HarperCollins Publishers has launched its Bourbon Street paperbacks in high fashion by reprinting selections of one of the great ladies of the golden age of the mystery story, Dorothy L. Sayers, and her incomparable Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane stories, "Strong Poison," "Have His Carcase," "Gaudy Night" and "Busman's Honeymoon."
One of the first women to be educated at Oxford, Sayers was a first rate scholar. Her translations of Dante's "Divine Comedy and "The Song of Roland" are well regarded as were her theological plays, including the much loved, "The Man Who Would Be King."
She insisted that the mystery story could be a legitimate literary genre as opposed to cheap fiction. With elegant prose and careful attention to character development, generous dashes of sophisticated humor and plots that would perplex the most discriminating mystery reader, Sayers penned stylish mysteries.
With Agatha Christie, she was part of the Detection Club which had as its first president, G.K. Chesterton, the creator of the Fr. Brown mysteries.
In this four piece ensemble, the fortunate reader will follow the romance of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. They meet under the most trying circumstance - Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, is on trial for poisoning her ex-lover.
On their first introduction in gaol, Lord Peter proposes marriage to the prisoner. What ensues in "Strong Poison" is a valiant effort to clear her name as they find the true culprit.
Once burned in love, the exonerated Harriet goes on a walking tour of the English coastline where she discovers a corpse. The pair are reunited as Miss Vane and Lord Peter unravel a mystery centering on the victim's the time of death in what may be her most detailed and ingenious plot, "Have His Carcase."
In "Gaudy Night," Miss Vane returns to her college to attend the reunion or gaud. She is asked to find the perpetrator of a series of malicious pranks - a task which nearly gets her killed.
In this novel, which is, perhaps, the most thoughtful and provocative of the series, Sayers reveals an early feminist philosophy, expounding on the importance of the education of women and soundly repudiating the Nazi creed which consigned women to the realm of "children, church and kitchen."
In the touching ending of "Gaudy Night," Lord Peter at last wins his lady and the couple agree to be united in holy wedlock. But murder and mystery follow them even on their honeymoon.
The matrimonial sleuths spend their early days together on a working vacation, ferreting out a killer, hence the title, "Busman's Honeymoon."
Without revealing the identity of the murderer, "Busman's Honeymoon" ends on a very dramatic note as Lord Peter bears the burden of knowing that he has helped send someone - though a remorseless killer - to the gallows.
The agony of the condemned inmate's last hours weigh heavily on the couple. Though the circumstances for her to recall her own narrow escape from the noose, Harriet is far more concerned with her husband and the effect the ordeal is having on him.
As Lord Peter had stood up for Harriet in her hour of need, their story ends with Harriet returning the favor as she becomes a source of strength and solace to her spouse in his time of crisis.
Though they were written in the 1930s, Sayers' Harriet Vane stories retain a freshness as the mystery novelist is wooed by the ideal man - one who is smart, witty, decent and devoted, protective but not patronizing. Modern women will appreciate her quest for Mr. Right.
Elizabeth George, who continues the tradition of writing mysteries which are genuine novels, has drafted a very nice tribute to Dorothy Leigh Sayers and her Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries.