Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers

Busman's Honeymoon cover imageSummary: Lord Peter and Harriet finally get married and go on their honeymoon, only to have it be a ‘working vacation’ as they solve a murder. 

I have very slowly been working through the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series. I noticed when looking for something else that Audible had a copy of the old Ian Carmichael audiobook as part of their free audiobook library for members, and even though I have not read Gaudy Night, which is before Busman’s Honeymoon in series order, I needed a fiction audiobook, and I jumped at it.

When I started Dorothy Sayers’ books, I had already read Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series for a couple of years. Regularly I have noticed places where, even though I am reading Sayers after Bowen, I can tell that Bowen was paying homage to Sayers in her books.

I did not look it up until I finished this book, but a busman’s holiday is the idea of a bus driver going on vacation by riding a bus somewhere. It isn’t a vacation to do what you usually do for work, as a vacation. Lord Peter and Lady Harriet have decided to honeymoon at a small country house that Harriet has purchased to have as a place to get away from the pressures of their lives. I will not give away the plot, but as you would expect in a cozy mystery series, a body appears, and there is a murder to solve.

Ian Carmichael is not my favorite narrator. He is fine, but I have noticed lately that several of the books I am listening to do not seem to have been well-engineered for the way I think most people use audiobooks. Some people will listen on a speaker, maybe while cooking dinner or something like that. But I think most people listen on headphones or in a car. And Carmichael’s voice, with his slightly high register and wide dynamic ranges, does not work all that well. Cars are noisy with traffic and the noise of the engine. Headphones often are in the actual ears, and you can’t easily change the volume, so either loud or soft is a problem. Generally, non-fiction will have a pretty standard dynamic range, and you just set the volume and forget about it. But fiction necessarily has some dynamic ranges necessary to tell the story. But I want Audible to pay attention to the engineering work to get that right. I can’t complain too much about this particular audiobook because I believe it was recorded in the 1990s.

Unfortunately, only a couple of the series has unabridged audiobooks. There are many abridged BBC Radio drama versions, but I am more interested in the complete novels.

I will make two more comments about the actual content of the book. First, Sayers makes a game of referencing the classics in this book. There are so many quotes and literary allusions. I am sure I missed most of the not explicitly noted ones. This series would benefit from someone annotating them and giving translations (lots of untranslated French) or context for the references. I think the references make sense of the characters, but I can see how they would be annoying.

Second, the book opens with letters from people complaining about the wedding and its impropriety. Lord Peter is important and has a position to uphold, and many people expect him to do it. The letters are supposed to be annoying and they are. There is an ongoing theme of grappling with emotion and the reality of the cynical difficulty in not being honest with yourself as a means of self-protection. It has been hinted at in earlier books, but Peter has what would not be called PTSD from his time in WWI, and his joking manner and lightness are a protective measure.

But both Peter and Harriet have what I think would best be described as glimpses of real joy in CS Lewis’ sense of the term. It is not just the ecstatic or having fun as part of a honeymoon, but a sense of joy that images what may come in the new heaven and earth when all shall be made right. There are no sex scenes, but there are hints as you might expect on a honeymoon. However, they are barely ever alone because of interruptions, things going wrong, and the investigation. But those glimpses of joy are not at the physical intimacy, but when each of them realizes that their love is real and their deep cynicism brought on by years of hurt and murder has not prevented them from actually feeling love, even if they do find the expressions of love embarrassing.

There is a very British “stiff upper lip” or “emotion is bad” trope that is being poked at. And that culture is not our current culture. But there is still work that needs to be to free people to grapple with their emotions well.

Busman’s Holiday makes me want to reread Strong Poison, where Harriet first makes an appearance, and then Gaudy Night, which I have not previously read, and then reread Busman’s Holiday in print.

Busman’s Honeymoon Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition. Audible.com Audiobook 

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