"When I take a full view and circle of myself without this reasonable moderator, and equal piece of justice, death, I do conceive myself the miserablest person extant. Were there not another life that I hope for, all the vanities of this world should not entreat a moment's breath from me. Could the devil work my belief to imagine I could never die, I would not outlive that very thought."
- Sir Thomas Browne, RELIGIO MEDICI, part I, section 38 (one of Lord Peter Wimsey's favourite books)
After reading THRONES, DOMINATIONS and learning that she was continuing Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey stories in A PRESUMPTION OF DEATH, I was curious to see what Walsh's writing is like taken alone, free of my existing opinions about Lord Peter. A PIECE OF JUSTICE is Walsh's second Imogen Quy (rhymes with 'why') mystery, thus also serving as an independent check on Walsh's handling of series characters.
Starting on the library's copy one weekend afternoon, I set it aside somewhere about chapter 12 - because I only had about an hour to get back there and check out THE WYNDHAM CASE before I'd miss my chance for another week. :) The books can be read out of order without missing anything crucial to understanding the characters in A PIECE OF JUSTICE or spoiling THE WYNDHAM CASE.
What impresses me most about Walsh's writing in the Quy books is that nothing goes to waste - the writing is watertight. Anything that happens serves to provide clues or illuminate character - and just as the reader might dismiss an incident as only one or the other, Walsh may turn the tables. As a consequence of this storytelling style, on the other hand, the landscape is *not* littered with standard red-herring tools such as characters who exist only to divert reader suspicion from the real culprit(s) - like the extra 2 or 3 board members of a firm hiring Nero Wolfe, or the non-entity sibling who's quietly pruned from the cast list in a BBC adaptation of a Marple novel. The lack of clutter strengthens the story, although it entails working without a safety net in terms of misdirection on the puzzle side. As I favour story over puzzle aspects in mysteries, that doesn't bother me.
Imogen works part-time as school nurse at St. Agatha's College, Cambridge. As a member of the Newnham Quilter's Club, her inquisitive mind turns naturally to the love of patterns that run across the entire surface of a finished work - she is, of course, among the few who love designing the quilts the group works on, rather than just following through a pattern laid down by others. (Throughout JUSTICE, Walsh provides a recurring pattern herself, concerning traditional activities that may entail little formal recognition, but are vital to well-being or comfort: crafts rather than arts.)
When Imogen's favourite lodger - Fran, a starving grad student - lands ghost-writing work from Professor Maverack, her advisor (in Cambridge-speak, he's supervising her), on a biography of the late Gideon Summerfield, Imogen isn't happy with the patterns that emerge from the research Fran has been handed. Just how many researchers have been handling this material - and what happened to them?
Janet Summerfield, the widow, craves acclaim for Gideon; she *wants* the biography to be written, and provided much of the raw data. She's eager to talk about him - but why is she so hostile when biographers want to talk to *her*?
And frankly, who other than Mrs. Summerfield would care about "the great Gideon's" life, posthumous Waymark prize in mathematics notwithstanding? Maverack didn't want to write the biography himself because Summerfield seemed boring - so he says - and the publishers insisted on using his name for fear the book wouldn't make money otherwise.