64. The Late Scholar, Jill Paton Walsh

OK, I’m getting off the genre-train for a bit, but had to finish this series. The Late Scholar finds Harriet and Peter back at Oxford– Peter having inherited his brother’s title and the accompanying responsibilities to one of the colleges, he now is asked to cast a deciding vote on a contentious debate about selling a prized manuscript. But there is more strife in the differing opinions than seems rational, and a few suspicious accidents, then a death, lead Peter and Harriet to spend a few weeks at the city of spires.

Nothing compares to the trilogy of Strong Poison/Have His Carcase/Gaudy Night. I have loved that gradual progression of changing minds and relationships for like two decades. Keep Pride and Prejudice, give me Harriet and Peter, no question. I really believe that conflict, and the resolution. It makes sense, and Harriet’s (overly?) sensitive pride just makes the fibers of my soul resonate with “oh girl me too.” Doesn’t hurt that I find the ridiculously articulate Peter just swooney as well, and that I’ve been trying to educate myself into like company for about half my life. My god, I love Dorothy Sayers.

Also, I’m not writing about Dorothy Sayers, am I? So Walsh has huge slippers to fill, and I don’t hate what she’s done. I appreciate that she doesn’t throw stones at the stained glass just to have the fun of patching it up– no shattered trust or regained confidence, once Harriet and Peter are together, they are a team. The mysteries are ok. I think I like A Presumption of Death best– the WW2 setting, as Harriet deals on the homefront with all the particularities of rations and blackouts– is really well done. (Walsh took a lot from Sayers’ Wimsey letters, which were published in the papers at the time, written from the perspective of the various characters– kind of like Eliot and Felix Holt, I guess– I wonder how common that is? so Sayers had articulated what she thought they would all be doing.)

This one, the topic in question (focus, Beth!) is fine, though attractive to me primarily because it lets me keep company a bit longer with these people I love. I don’t care as much about the mystery, but it seemed coherent. Everyone is aging. Reminded me of Tommy and Tuppence in that regard– only a few books, but they span entire lives and half a century. This is around 1950’s, Peter is getting on to 60, Harriet is more than 50, the Dowager Duchess (the first, who cares about Helen) is getting more and more frail. There was a palpable sense of mortality in this– Walsh has Peter take a break after something– a bad interview, I think– and I clutched a bit. (But he’s fine– no fear.)

I’m glad to put this series to bed, again. Finishing is very much a compulsion with me, I have trouble asking myself if this is really what I want to be doing at this moment, or if this is just the easiest thing to be doing– no decisions. And that’s not a great way to read, or to live. But there are worse things I could do.

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