Jill Paton Walsh. The Attenbury Emeralds (2010).
It is lamented among readers of the best vintage English mysteries that Dorothy Sayers only wrote twelve full-length novels. I have frequently bemoaned the fact myself. Thus I view Walsh’s endeavor to extend the canon with sympathetic feeling. When I picked up The Attenbury Emeralds I was already familiar with Jill Paton Walsh as part-author of Thrones, Dominations (1998)–she finished the manuscript where Sayers left off. I am ignorant as to how many of Sayer’s notes or plans Walsh had access but her effort in the earlier volume is enthralling and convincing, with echoes of the depth of character development for which Sayers is (justly) famous.
The Attenbury Emeralds is less well done. It attempts to pre-quel the Sayers novels–that is, tell the story of Lord Peter’s first case, the recovery of an emerald necklace. The book is further complicated by beginning in the 1950s, where we find Peter and Harriet still happily married and looking back together on the past–when suddenly some loose ends from the earlier mystery jolt us back into the present, where Peter and Harriet have some further solving to do.
The plot is not so much complicated as incomprehensible and worse, the overall tone is much darker than Sayer’s. I cannot forgive Walsh for the headless lady in the blitzing of London scene or for the destruction of Peter’s boyhood home. She also modernizes both Lord Peter and the faithful Bunter in ways that I can’t help but think they would deeply disapprove. Her characters aren’t round enough, her story intriguing enough, or her pen light enough for this to be convincing as a Sayers novel.
Read simply as a mystery novel by someone else it would fare better. In that case it is a passable whodunit set in an interesting place and time.