The Late Scholar

The first Peter Wimsey novel I read was Strong Poison. I found it on a book-shelf in what we called the library (previous incarnations had had the room being our playroom, and before that the garden-room; it is not a grand room, simply where my father keeps his reference books) when I was about ten.

I fell in love with Lord Peter and subsequently collected as many of the other novels as I could. I have read, and own, almost all of them. I think there’s just one left for me to find.

I was, therefore, quite delighted to discover that Jill Paton Walsh – who so wonderfully completed Thrones, Dominations and added A Presumption of Death to the corpus – has added two more. Apparently I started with the most recent – The Late Scholar – but given that my love of Wimsey and Bunter did not begin at the beginning in any case, I doubt that this will cause me too many problems.

Anyhow. Time has moved on, and I was saddened to hear of Lord Saint-George’s death in the Battle of Britain and of Gerald, Duke of Denver’s, in a house fire, leaving the duchy to Peter. I am glad that his mother is still with us.

The Late Scholar returns us to Oxford, where both Peter and his wife, the novelist Harriet Vane, were at university, and where they were married. St Severin’s College, where Peter has unexpectedly become Visitor, is in trouble, the Fellows arguing over whether to sell a medieval (possibly one of King Alfred’s) manuscript. And then one of them dies. So Peter and Harriet, the wonderful Bunter in tow, go to Oxford. And discover there were other attempts. Attempts which copied those of Harriet’s crime novels, which in their turn were based on some of Peter’s cases.

It was a suitably complicated puzzle – Wimsey’s preferred method of knowing how to know who not helping – with old friends from previous novels making appearances, from Peter’s friend and brother-in-law Charles Parker to Harriet’s artist friends in London, all leading to a really quite dramatic conclusion.

If Harriet seemed a little staid from her years of marriage and Peter’s habit of quoting others somewhat suppressed, neither of these detract from what is otherwise an excellent continuation of Peter Wimsey’s detecting career, even now he is Duke of Denver. I was quite pleased that, despite the years since I last read a Sayers novel, I could still recognise which of her novels had been paid homage to in this one, with its copy-cat murderer.

It is not often that I like the work of those writing new stories for much-loved characters once the original creator has died, but Jill Paton Walsh’s novels I do. I look forward to finding The Attenbury Emeralds.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,”

said Jorge Luis Borges – and I really wish I had!

What sort of books do you like to read? Is there a genre you prefer? Or are you like me, and will read pretty much anything, if it interests you? Do you care if the author is male or female? Does the author’s name really register when you first pick it up?

In my habitual perusal of the ‘net, I stumbled across a campaign encouraging the reading of female authors’ works, despite the allegedly off-putting pastel covers. I’ve been a bit lazy in my reading of late, I will admit, but normally, I am a prolific reader. I also hate getting rid of my books. So I have children’s books next to adult books. Well, not really, that’s not how I organise my books, but you get my drift.

My shelves are, coincidentally, mostly full of female authors. Mostly because I’ve managed to collect the majority of Georgette Heyer’s novels, a decent handful or three of Agatha Christie’s and most of Dorothy L. Sayers. And I’ve still got a load of Enid Blytons (I don’t want to have to buy my children the updated, modern editions. I see nothing wrong with the originals). I don’t have these books because the authors are female and so am I. The only author whose books I discovered because of the author’s name (and therefore gender) is Celia Rees, and she I chose because we share a name. I continued reading her books because I liked them. Most books are recommended or were idly picked up while browsing in a shop.

Good books I read, and look for more by the same. Books which bore me, not so much. I don’t normally think about the author’s gender. I just want to know if the writing’s any good. Sometimes, easy reads are what I want, and I’ll read “chick-lit” for the simplicity, or television/film tie-ins – like those by “Richard Castle”! But usually, I just want a good story, told in such a way that the words paint pictures in my mind. Conan Doyle, Dumas, the above women, Tolkien. There is a host of great authors out there, too many to list them all here. Discover your own favourites, not just the ones that the Powers That Be decide everyone should read.

I think a book is a book and you should read what you like. Regardless of the author’s gender.