I haven’t felt like reading anything new lately, so I’ve been dipping back into the well of old loved British murder mysteries. Seriously, there is not much that is more comforting than genteel aristocracy studiously talking around brutal murders.
A few weeks ago, I ran across a discussion online of fantasy casting for a hypothetical Peter Wimsey movie, and the comments were pretty divided on whether Tom Hiddleston would make a good Wimsey. The “pro” side was, of course, he’s just so charming! The “con” side was, but isn’t he a little too handsome? And, I’m here to say that I don’t think so! After seeing him blonde in The Night Manager, he looks kind of like a silly doofus, which is pretty much perfect for Wimsey.
His love interest Harriet Vane is a trickier casting, since she’s first introduced as she is being charged with the murder of her lover. She is clearly as clever and witty as Wimsey, but is also understandably melancholy and a bit hostile initially. But then I had an epiphany that it couldn’t be anyone but Eva Green, and wouldn’t she be a phenomenal Harriet Vane! Also, doesn’t Green deserve a nice mannered storyline where she isn’t brutalized at any point?
Gaudy Night Strong Poison
Clouds of Witness
By Dorothy Sayers
So, after having settled the casting to my satisfaction, I decided to reread
Gaudy Night Strong Poison, the novel in which Wimsey sets out to prove Vane’s innocence, having fallen in love with her at first sight on the witness stand. It is very silly but also truly romantic. However, there is another romance that happens very much in the background that I just love more: Peter’s sister, the Lady Mary, is in love with a middle-class policeman who doesn’t feel that he has the social status to propose.
I then went back and read Clouds of Witness, the book before
Gaudy Night Strong Poison, in which Mary and Inspector Parker first meet, upon the suspicious death of Mary’s fiancée. Even in this novel, the romance is kept coyly in the background, with the reader discovering it through Lord Peter’s discussions with his sister Mary and Parker, a personal friend. So, I was frustrated in my search for class-crossed lovers after all.
The Cater Street Hangman
By Anne Perry
Then, I remembered that Anne Perry has a whole series set in the Victorian Era in which a woman of leisure falls in love with a policeman. In the first book, The Cater Street Hangman, central protagonist Charlotte lives with her well-off family in an upper-crust neighborhood. A series of stranglings, first of a couple of servant girls and then of the daughter of a neighbor, shock the entire neighborhood and bring the police to investigate. The lead investigator, Thomas Pitt, is well educated but still clearly working class, but he inspires Charlotte to challenge her assumptions about class and society as a whole. And of course, they fall in love, solve the crime, etc.
Upon my second reading, the focus on the constraints laid on the strict class system and the extremely complex set of manners that reinforces it reminds me quite a bit of Jane Austen. Charlotte and her sisters especially reminded me of Pride & Prejudice, though Perry does not have Austen’s wit and the book is very much not a comedy. It is still a very good book, of course, but more intense than I was looking for at this particular time, so my search of witty cross-class romance-mysteries continues.
Love the blog, but the Dorothy Sayers book in which Peter and Harriet meet is “Strong Poison,” not “Gaudy Night.”
Oh, that’s so embarrassing – you are totally right, of course, and I don’t know how I made that mistake, except that as much as I love all the Peter Wimsey novels, they do tend to blend together a bit for me.