Tuesday, 19 October 1999

Dorothy Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh: Thrones, Dominations (1998)

Edition: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998
Review number: 366

I would normally avoid sequels to stories by dead authors like the plague; they are frequently written in a way which shows the new writer too lacking in imagination to have ideas of their own, and involve implausible plots when they attempt to continue a story which was concluded by the author (not leaving loose ends easily unravelled). There are exceptions. Peter Tremayne's Raffles stories are one, George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels another - though they are off at a tangent from rather than being straight continuations of Tom Brown's Schooldays. There are several reasons for expecting this novel to be another exception: it was started by Dorothy Sayers herself, fills in a gap in her series rather than continuing it, and is completed by an author who has a good reputation in her own right (and one whose work I like).

These expectations are to a large extent fulfilled. No indication is given as to the stage at which Thrones, Dominations was left by Sayers, or what information there was as to her plans for the remainder of the story. (She abandoned the novel to work on the translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, also uncompleted at her death.) The novel itself is about the early months of Peter and Harriet's marriage, following on from Busman's Honeymoon, and in structure and style it is a close relation of that novel.

In both novels, the first half is concerned with the relationship between Peter and Harriet and the way that those around them react to it. (The difference between their positions in society would have been far more important in the late thirties than now.) These chapters in both books contain extensive quotations from the diary of Peter's mother, the dowager Duchess of Denver. Then, in the second half, we have a mystery, less difficult here than in most of Sayers' own books.

The quality of the job that Walsh has done is shown by the fact that she has produced a novel in which it is virtually impossible to detect her hand at all. It is perhaps more similar to Busman's Honeymoon than I suspect that Sayers herself would have left it, the prose is perhaps a little more smooth, and the puzzle not so dependent on complex mechanical details (like the radio in Busman's Honeymoon, the haemophilia in Have His Carcase, for example). The strong characters of Peter and Harriet are as central as ever - the hero worship of Lord Peter maybe toned down a bit, perhaps to better suit modern readers - and are just as convincingly portrayed. The flattering expectation of literary knowledge in the reader is still present, though restricted to English more than in the novels by Sayers alone.

I would be interested to know what relationship this finished product bears to the material left by Sayers, but the very least that can be said is that Walsh has produced an excellent and convincing Lord Peter novel.

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