Sunday, 6 January 2013
I spent Christmas racing through the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo and I'm now compiling a tbr list of Scandi-crime from your suggestions. Thank you so much. I've temporarily moved from the seedy underbelly of Stockholm to the dreaming spires of Oxford to re-read Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers. Published in 1935 Gaudy Night is part of the golden age of detective fiction. It is highly enjoyable but it has dated and some of the snobbish references to 'common shop girls' can grate. However, I think if you read a lot of early 20th C fiction you do have to keep a sense of time and place.
The main premise of the story is that detective writer Harriet Vane visits her alma mater, Oxford University for the Gaudy Night celebrations. While she is staying there someone sends poison pen letters to staff and students and acts like a deranged poltergeist at night. The female dons ask Harriet to help them discover the 'poltergeist's' identity without too much adverse publicity for the college. Harriet agrees but soon finds the situation beyond her and calls in her old friend Lord Peter Wimsey.
I loved the descriptions of Oxford, 'students dashing to lectures their gowns hitched hurriedly over light summer frocks', the porter's lodge stacked with bicycles and punting on the Isis. Sayers is wickedly funny on academia and there is a long running joke about Miss Lydgate's epic work History of Prosody which always needs just one more footnote.
The actual crime element is pretty slight. The novel is really about the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet and the dilemma of intellect versus domesticity for women. I did enjoy it though. Did anyone who has read it find the business about the dog collar absolutely bizarre?