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Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery with Harriet Vane Paperback – October 16, 2012
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“Gaudy Night stands out even among Miss Sayers’s novels. And Miss Sayers has long stood in a class by herself.” (Times Literary Supplement (London))
“Very skillfull writing. Miss Sayers has done a real tour de force, and done it with ease and grace.” (Saturday Review)
“A royal performance.” (The Spectator)
From the Back Cover
When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the Gaudy, the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obscenities, burnt effigies, and poison-pen letters, including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup." Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds of clues to challenge her powers of detection, and those of her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey.
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If you are already a fan of Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr, then you should definitely read Dorothy Sayers. But if you have so far only read modern mystery writers, Sayers is NOT the first port of call for your Golden Age experience. You may find Gaudy Night daunting with its slow pace, the quaint (sometimes near impenetrable) language of the cloistered Oxford dons of the 1930s, and the lengthy exploration of characters internal worlds as they introspectively ponder their own motivations. Viewed through modernist eyes, Gaudy Night has far too many characters, far too many words, and far too little action.
On its own terms however, this book is the pinnacle of British Golden Age writing. Most agree it is Sayers' best. It is a literary novel which gives a penetrating insight into women of the era struggling with the conflict between the constraints of traditional feminine roles and the intellectual freedom (and rigor) of academia. And it presents a mystery of satisfying complexity and convincing resolution.
Gaudy Night is the best of its era - when you are ready for it.
This is among Sayers most literary works of fiction, marred somewhat for me, one who lacks a classic education, by the frequency of references to arcane works and quotations from the past. However, one cannot say that they are out of place in a work set in an Oxford college of 80 or more years ago. This is the third of the Harriet Vane series which ends with her final full Wimsey book, Busman's Honeymoon (1940), a nice little film starring Robert Montgomery (who plays Wimsey as rather more American middle class than British Aristocracy).