Suzie Eisfelder
June 21, 2021

This is a mixture between detective and romance. I’m using it in the Dymocks Reading Challenge 2021 in the book with more than 400 pages category. Despite the romance I managed to make it through, but I did consider giving up a few times. What kept me going were the words I’d never heard of before, the little jokes which were rather timely and the discussions focussing on ideas that are way over my head.

But let’s look at the book first. It’s in the Lord Peter Wimsey series of detective books. Lord Peter doesn’t come in very much until quite late as the focus is on the lady he is attracted to and eventually marries, Harriet Vane. I often wonder if Harriet is partially modelled on Sayers. My research uncovered only a little. Both of them received Firsts in Oxford and both were well educated and very clever, they also both wrote detective novels and there is some resemblance of equality in both of them…I rest my case. In this book Harriet goes back to her college in Oxford to enjoy a reunion, while she is there she receives one of the very early poison pen letters depicted in this book. She burns it but is eventually called back to give her expertise as a success detective novelist as the college is having lots of trouble. I really enjoyed reading a book looking through her eyes. What I didn’t enjoy (apart from the romance) was that Lord Peter needed to come and bail her out, she couldn’t figure out the mystery by herself. To me it felt as if the man had to play hero.

Just a couple of the many unfamiliar words I found in this book. Otiose, being in the phrase of ‘debagging is otiose and out of date’. I was lying in bed at the time, with no reference material at hand so I noted it down for later. ‘Debagging’ is when you pull someone’s trousers down as a joke and ‘otiose’ serves no practical purpose…that’s what it means, not that otiose serves no practical purpose. Essentially, don’t pull someone’s trousers down as a joke as there’s no point. And commination. Such a lovely word. It apparently means the act of threatening divine vengeance. So the students who were issuing a ‘stream of genial commination’ while studying were doing nothing more than students do today. There were many more of these words and I could go on for ages, but elect not to…today.

Then there were the jokes which you wouldn’t be able to make today. Apparently, in those days being between WWI and WWII men wore shirt fronts that were detached from their shirt and held in by their waistcoat. There were three types of shirt: soft pleated dress-shirts, a front with intense rigidity and one which escaped the centre stud and gaped in the middle. This led to two of the ladies speculating over what the next man would wear, whether he would wear a soft (pleated) or hard (rigid) shirt front. When the rigid shirt front ‘popped’ it caused much hilarity. At one point one of the ladies asks Lord Peter about the different shirts and we get a good solid explanation, much better than I’ve put here.

As for the discussions that were way over my head? Far too educated for me to even contemplate boiling them down for you. Let’s just say I enjoyed them immensely and it’s one of the things that kept me going.

If you’d like to find out more, if I’ve actually piqued your interest, you can buy your very own copy here using an affiliate link.

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