Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Now for my Book of the Month for February -- yes, I know it’s early. It may still get eclipsed, but at the moment I find that difficult to imagine.

Crime is a genre particularly given to subgenres, from the traditional (historicals, romances, SF) to the more specific hobby-based themes (cats, cooking, horses). I was quite delighted when I first came across the works of Jill Paton-Walsh, who had invented the patchwork-themed crime novel. As an occasionally devoted patchworker myself, I discovered a fascination with reading about fictional characters who shared my interest, particularly when that hobby was mixed in with a juicy murder mystery.

I was therefore intrigued to hear not only that Ms Paton-Walsh had recently released a novel featuring two of my favourite fictional characters, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, but that this was the second such novel. I eagerly tracked down the first, Thrones, Dominations, with a hopeful heart and slightly cynical eye.

The most disappointing thing about the marvellous murder mysteries penned by Dorothy Sayers, who as a successful popular female novelist and academic is one of my all-time heroes, is that they stop at just the point that they had reached a new level of interest. Busman’s Honeymoon, the last of the Peter Wimsey novels, takes place after the brilliant detective has finally married the equally brilliant Harriet Vane, and the book unveils a new and fascinating partnership, one frought with many difficulties but with a great deal of literary potential. Unfortunately for mystery-lovers (but not academics, since the versatile Ms Sayers devoted the rest of her life to scholarly works and translations) the series ends at that point, although it was not intended thus. A new book was begun, its plot threads carefully worked out, but other work got in the way and it was never completed.

Until now, of course. Thrones, Dominations is exactly the book that a fan of Busman’s Honeymoon would like to read. A chilling, clever mystery is interwoven with the complex and entertaining lives of the main characters. Lord Peter has truly married his other half, and in doing so has become a more effective crime-solver. Many twists and turns of the plot are revealed simply by husband and wife having a conversation together, since she -- not only female, but not belonging to his privileged class -- has a new perspective as well as having access to information that he does not. The usefulness of Peter’s valet Bunter as a clue-hunting sidekick is also matched by Harriet’s maid Mango, which bodes well for the household as a whole.

We are also treated to Harriet’s problems on dealing with her new role as ‘Lady Peter,’ from placating her starchy sister-in-law the Duchess and fielding questions about when she will provide an heir, and whether she will give up writing. The most important issue for Harriet, of course, is whether she _can_ still write. She no longer requires to earn her living penning detective novels, and can’t help wondering whether she is therefore obliged to write something worthwhile rather than merely popular.

The backdrop to all of this is the uneasy London of 1936, with one eye on the movements of Hitler and another on the equally suspicious movements of the new King, Edward. And the best thing about this book (apart from the plot, which was written by Ms Sayers herself and is as neat as ever) is that it feels not only as if it was written by Dorothy Sayers, but that it was written by Dorothy Sayers sometime between 1936 and 1938, an amazing feat for a modern writer to pull off. Of course, given the political commentary in the novel, it may not have been appropriate to publish this book at that time, which makes its appearance now all the more appreciated.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

No weblog entries for a while, I’m afraid, due to my desperately trying to get my novel something like finished before I have to send it off to the RoR workshop members somewhere around the middle of next month. I keep adding new plot lines, unfortunately, which means more work further down the track. Still, once it’s gone I can happily ignore it for a month and a half before starting the whole process again. What fun!

I shouldn’t have time for reading, but of course I always do. Well, I do now I’ve completed Spyro III (Playstation) and have almost stopped trying to glide out windows and pick up gems out of bushes.

My first favourite book of the year is Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett. It should come as a surprise to no one that this is a good book -- Discworld books are never less than good, and usually do not fall short of excellent. This one, however, is truly exceptional. I thought The Truth was a new high, but this leaves that in the dust, as it does all my other favourites such as Moving Pictures, Wyrd Sisters and Guards! Guards! In fact, this is what I tend to call a ‘practically perfect’ novel, with a plot so tight it makes the eyes water (not easy with time travel), characters who are funny, gritty and real all at the same time, and a conclusion satisying enough to justify the story itself. All that, plus this is a new treat for fans of the Discworld, a view into Ankh Morpork’s insalubrious past (pre-Colour of Magic, yet beautifully integrated with the city that we first discovered in that book, which I am re-reading at the moment) and the history of many favourite characters.

This is not a crime novel, despite being centred around Vimes, although it does have elements of a ‘police prodecural’ although it is not a crime that the police are proceeding around, but the potential of riot and revolution. The novel, however, is still structured like a crime novel, as I think most of the best novels are, with various layers of plot, character and action unpeeling in a precise manner to keep you guessing all the way along.

Definitely my Book of the Month for January.