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Another seamless Sayers from Paton Walsh
on 5 October 2010
I have longed for years to know the story of the Attenbury Emeralds (or, as Sayers aficionados will know, possibly diamonds). Jill Paton Walsh's latest offering is therefore one which I warmly welcomed - and with that confidence which very few "continuations" of famous works can inspire; her previous efforts ("Thrones Dominations" and "A Presumption of Death") were all but note perfect (except that pesky suggestion that Charles Parker doesn't like detective fiction!!).
As for this book, even without the structural help which she had for both the previous books (the former was partly mapped out by Sayers, and the latter had some hints by way of wartime articles to build on) I can joyfully report that this is well up to standard. We learn the back story of the Emeralds (at last) and it is a great story, even if it doesnt quite match up to the hints in the original books. Meanwhile a new mystery about one of the emeralds presents itself to be solved alongside a heartwarming depiction of Peter and Harriet's domestic felicity. Also of interest is the vivid snapshot of postwar conditions - the continued reminders of the bombing, with no-one having money to rebuild, and the lingering presence of rationing.
The Lit Rev referred to the book as a "pastiche" which seems to me to be thoroughly unfair. "Pastiche" suggests a technical but soulless job, and possibly one imbued with a degree of sarcasm. Paton Walsh's Sayer books are certainly not that. What she has succeeded in doing is writing an excellent homage to Sayers, which I cannot imagine will bring anything other than joy to all Sayers fans. In some ways however I feel she transcends the homage and improves on Sayers. Sayers wanted Peter and Harriet to be happy, but her metier was actually writing about the troubled side of life - even in getting to Busman's Honeymoon and the vignette in "Tallboys" there is a sense of her struggling with depictions of happiness. This (as well as the excuse of staging Busman's Honeymoon) may well account for her "stalling" in the writing of "Thrones, Dominations". Paton Walsh makes Sayers' dreams, and those of all fans of Peter and Harriet come true - and in thoroughly convincing and satisfying style - we owe her a debt!
However - a note of caution - I strongly suspect that this may be the last Paton Walsh/Sayers. Without ruining the plot, let me just warn you that the end has a sense of completeness about it - so enjoy what may well be the last Sayers you will ever read!