Friday, 19 June 1998

Dorothy L. Sayers: Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

Edition: New English Library, 1977
Review number: 70

This was the last full-length Peter Wimsey story written by Dorothy Sayers, and follows on more or less immediately from Gaudy Night. The first half of the book details the preparations for Lord Peter and Harriet to get married, and enables Sayers to bring in many characters who will be remembered by fans of the earlier books in the series, from the architect from Whose Body to the retired burglar from Strong Poison to the senior common room of Shrewsbury College from Gaudy Night.

This part of the book is basically a romance about the long-term characters of the series, is not very serious and is quite fun. The second part tells the story of the honeymoon they have in a house they have just bought near the village where Harriet grew up. They have arranged with the former owner to pick up the keys on their wedding night, but he isn't there and they need to wake up his niece to get a spare set from her.

It's not until the next morning that they discover what had happened - the body of the owner is downstairs in the cellar. Peter and Harriet are flung into an investigation of a murder during their own honeymoon.

The expected result follows: in the face of bafflement by the police, Peter reconstructs the crime - a most ingenious booby-trap being used to commit it - and the murderer is caught. Unusually for this class of fiction, Dorothy Sayers had a good idea what catching a murderer meant - a lengthy trial followed by an unpleasant execution and untidy loose ends. She made a point of this in several of her books, and in this one it is really made obvious. The execution has a most unpleasant psychological effect on Peter, and leaves an unmarried girl pregnant with the murderer's child. This is almost contrary to the whole spirit of the detective novel, where everything is sorted out, and the murderer is an evil person who deserves what he gets. The ability to do this is something that raises the greatest practictioners of genre fiction above the other writers in the field.

No comments: