A Presumption of Death
A New Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane Mystery
By Jill Paton Walsh
(Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 9780312291006, 384pp.)
Publication Date: March 2003
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Sixty years after Dorothy L. Sayers began her unfinished Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones Dominations, Booker Prize finalist Jill Paton Walsh took on the challenge of completing the manuscript---with extraordinary success. “The transition is seamless,” said the San Francisco Chronicle; “you cannot tell where Sayers leaves off and Walsh begins.”
“Will Paton Walsh do it again?” wondered Ruth Rendell in London’s Sunday Times. “We must hope so.”
Jill Paton Walsh fulfills those hopes in A Presumption of Death. Although Sayers never began another Wimsey novel, she did leave clues. Drawing on “The Wimsey Papers,” in which Sayers showed various members of the family coping with wartime conditions, Walsh has devised an irresistible story set in 1940, at the start of the Blitz in London.
Lord Peter is abroad on secret business for the Foreign Office, while Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey, has taken their children to safety in the country. But war has followed them there---glamorous RAF pilots and even more glamorous land-girls scandalize the villagers, and the blackout makes the nighttime lanes as sinister as the back alleys of London. Daily life reminds them of the war so constantly that, when the village’s first air-raid practice ends with a real body on the ground, it’s almost a shock to hear the doctor declare that it was not enemy action, but plain, old-fashioned murder. Or was it?
At the request of the overstretched local police, Harriet reluctantly agrees to investigate. The mystery that unfolds is every bit as literate, ingenious, and compelling as the best of original Lord Peter Wimsey novels.
Jill Paton Walsh is the author of six novels for adults, one of which, Knowledge of Angels, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Before writing for adults she made a career as a writer of children’s books and has won many literary prizes. In addition she is the author of two crime novels: The Wyndham Case and A Piece of Justice, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award.
Dorothy L. Sayers, the greatest of the golden age detective novelists, was born in Oxford in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University and worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency from 1921 to 1932. Her aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, became one of the most popular fictional heroes of the twentieth century. Dorothy L. Sayers also became famous for her religious plays, notably The Man Born to Be King, which was broadcast controversially during the war years, but she considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work. She died in 1957.
“Sayers’ fans are in Walsh’s debt.” ---San Francisco Chronicle
"The setting is authentic and the story is gripping, but this is also a serious and committed book." --Barbara Reynolds, President of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society and author of Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul