Sunday, March 8, 2020

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (1936)

Major characters:
  • Miss Harriet Vane
  • Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Violet Cattermole, who drank too much
  • Reggie Pomfret, admirer of Harriet Vane
  • Jukes, a dishonest servant
  • Lord Saint-George, Peter Wimsey's nephew
  • Miss Newland, who almost drowned
  • Annie Wilson, a "scout" (custodian)
  • Arthur Robinson, Annie Wilson's former husband, deceased
Locale: Oxford, England

Synopsis: Harriet Vane, a writer of detective stories, is off to a Shrewsbury College reunion, which will be topped with a party called 'The Gaudy'. Meanwhile, two things are happening in her life: she - and others - receive a series of anonymous letters with vague threats, and Lord Peter Wimsey (LPW) is continuing his campaign of seeking to marry her.

Harriet gets involved trying to find the writer of the poison-pen letters, who not only writes the anonymous letters, but also commits acts of vandalism at the college. Harriet catches a man climbing in over the wall - Reggie Pomfret - who turns out to become a friend and admirer. Harriet also gets to know Peter Wimsey's nephew, Lord Saint-George, who tends to run up a lot of debts for LPW to bail him out of.

Harriet wishes LPW were there to assist in finding the culprit, but he is off on various travels. Things come to a head when Miss Newland, terrorized by the anonymous letters, attempts to drown herself. LPW finally arrives on the scene and the two story lines of the anonymous letters and the repeated marriage proposals are finally resolved.

Review: This book starts off quite slowly with long descriptions of the college campus as the reunion approaches, replete with some some undefined acronyms with mystify this reader. A visit to this Wikpedia page explains that J.C.R. means Junior Common Room and S.C.R. means Senior Common Room - which not only refer to an actual room, but also the members of that room.

The anonymous letters are treated more of a nuisance than a real problem at the beginning, until the real harm of the vandalism begins.

I was waiting - waiting - for something to happen to kick the story into a murder mystery. After a long time, a body is apparently found hanging; and I thought this was the point - but alas, it was not a real body but a dummy. I was teased again when it appeared Miss Newland was a murder victim, but no, she survives quite well. There is one death - but it occured prior to the story line, and is dispensed of with a couple of sentences at the denouement as a part of the motive explanation.

This has been described as a novel with a detective story within, and it is. The happenings at the college are told in great detail - sometimes too much detail - and the action moves very slowly but steadily.

Lord Peter Wimsey has but a minor role in the book, appearing only at the end to figure out the anonymous letter mystery and provide the denouement.

See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

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