Thrones, Dominations: A Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane Mystery by Dorothy Sayers with Jill Paton Walsh

Summary: Picking up after the honeymoon, Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane learn to live together as a married couple while solving a mystery.

Dorothy Sayers published the last full novel of her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series in 1937, Busman’s Holiday. Roughly 60 years later, an early draft of this novel was found in a lawyer’s safe, and Jill Paton Walsh was commissioned to finish the novel. Three additional novels entirely by Walsh continue to tell the story of the now-married couple, and I look forward to reading those eventually.

One of my complaints about Busman’s Holiday was that it was too much about Peter and not enough about Harriet. Thrones, Dominations balances the characters better without placing modern sensibilities on a couple from the mid-1930s. Harriet is trying to figure out how to be “Lady Peter”, as she is referred to throughout the novel. She wants to continue to write, and Peter really wants her to continue to write, but she has new duties as an aristocratic lady, and she has less pressure to write because she no longer needs to write to eat.

Peter has to learn to have someone in the house, and I think Walsh gets at his weaknesses (more than just his shell shock) better than Sayers. While the playboy was a bit of an act, there was a reality to his lack of attention to those around him. He has servants, especially Bunter, to care for everything he did not want to bother with. Harriet isn’t a servant nor a girlfriend to pine after. She is a real-life woman in his bed who expects to be fully inside his life and not just peering at the same facade everyone else sees.

The murder is one member of a couple that is compared with the Wimseys from the beginning of the book. As I regularly comment, I don’t read mysteries to figure out who did it. I read them to understand people. And this is a good book for understanding people.

When I was nearly done with Thrones, Dominations, I picked up the audiobook of Peril in Paris by Rhys Bowen (I read Thrones, Dominations on kindle). Rhys Bowen is a modern cozy mystery novelist that I enjoy. The Her Royal Spyness series is fluffy, and I have occasionally gotten bored with it, but I have continued with it (mostly on audiobook). The first book of Her Royal Spyness seems to pay homage to the first book of Lord Peter Wimsey, Whose Body, when both have bodies in the bathtub as the mystery. And I can’t help but feel Perel in Paris also basing some of the characters on Sayer’s work.

Both books are set in almost exactly the same time period. (Thrones, Dominations has the death of King George, while King George dies in the previous book for Royal Spyness, but it is within a couple of months of each other.) Both have a recently married couple whose wife doesn’t realize she is pregnant and thinks she is just sick. Both have the husbands run off to France to solve diplomatic issues with the new King, and the wives realize that dangerous work for a boyfriend is different than dangerous work for a husband. Harriet is more down-to-earth and aware than Georgie is, but there are some similarities.

What is different is that Sayers/Walsh can’t seem to help but have depth, and Bowen can’t seem to be more than fluff. There is a section in Thrones, Dominations, where Harriet struggles with whether she should keep writing. This is a condensed part of the dialogue opening with Peter:

“You seem not to appreciate the importance of your special form,” he said. “Detective stories contain a dream of justice. They project a vision of a world in which wrongs are righted, and villains are betrayed by clues that they did not know they were leaving. A world in which murderers are caught and hanged, and innocent victims are avenged, and future murder is deterred…Detective stories keep alive a view of the world which ought to be true. Of course people read them for fun, for diversion, as they do crossword puzzles. But underneath they feed a hunger for justice, and heaven help us if ordinary people cease to feel that.”

“You mean perhaps they work as fairy tales work, to caution stepmothers against being wicked, and to comfort Cinderellas everywhere?”

“I suppose very clever people can get their visions of justice from Dostoyevsky,” he said. “But there aren’t enough of them to make a climate of opinion. Ordinary people in large numbers read what you write.”

“But not for enlightenment. They are at their slackest. They only want a good story with a few thrills and reversals along the way.”

“You get under their guard,” he said. “If they thought they were being preached at they would stop their ears. If they thought you were bent on improving their minds they would probably never pick up the book. But you offer to divert them, and you show them by stealth the orderly world in which we should all try to be living.”

This is like Emily Dickenson/Eugene Peterson’s “tell is slant.” Peter is encouraging Harriet to continue to write her novels because they have depth. And Walsh has continues to keep that depth in a way that Bowen doesn’t seem to be able to do. That isn’t to say Bowen has no value; I have read 16 of her novels now. But what I get out of Bowen differs from what I get out of Sayers/Walsh.

Thrones, Dominations: A Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane Mystery by Dorothy Sayers with Jill Paton Walsh Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition 

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