A Presumption of Death (Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Series)

A Presumption of Death (Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Series)

4.1 32
by Jill Paton Walsh, Dorothy L. Sayers

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Sixty years after Dorothy L. Sayers began her unfinished Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones Dominations, Booker Prize finalist Jill Paton Walsh took on the challenge of completing the manuscript--with extraordinary success. "The transition is seamless," said the San Francisco Chronicle; "you cannot tell where Sayers leaves off and Walsh begins."


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Sixty years after Dorothy L. Sayers began her unfinished Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones Dominations, Booker Prize finalist Jill Paton Walsh took on the challenge of completing the manuscript--with extraordinary success. "The transition is seamless," said the San Francisco Chronicle; "you cannot tell where Sayers leaves off and Walsh begins."

"Will Paton Walsh do it again?" wondered Ruth Rendell in London's Sunday Times. "We must hope so."

Jill Paton Walsh fulfills those hopes in A Presumption of Death. Although Sayers never began another Wimsey novel, she did leave clues. Drawing on "The Wimsey Papers," in which Sayers showed various members of the family coping with wartime conditions, Walsh has devised an irresistible story set in 1940, at the start of the Blitz in London.

Lord Peter is abroad on secret business for the Foreign Office, while Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey, has taken their children to safety in the country. But war has followed them there---glamorous RAF pilots and even more glamorous land-girls scandalize the villagers, and the blackout makes the nighttime lanes as sinister as the back alleys of London. Daily life reminds them of the war so constantly that, when the village's first air-raid practice ends with a real body on the ground, it's almost a shock to hear the doctor declare that it was not enemy action, but plain, old-fashioned murder. Or was it?

At the request of the overstretched local police, Harriet reluctantly agrees to investigate. The mystery that unfolds is every bit as literate, ingenious, and compelling as the best of original Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

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Editorial Reviews

Barbara Reynolds
The setting is authentic and the story is gripping, but this is also a serious and committed book.
Publishers Weekly
In her second Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane whodunit, Booker Prize finalist Walsh (Knowledge of Angels) does a far better job of honoring Sayers than she did in their first posthumous collaboration, Thrones, Dominations (1998). Walsh's starting point here is "The Wimsey Papers," a series of letters on home front conditions, ostensibly written by various members of the Wimsey family, which ran in the Spectator at the outset of WWII. Lord Peter himself is offstage for most of the novel, involved in some covert mission in Europe, leaving his wife to take care of their household. When a young Land Girl is found murdered during an air raid, the local superintendent enlists Harriet's aid. Harriet's traditional line of inquiry into possible spurned suitors is diverted when an eccentric and seemingly paranoid dentist discloses that the quiet, ordinary village of Paggleham is actually a nest of German spies. Despite Peter's diminished role, he remains a vital presence throughout, thanks to his place at the center of Harriet's thoughts. Should Walsh have no further original Sayers material to draw on, she seems perfectly suited to continue the series entirely on her own. (Mar. 27) Forecast: Though praised by the likes of Ruth Rendell and Joyce Carol Oates, Thrones, Dominations received mixed notices from Sayers purists. The favorable buzz on this one from the U.K.'s Dorothy L. Sayers Society augurs well for strong sales.
Library Journal
Originally hired to complete an unfinished mystery by Sayers, Walsh has written a completely new Lord Peter Wimsey title. The book supposedly draws upon the Wimsey papers, a charming set of fictional family letters, published by Sayers during World War II. Little is left of the original missives, however; instead, the book is filled with anachronisms, inconsistencies, and tedious flashbacks to events that occurred, and were better described, in Sayers's own titles. A land girl (temporary, female, agricultural worker) has been murdered, but Lord Peter is away on a dangerous military mission, so Lady Peter (Harriet Vane) takes on the investigation. After a second murder, Peter returns and they tidily solve both crimes together. Unfortunately, the Harriet in this work is no longer the reserved, independent, career woman Sayers created but a discontented housewife, with 21st-century class sensibilities and no idea how to interact with the servants. Peter is a pale imitation of his original self, and their manservant, Bunter, is just plain embarrassing. Walsh is a better plotter than Sayers; the characters that she has created from scratch are interesting, and her food rationing scenes are a riot. Just change the names (and the upper-class setting) and this would be a nice "period" mystery. Edward Petherbridge does his best with the material; with his elegant, clear voice, the result is very pleasant. Recommended for large public libraries.-I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In a series of letters to the Spectator over the winter of 1940, Sayers presented members of Lord Peter Wimsey's family discussing such morale-building issues as rationing and leadership. Taking her cue (and a little of her prose) from these hints of how the peerless peer and his connections were spending the months of the phony war, Paton Walsh shows how, while her husband is off fighting the good fight somewhere on the continent, Lady Peter, née Harriet Vane, is so preoccupied down in Hertfordshire with the conduct of the war and her own depleted yet crowded household that she has no interest in writing mysteries. Even so, she's still keeping company with corpses. The latest is promiscuous land-girl Wendy Percival, who failed to emerge from an air-raid shelter during a drill because she was lying dead in the street above, dispatched by someone's bare hands. Harriet's preliminary questioning of the three young men Wicked Wendy kept on a string-bumpkin Jake Datchett, handyman Archie Lugg, and RAF officer John Birdlap-indicates no likely candidate for her killer. But who can the murderer be when practically the entire population of the village was huddled in the shelter beneath the Crown Inn and Archie's father, undertaker Fred Lugg, was watching the street from a tower above? Though the mystery is gossamer-thin, Paton Walsh (Thrones, Dominations, 1998, etc.) provides another Greatest Hits of Wimseydom, complete with family news, an allusive cipher, a dozen deathless village types, and, eventually, the return of Lord Peter to hearth, home, and homicide.
From the Publisher
"Once again Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane and their companions come back to life, vividly evoked by the magic pen of Jill Paton Walsh."-Barbara Reynolds, President of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society

"The real strength of the book is its brilliant evocation of what it was like to live in a countryside torn by war...A Presumption of Death works as a splendid historical mystery as well as a well-grounded continuation of Sayers' popular series."-Rocky Mountain News

"A wonderfully rich mystery...the latest from Walsh will keep readers intrigued until the very last page." -The Tampa Tribune & Times

"Walsh, quite an accomplished writer in her own right, not only brings back the familiar characters but also convincingly envisions how they would have evolved since Thrones, Dominations."-Orlando Sentinel

"The charm and grit of this historical picture make the book an entertaining read."-The Contra Costa Times

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Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Series, #2
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

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