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Gaudy Night

At long last I've reached the Lord Peter Wimsey book that most of Dorothy L. Sayers' fans say is the best of the series: Gaudy Night. I had it on my special TBR shelf of 25 or so books that I really wanted to read this year, so it was an easy matter to reach for it when I fancied a vintage crime read after a couple of months of not reading any at all.


Harriet Vane is the woman Lord Peter Wimsey would most like to marry. They met five years ago when she was accused of poisoning her ex-fiancé - in the events of Strong Poison - but all that happened back then hangs between them like the elephant in the room and prevents her from accepting his constant proposals.

Harriet is also rather afraid that marriage will rob her of her independence. She's now a successful crime author and isn't at all sure that marriage and its inevitable responsibilities will allow her to continue with her writing. She decides to return to Shrewsbury college, one of the few female colleges at Oxford, where she attained her degree, to attend the annual Gaudy Night. It's a kind of reunion weekend for former scholars and Harriet has always avoided it like the plague, but this year an old friend has pleaded with her to go to keep her company.

It's not long before Harriet realises that all is not well at her old college. It seems poison pen letters have been circulating and she herself gets several that refer to her trial and relationship with Peter. She's asked by her old tutors to investigate. They don't want to cause a scandal by calling in the police and Harriet being a crime writer seems to them to be the next best thing. Events escalate. Some nasty pranks are played and the letters continue. Harriet is afraid someone might die. There's only one thing for it, she must beg Lord Peter Wimsey for help...

Hard to do a review of this one as it's long and quite complicated. Although if I think about it, it's not the plot that's complicated it was trying to keep track of all the female dons and who they were and what they taught. I failed in that but in reality it didn't really matter as it's Harriet Vane who takes centre stage here and everyone else is secondary. We find out a lot about her university life, her thoughts on education for women, and the agonising educated women did back then about the effects of marriage on their career prospects. I found all of this incredibly interesting. Many things have changed for women since then but at the same time, many things have stayed the same and women still face exactly the same dilemmas.

This is not at all your average whodunnit, being primarily about mischief and the reasons for it in a women's college. It's also rather romantic, or it is as soon as Lord Peter arrives which sadly is quite a long way into the book. That aspect of it is delightful. One scene, on a punt on the river, was 'take your breath away' beautiful without anything sexual happening at all. Written so matter-of-factly but more erotic in feel than any sexually explicit scene could possibly be. What a writer Dorothy L. Sayers was.

In short, I thought Gaudy Night was fantastic. My favourite Wimsey book so far although I've enjoyed all of those I've read. I had that strange sensation you get sometimes when you finish a book that you hate the fact that it's ended and wouldn't mind starting all over again at the beginning. I certainly think it won't be many years before I do read it again. In the meantime I still have some of the early Wimsey mysteries to read and the last proper Wimsey/Harriet novel, Busman's Holiday, is on the way. After that there are several novels featuring these two by Jill Paton-Walsh which I gather are not bad. I hope that's the case as I really love these two and want to read a lot more about them.

Gaudy Night is my book four for Bev's 2015 Mount TBR challenge.


I'm so pleased that this lived up to everything you hoped from it! I do love that feeling of wanting to start a book again straight after reading it - just wanting more and more and more... that is good writing. *g*
It really is lovely when a book is *so* satisfying. And that lovely feeling when it stays with you for days and days afterwards. Still thinking about it, tbh. I seem to be a pretty good phase atm, with some good books read over the last 3 or 4 months, including Philip and Nico, thanks to you. Looking forward to Once Upon a time starting in a couple of weeks as I have several good books lined up for that.
I think I'm going to do Once Upon A Time again as well, because I enjoyed that last year! I nipped over to see if it was posted yet, but it doesn't seem to be. It's funny to think about reading in another genre when I'm thoroughly reading something different, but actually I do have some fantasy books on my TBR shelf, so I'm ready to go... *g*
The post will probably go up a few days before the 1st. March, I'll shout if I see it before that. I'm ready to go too, Point of Dreams, Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and *maybe* Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. We'll see... I really want to read that before the TV drama is aired and I don't know when that's to be, so I've better not dally too long. *G*
Whenever I think of Gaudy Night, I think of that scene! On the river! Aww!

Busman's Holiday is wonderful and probably my favourite of them all. I haven't read the Jill Paton-Walsh books, but friends tell me they start well and then tail off as the series continues.
That scene on the river was amazing. Blew me away.

I read that Busman's Holiday is great if you're reading it for the relationship stuff, not so great if you want a straightforward whodunnit. I fall into the former category so I confidently expect to love it. I have Thrones, Dominions which DLS started and J-PW finished, plus I'll read more so will report back on my findings. ;-)

Btw, I now have a book about Lady Charlotte Guest on my library pile. *g*