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A Presumption of Death [Hardcover]

Jill Paton Walsh , Dorothy L. Sayers
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 2003
Sixty years after Dorothy L. Sayers began her unfinished Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Thrones Dominations, Booker Prize finalist Jill Paton Walsh took on the challenge of completing the manuscript---with extraordinary success. “The transition is seamless,” said the San Francisco Chronicle; “you cannot tell where Sayers leaves off and Walsh begins.”

“Will Paton Walsh do it again?” wondered Ruth Rendell in London’s Sunday Times. “We must hope so.”

Jill Paton Walsh fulfills those hopes in A Presumption of Death. Although Sayers never began another Wimsey novel, she did leave clues. Drawing on “The Wimsey Papers,” in which Sayers showed various members of the family coping with wartime conditions, Walsh has devised an irresistible story set in 1940, at the start of the Blitz in London.

Lord Peter is abroad on secret business for the Foreign Office, while Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey, has taken their children to safety in the country. But war has followed them there---glamorous RAF pilots and even more glamorous land-girls scandalize the villagers, and the blackout makes the nighttime lanes as sinister as the back alleys of London. Daily life reminds them of the war so constantly that, when the village’s first air-raid practice ends with a real body on the ground, it’s almost a shock to hear the doctor declare that it was not enemy action, but plain, old-fashioned murder. Or was it?

At the request of the overstretched local police, Harriet reluctantly agrees to investigate. The mystery that unfolds is every bit as literate, ingenious, and compelling as the best of original Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In her second Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane whodunit, Booker Prize finalist Walsh (Knowledge of Angels) does a far better job of honoring Sayers than she did in their first posthumous collaboration, Thrones, Dominations (1998). Walsh's starting point here is "The Wimsey Papers," a series of letters on home front conditions, ostensibly written by various members of the Wimsey family, which ran in the Spectator at the outset of WWII. Lord Peter himself is offstage for most of the novel, involved in some covert mission in Europe, leaving his wife to take care of their household. When a young Land Girl is found murdered during an air raid, the local superintendent enlists Harriet's aid. Harriet's traditional line of inquiry into possible spurned suitors is diverted when an eccentric and seemingly paranoid dentist discloses that the quiet, ordinary village of Paggleham is actually a nest of German spies. Despite Peter's diminished role, he remains a vital presence throughout, thanks to his place at the center of Harriet's thoughts. Should Walsh have no further original Sayers material to draw on, she seems perfectly suited to continue the series entirely on her own.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


“Sayers’ fans are in Walsh’s debt.” ---San Francisco Chronicle

"The setting is authentic and the story is gripping, but this is also a serious and committed book." --Barbara Reynolds, President of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society and author of Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars St. Martin's-Minotaur should be ashamed. June 18 2003
By Susan
And the Trustees of Anthony Fleming should be suing to demand a retraction and reissue.
Jill Paton Walsh does quite a competent job with character and setting, which is why I'm giving four stars to something whose final manifestation appalled me.
Her plot is less complex than the genuine Sayers article, and I felt the relative absence of introspective musing common to Sayers' later work, but given the shortness of the book I think both were in proportion.
I disagree with the reviewer who says Lady Peter would not have cared for the exhausted Bunter's physical needs; Lady Mary might have hesitated but it was entirely in keeping with Harriet's impatience with convention. I do agree that she would not have invited people to call her "Harriet"; she faced the fact that she would have to put up with being "Lady Peter" (socially -- continuing professionally as "Miss Vane" is quite appropriate) in "Busman's Honeymoon."
SMM went to all the expense of paying for the rights, the author, the production, the publicity and the distribution. Anybody could have explained that the market for this book comprises people likely to read carefully. It is unconscionable that the budget did not offer a good copy editor enough time to read the text, in context.
I'll overlook the sentence fragments, although I'm convinced Sayers would not have permitted them.
There are errors of spelling: Fighters "bale" out of airplanes in practically every chapter.
There are errors of idiom: Harriet says, "Well, I have done," when Sayers' Harriet would have stopped at "Well, I have." Anachronistically, characters begin statements with "Only," sounding like visitors from Harry Potter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very much a letdown April 27 2003
This book does not honor the Sayers canon. It is full of allusions to moments from other books, as if Walsh is trying to say "See? I read then and know them! Trust me, I'm a fan!" But Sayers hardly ever repeated herself. The book has more dialogue and less intelligent introspection and analysis than any Sayers book. The scene in which Harriet puts an exhausted Bunter to bed would NEVER happen that way; Harriet wouldn't violate the social contract. Bunter would never be that familar with Ruddle. Trapp is not likely to tolerate Ruddle. In a late scene, Bunter appears in two places at once. There is no attempt to use dialect or idiom to distinguish people from different backgrounds. Poorly written, and VERY poorly edited. Looks like a rush job. I hope she does not write another novel using Sayers' characters. It is a disservice to the fans.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly lame Sept. 8 2003
By A Customer
I agree with much of the criticism in previous reviews. As a mystery, ignoring for a moment the Wimsey-Vane series, the fundamental problem is that the book is too short. The print is large so that fewer words can be stretched to a standard number of pages. Because the book is short, it is easy to catch all the hints about the case. There is not enough extra action and text to hide them. The author very heavy-handedly adds comments like, "Harriet forgot what was troubling her." By way of "explaining" Harriet's failure to follow up and thereby prolong the mystery, this tactic highlights the clue, which is not what a mystery-writer would want to do.
As a volume in the Wimsey-Vane series, the book is very weak. The personal material is entirely dependent on previous, authentic Sayers' works. Harriet is constantly thinking back to the events of Busman's Honeymoon, and Gaudy Night is also referred to. Interestingly, she seems to have forgotten about the Thrones, Dominations case. It doesn't figure in her recollections at all. The parts that are new are more wish-fulfillment (popular characters get happy endings) than authentic development.
Finally, to the person who complained that Jerry Winsey appears as uncle to his cousins Charlie Parker and Paul Wimsey, give me a break. Jerry is considerably older than the boys. It's a courtesy title.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Pale Imitation Of The Real Thing May 21 2003
By A Customer
The names are accurate, even, to some extent, the sense of place, but the characters are mere shadows of themselves and the dialogue jars. Sayers let dialogue reveal the emotion; she didn't add "said smilingly," "said miserably" etc. to every third line. Anachronisms that bothered me in "Thrones" persisted here (Harriet inviting social inferiors to use her first name - today, it shows friendliness and an egalitarian spirit - then, it just WASN'T DONE.) And I wholeheartedly agree about the very non-subtle references to episodes from the other novels - very un-Sayers -- and the replay of well-known quirks, etc. In general, neither this book nor Thrones, Dominations is nearly as FUNNY as the "real" Sayers novels. Compare Strong Poison's terrific scenes in which the hidden wills are found, for example. I admit Paton-Walsh can write ... I just wish she would write more like DLS. A final carp - what's with the large print? I felt like I was reading a book for a second-grader.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars powerful WW II amateur sleuth tale March 26 2003
In 1940,the siren testing the warning system goes off in a remote English village. Except for the Methodists, everyone including Harriet Vane, better known as Lady Peter Wimsey, enter the cave used as the air raid shelter. After a long time, the siren finally ends signifying all clear. Everyone leaves the cave only to find the corpse of a Land Girl, "Wicked" Wendy Percival, lying in the street.
Knowing he is already shorthanded due to the war effort and her experience as a crime novelist, Superintendent Kirk asks Harriet to investigate the murder that is clearly not the work of a Nazi. He wants her to perform the role of her spouse Lord Peter, overseas on government work, to make inquiries and report back to him, but not take risks. Reluctantly Harriet begins her investigation starting with the other eight Land Girls, but quickly she finds reality much more complex and stranger than fiction.
Using fictional letters that the late great Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in support of the English World war II efforts, Jill Paton Walsh paints a powerful amateur sleuth tale that fans of the Wimsey tales will enjoy and will appreciate the cleverness of the endeavor. The story line insures that the regulars remain true to their known personalities while WW II in a remote village is used to provide the background of a strong who-done-it. Still, this tale belongs to the cast especially Harriet who provides a fine time for series fans and historical mystery readers.
Harriet Klausner
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars What happened to Roger?
One specific criticism: Walsh seems to have mixed up the Wimsey children Roger and Paul: in Sayers' story Talboys, set after this book, Bredon is six, Roger is four, and Paul is... Read more
Published on Jan. 30 2004 by Kristiana W
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Thumbs Up!
I'm a big fan of Sayers and have sometimes found "continuations" by other authors to be a disappointment. Read more
Published on Aug. 12 2003 by CrisInTexas
3.0 out of 5 stars Less than stellar as a sequel...
I have to admit that I was hoping Walsh would get better at doing Sayers, & instead she seems to have strayed further from her writing than in the previous attempt (which I... Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2003 by Susan Shedd
3.0 out of 5 stars More detail needed
This novel was not as rich in the Sayeresque detail as other Sayers/Wimsey books. Thrones Dominations had more of the detail that makes Lord Peter such a joy. Read more
Published on June 22 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Great job -- better than Thrones, Dominations
I have been reading and re-reading the entire Sayers/Wimsey body of work for more than 35 years. Jill Walsh has done all the Wimsey fans a great service in continuing the Wimsey... Read more
Published on June 20 2003 by "snoozq"
1.0 out of 5 stars Presumption of Death
I wish that Dorothy Sayers had written more Wimsey novels. However, I think it is a really bad idea for any writer to try and fill another writer's boots. Read more
Published on June 2 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Sayers fans will appreciate this excellent forgery!
Jill Paton Walsh does a superior job of creating an intriguing mystery while maintaining the charm and appeal of the Wimseys, et al. Read more
Published on May 19 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging novel, short on mystery plot
I very much enjoyed this book, primarily for its insights into Wimsey home life. The mystery plot was thin and a bit facile, but the book is well-written and engaging. Read more
Published on March 12 2003
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