Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers: B+

From the back cover:
Murder is hardly the best way for Lord Peter and his bride, the famous mystery writer Harriet Vane, to start their honeymoon. It all begins when the former owner of their newly acquired estate is found quite nastily dead in the cellar. And what Lord Peter had hoped would be a very private and romantic stay in the country soon turns into a most baffling case, what with the misspelled “notise” to the milkman and the intriguing condition of the dead man—not a spot of blood on his smashed skull and not a pence less than six hundred pounds in his pocket.

Busman’s Honeymoon is the final Lord Peter novel written exclusively by Dorothy L. Sayers. (Two collections of short stories follow, as well as a pair of novels completed by Jill Paton Walsh based on material written by Sayers.) Therefore, while there is a case to be solved, the real focus of the book is on giving beloved characters Peter and Harriet a fitting send-off.

After six years of struggle, Peter and Harriet have finally managed to get married and have gone off to Talboys, a country cottage in the village Harriet lived in as a child, for their honeymoon. Concerns about safely transporting Peter’s stock of port or unclogging some terribly sooty chimneys give way to investigation when the body of the former owner is discovered in the cellar.

There’s not actually a lot of emphasis on the case. Investigation mostly consists of some interviews, a few theories, and then sudden inspiration that leads to the reconstruction of the crime and a ready confession. At one point I was surprised to realize I was 75% of the way through the book and so little had actually happened on the detecting front. Instead, more attention is paid to Peter and Harriet as they make peace with being so happy, an emotion that actually produces some unease, and it’s a testament to the likability of these characters that reading about their contentment is actually interesting.

The end of the book is also fairly intriguing, though a bit odd. Peter catches the culprit, and that’s usually where these things end. This time, there’s a random visit to the Wimsey family home—complete with matter-of-fact discussion about ghostly residents—followed by a depiction of Peter’s descent into guilty despair because he has, through his efforts, sent someone to the gallows. We’ve heard about his dark moods before, but never really seen him in the throes of one. Harriet must learn how to deal with these episodes in a way that doesn’t belittle Peter and, indeed, much of the process of getting used to one another involves recognizing temptations to exert influence and forcing oneself to allow the other to remain fully independent.

As a final installment, it works pretty well. That said, though I had originally been on the fence as to whether to read the Sayers/Walsh novels, I now think that I won’t be able to resist getting another glimpse at the Wimseys. Heck, I don’t even need there to be a mystery, really. As Busman’s Honeymoon proved, with these characters, a case is not necessary for the result to be enjoyable.

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