Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Attenbury Emeralds - Jill Paton Walsh

Over the weekend I read The Attenbury Emeralds, Jill Paton-Walsh’s continuation of Sayers' detective fiction. The story itself is implausible but none the worse for that, I’d rather have a good yarn than something sensible. There are shades of The Moonstone, but more a modern riff and riposte to it, all well constructed, and I whizzed through quite happy.

Whizzed through partly, to be honest, because there wasn’t much meat in it to slow me down. The characters lack complexity, compared to their treatment under Sayers’ hand, and sadly there’s also less humour and what I can only describe as less energy. Maybe it’s the rationing (the book is set in the 50s). Everyone is subdued and just a shade too sensible, especially the new boys. I badly missed St John – killed in action in the war, sadly.

Speaking of the war we also get a namecheck on the Café de Paris (note to authors: many, many places across the country were bombed out during the war, why does everyone fixate on the Café de Paris?) where the particular emerald we’re interested in was worn on the fateful night.

Anyway the pace picks up, Wimsey is hot on the trail, the characterisation of the people he interviews along the way is actually very good, you really start to get hooked and then..

And then suddenly the ancestral home burns down and brother Denver keels over, so Wimsey is the new duke and has to rush off to help, abandoning his investigation. Long faces all round, grump grump grump, goodness aren’t the death duties high.. oh well, I suppose his majesty didn’t expect to have to be king and he managed.

Frankly you would think a dukedom were a glass of not-so-sparkling cyanide from the way he and Harriet react.

So that oddly unnecessary and pace-killing interlude over and we’re back in London to continue the main story. Emeralds retrieved, murderer caught, don’t really believe the motive but never mind, it’s that sort of story.

All nicely wrapped up with a letter from the Duchess of Denver at the end which is worth the entry price alone. And yet.. and yet I know I'll never reread it.    

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