Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

The Attenbury Emeralds: The New Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Mystery by Jill Paton Walsh, Based on the Characters of Dorothy L. Sayers  --- 338 pages.

In her third mystery featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and his wife Harriet Vane, our story begins in 1951. Peter and Harriet, like many in Britain, are coping with the immense political, economic and social consequences of the war. Among these is the death during the Battle of Britain of Peter's nephew, the only son and heir to Peter's elder brother the Duke of Denver. This leaves Peter contemplating the unwelcome probability that he and his own son Bredon are next in line to inherit the dukedom and all its burdens.

The story begins with Harriet reading the obituary of an old Wimsey family friend, Lord Attenbury. Peter is mentioned in relation to an odd scandal, the 1921 disappearance and recovery of a magnificent emerald that was part of the Attenburys' famous collection of heirloom jewels. It was the case that launched Peter --- a shell-shocked veteran of the First World War --- on his career as a detective.

Scarcely has Peter finished recounting the details of that case to Harriet when the new Lord Attenbury --- grandson of Peter's original client --- arrives on his doorstep to beg Peter's help. Someone has filed a challenge contesting the Attenbury's ownership of the jewel. The emerald has spent most of the last thirty years in a safe deposit box at the Attenbury's bank, and the new Lord Attenbury is desperate to sell the stone in order to pay the death duties on his much impoverished estate.

The cast of characters is large and sometimes confusing to the reader as the story moves back and forth between the events of 1921 and the present day. Paton Walsh portrays just how difficult the postwar transition was even for those who welcomed the changes.

The Attenbury Emeralds was published in 2010, and a fourth novel, The Late Scholar, appeared last year in Britain and is scheduled for U.S. publication in 2014. 

Click HERE to see an interview with Jill Paton Walsh discussing the challenges of taking on Dorothy L. Sayers' literary legacy.

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