Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Busman's Honeymoon: Dorothy L. Sayers


I was surprised that Dorothy Sayers wrote only eleven mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. I have read them all, but for most of them it was a long time ago. Of these, only four feature Harriet Vane as Wimsey's love interest.

Busman’s Honeymoon was the last novel in the series. After five years of being wooed by Peter, Harriet Vane has finally said yes, and we get a peek at the wedding planning, the nuptials, but most of all their first few days of marriage while on their honeymoon at Talboys, where a dead body is discovered.

The story begins with a series of letters and extracts from the diary of the Dowager Duchess of Denver (Peter's mother). That part of the story is lovely, entertaining, and gives the reader a good picture of the issues with Lord Peter choosing to marry a commoner and a woman who has been previously involved in a murder trial.

Following that, Harriet and Peter leave for Talboys, a farmhouse in the country that Harriet had dreamed of owning when she was a child. Peter has just purchased Talboys and has arranged for it to be habitable for them for their honeymoon. Things go very wrong, and when they arrive the house is locked, and not close to ready for them to take it over. They find the previous owner's niece, who lets them into the house, which is in disarray. The next day, as they all (but mostly Bunter, Peter's loyal manservant) work hard to get it into shape, a body is discovered. Of course, Peter and Harriet inevitably get involved in the investigation.

There is much good to say about this book. Sayers excels at characterization, both in the major and the minor characters. In this book, Harriet and Bunter are getting used to their new roles in relationship to each other. I also enjoyed the portrayal of Superintendent Kirk, of the local CID, who investigates the murder, and his concern for his police constable, Joe Sellon, who seems to  be implicated in the murder.

The body is not discovered until one third of the way into the book, and this story is like many of Sayer's books concerning the couple in that it is not really the mystery that is given the most attention, but the story around the mystery. Some readers like this, others don't. I am mostly neutral on this point, except that I think in this case both the mystery plot and the discussions of Harriet and Peter's new relationship go on too long. The book has interminable stretches where characters discuss the intricate timing of alibis and there is way too much dialog between Peter and Harriet about their relationship (not to mention that much of it is in French). I would have liked a shorter version of this book much better.

I reread this book because we had purchased a copy of Haunted Honeymoon (1940), the film adaptation starring  Robert Montgomery as Lord Peter Wimsey and Constance Cummings as Harriet. We had taped a copy when it showed on TV years ago and were glad to be able to watch it again. The story was not too changed, although in the film the couple have sworn off of detecting and are not too much like the characters in the book, in my opinion. But still a lot of fun to watch.

Other resources:

Most posts that discuss this book or the entire set of books featuring both Harriet and Peter, do contain spoilers to the early books, so if you haven't read any of the books starting with Strong Poison, you may want to wait to read the following posts.

These three posts discuss Busman's Honeymoon: At My Reader's Block, Classic Mysteries, and crossexaminingcrime.

These two posts discuss all the books with Peter and Harriet: At Clothes in Books and Criminal Element.



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Publisher:  Avon Books, 1968 (orig. publ. 1937).
Length:      318 pages (of very tiny print)
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Peter Wimsey, #11
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.

31 comments:

  1. A fine review, Tracy, as ever. It's interesting, isn't it, what a big difference editing makes. Sometimes a book does get too bogged down, and that pulls a reader out of a story. Still, as you say, Sayers did create some great characters. I really do like the Dowager Duchess, and I'm glad she features in this one.

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    1. The diary entries from Dowager Duchess are done so well, Margot. They and the letters at the beginning really pull together everything that has happened up to the point of this book.

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  2. Sayers originally wrote this as a play and then turned it into a novel - I saw the stage version performed by Edward Petherbridge just when he was playing Wimsey on TV and it was a great evening and a lovely way to finish the romance with Vane off I thought.

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    1. I had read that this was originally a play, Sergio, and wondered how it would compare. How wonderful to see it with Edward Petherbridge.

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  3. Tracy, I have never read Dorothy L. Sayers and like so many authors, I do intend to read her someday. As you mention, I get a sense and intensity of her characters, and the Talboys setting seems really nice.

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    1. Prashant, you should try at least one Sayers. I have a lot of authors that I haven't gotten to, either.

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  4. I read a lot of Dorothy Sayers back in the 1970s, but I've read very few since then. I have a lot of them, so maybe it's time to savor them again.

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    1. I have had mixed results when rereading the books in the Wimsey series, Joan. Some I have liked a lot, others disappointed me. Maybe my expectations have changed, or what I like in a story.

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  5. This one's a good one, Dorothy Sayers' usual engaging style and detail, lovely touches of humour and a serious attempt to get to grips with the difficulties of a very complex relationship. I do remember thinking that Harriet was a little too awestruck by her husband at times, but that might be somewhat realistic to the era and situation, or just faulty recall (it's been a few years). And I really agree with you on the excess of French. Still, looking forward to reading it again next time I go through the novels.

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    1. Overall, I found this a good read, Sandy, and a lot of readers love the parts I don't like. So I am sure you will enjoy it when you get back to it.

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  6. I listened to this when once upon a time, the audio books were on youtube. (Long gone from the site I'm afraid.) Liked it very much, especially the reading by Ian Carmichael. I also saw the BBC version (I always call it the BBC version because that's who I always think runs everything on Brit. TV) on youtube a long time ago and enjoyed that even more. Ian Carmichael as a honeymooner is so endearing. Their arrival at Talboys at night in the middle of a bleak nowhere is fun to watch. Enjoyed your review, as always, Tracy.

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    1. Thanks, Yvette. I enjoyed seeing the movie once again and wish I could see this performed as a play.

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  7. I have read them all, but I must admit I greatly prefer the novels (and stories!) before Harriet Vane came into the picture. It always seemed to me she bogged things down to a large degree, and the plots suffered as a result. I'll take The Nine Tailors any day.

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    1. Rick, I think I have some of the Wimsey stories and I should give them a try. I agree that somehow Harriet in the books made them longer and they do get bogged down, but I did really like them the first time I read them. My favorite is Murder Must Advertise, I need to reread that one next.

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    2. I agree with you, Rick. She was never a favorite of mine. I never could understand why she led Wimsey such a song and dance. After awhile it became tedious and to me and lessened Wimsey in some way.

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    3. It did irritate me that Harriet took so long to say yes to Peter, Yvette, since she does actually care for him. That is one reason I put off trying Gaudy Night again.

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  8. Have not read Sayers, but now I'm thinking I should get on the stick. You're a good saleswoman, Tracy!

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    1. It never hurts to read at least one mystery by an author like Sayers, Mathew. She was a very interesting person.

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    2. I loved CLOUDS OF WITNESS - might take a look at that one, Mathew. Though everyone says THE NINE TAILORS is her best.

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  9. I loved Strong Poison but haven't moved past Have His Carcase. Sayers is good but in Have His Carcase, I find her to bit wordy but still there's the humor in it that I love. I really want to get back to reading her. ---Keishon

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    1. I have wanted to reread Have His Carcase, Keishon, but keep postponing it because of the reason you mention.

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  10. I have never gone back to Sayers after reading the first one. Perhaps my expectations were too high or whatever but the book left me underwhelmed. Perhaps one of these days, I'll try her once again.

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    1. Neer, I often have problems with having too high expectations and then the book just doesn't meet those expectations. Much better to go in with low or no expectations. When I reread Clouds of Witness, the 2nd book, I was very disappointed. That was 15 years ago, so maybe I will give one of the other early ones a try again. After Murder Must Advertise.

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  11. I hadn't realised the book had been made into a film, I hope I can see it sometime. I've read all of her books but I know that a lot of people are put of by her snobbery, but I find it amusing.

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    1. I don't mind the snobbery very much, Katrina, there is snobbery everywhere. I enjoy it more for a look back in time.

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  12. ...adding a Read #Dorothy Sayers to my challenge list 2018!!

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    1. Sayers is definitely a vintage author worth trying, Nancy. Like most authors there is a lot of variety in the quality of the books, but some people prefer the early ones, some prefer the Harriet books, seems like there is something for almost everyone.

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  13. Glad you enjoyed it Tracy, but it won't be one I'll be seeking out thanks.

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    1. No, I can't see you getting much enjoyment out of any of the Sayers books, Col, although there might be one or two.

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  14. Just checking in:
    I started 'Whose Body?" by D. Sayers...and it is delightful!

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    1. I am glad to hear that you are liking Whose Body?, Nancy. Maybe I will try that one again after I reread Murder Must Advertise.

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