Peter Wimsey. Ian Carmichael and Edward Petherbridge have stamped my auditory memory so anyone else reading this book is doomed to failure.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
The Late Scholar met my double passion for the Wimseys and Oxford, so on that score alone it has to be a winner.
Any additional comments?
Jill Paton Walsh is no Dorothy L Sayers, there is an element of dumbing down of the language and sentiment, perhaps she is trying too hard? Nonetheless, it's a competent work, not faultless but it feeds the insatiable desire to follow the central relationship of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. Quite what Miss Sayers would have made of this volume remains to be seen. Having said that, I still give it 7/10 as it is much better than a lot of historical whodunits on the market.
On the narrator, I was momentarily devasted when I realised that Edward Petherbridge would not be reading this book to me. (Or even Ian Charmichael, as I've also learnt to associate him with Lord Peter through years of audiobooks, but Petherbridge brings the ennui of a very clever man's sarcasm and wit and false whimsy to everything.)
I grew to tolerate him. There's nothing particularly bad about his narration, except for Not Being Petherbridge. His voices are consistent, I especially liked Bunter, but there isn't any variation I noticed among the secondary characters, victims and villains, and in a cast of dozens, I might have used the extra help keeping them straight in my head. His tone for the narrator was a little stilted, but I think that might have been the writing style rather than any narrative choice on his part.
With the story as a whole, I don't think this was Paton Walsh's best take on Lord Peter. It relied on the original Sayers books too much (I know, a bit hypocritical, as I'm listening to a continuation on Sayers universe; obviously I'm desperately searching for more of what I love). What I mean is that some aspects of the plot were deliberately echoing things from early Lord Peter books, which became a bit frustrating, especially as it equated Harriet Vane with Dorothy L. Sayers (which Sayers said she disliked) in a way which was occasionally entertainly meta, but mostly annoying. It even occasionally tainted my enjoyment of the original book (I love The Nine Tailors, don't poop on it with logic, Walsh, I don't need to hear that).
I also think the exposition relied on Harriet as Peter's intellectual foil far too often. Harriet would say 'but, we don't know that, Peter', and Peter would explain all the things she missed, Sherlock to her Watson. I know that Bunter had occasionally been used in this way in the original books, but in this book Bunter was also a Sherlock (to Peter and Harriet's Watson), and Harriet was reduced to an intellectual sidekick, even when surrounded by Oxford dons and going off to research her academic work on slow days.
As a snap-shot of the 50s as the Wimseys would have known it, it was a strong book. I loved the idea of thinking about the politics of council housing, with estates being established on appropriated land, sitting next to the state of the modern housing crisis. There wasn't a strong sense of rationing (unlike in A Presumption of Death), but the continuation of the decline of the aristocracy, the birth of opportunities for boys (and characters) that didn't go to Eton, and ended up at Oxford, or miss the Oxbridge train altogether. Bunter's eldest wants to be an economist, and go to London School of Economics, and there's discussion of the limitations and isolation of Oxbridge, all of which I liked when reading with an eye on contemporary politics about the same. (However, since we have the benefit of prophetic knowledge by BEING ALIVE NOW, some of Peter and Harriet's musing seemed extremely optimistic. We have hardly moved away from a society where old Etonians run the place.)
The mystery is a little befuddled, and for the most part I didn't learn to care for any of the victims (except a tangentially-related suicide). I'm still not sure on one of the motivations, actually, I think I may have missed a nuance somewhere. In contrast to Gaudy Night, which is such a delight for its restraint in providing unnecessary bodies, this is filled with unnecessary deaths which add to a pattern, but don't seem to have much significance in themselves. The victims are definitely the equivalent of Prostitute #2 at the start of a CSI episode, rather than interesting academics whose names I can remember. Most of the secondary characters blurred into each other, (and were sometimes absurdly coincidental, inexplicably having all the information Harriet or Peter needed) and I only liked a bare few of them. (And, since it was a well-populated Oxford college, there were too many to keep track of, even if I could rely on Sayers for a few like Eilund Price and Marjorie Phelps etc.)
If you're struggling, I felt all the emotional impact from victims (both killed and alive) came in the last hour (15%) of the novel. It wasn't the denouement, necessarily, that brought the impact, but the emotional revelations of a character who is the survivor left after (some of) the deaths. That is probably worth waiting for, if the mystery is sliding by you.
It's a nice listen if you like getting your fix of Lord Peter as an aging man, with mostly-grown children. As a mystery, I don't think it succeeds really, but I'm not a crime fiction afficinado so YMMV. If you haven't listened/read any others of Paton Walsh, I'd recommend The Attenbury Emeralds with a thousand praises, and then meander over to A Presumption of Death, and then the others if they catch your fancy.