Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Late Scholar (2014)

The Late Scholar. Jill Paton Walsh. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed The Late Scholar enough while reading it, for the most part, but the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am. I have liked or enjoyed Jill Paton Walsh's sequels to Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter mysteries. The Late Scholar is set in the 1950s. (I'm not sure if it's early, mid, or late 50s. But Queen Elizabeth is on the throne, I believe.) The novel opens with the Duke of Denver (aka Lord Peter Wimsey) learning that he is a Visitor at Oxford. He is being called upon to settle a dispute among the fellows. The person--ultimately one of many suspects, I suppose--who initially requested his interference comes to regret it. Lord Peter is thorough. He doesn't want to just cast a vote on a controversial topic without any thought. He wants to study the situation, learn both sides, draw his own conclusions about what is best. The dispute is about selling a medieval book to get the money to buy land next door that has come up for sell. Is land more valuable to the college than one book in the library? Or is the ancient book more valuable to the college than a piece of real estate? It wouldn't be a mystery book if it didn't turn to violence and murder. Lord Peter, Harriet Vane, and Bunter must follow all the clues to catch a murderer or two.

There were a few things that felt a bit off, that kept this one from feeling like a genuine, authentic Lord Peter/Harriet Vane mystery. I allow some change would be natural enough. Two decades would change a person, would change a couple. But the changes in a way have a very surface feel to them. I'm not sure the characters have the depth that they need, they are very much reliant on familiarity with the original.

I have not reread the whole (original) series, but, Lord Peter seems changed and not always for the better. I could not show you a passage where Lord Peter reveals a personal faith in God. But I have a feeling I would have remembered if Lord Peter revealed a cold mockery for Christianity and/or stated openly and unashamedly that he did NOT believe in God. There were a few uncomfortable scenes in Late Scholar where Peter's atheism comes to light, I suppose. It was done in an almost ha, ha, don't be silly, of course I don't believe in God kind of way. It just struck me as wrong. I'm not saying that I consider Lord Peter evangelical. But. I always got the impression that he believed there was a God, that at the very least he was agnostic. The reason this strikes me as wrong is that Dorothy Sayers was a Christian, she wrote Christian books. I've read some of her theological essays and they are quite good. I just don't see HER Lord Peter being one to make light of or mock Christianity or the Bible or the fundamental belief that there is a God. Of course times have changed. Decades have passed since his creation, so maybe modern readers assume that naturally Lord Peter is "smart enough" to have outgrown any idea of God.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comments:

Sherry 10:05 AM  

Oh, this is disappointing. Like you, I have read and enjoyed Walsh's other Lord Peter novels. To have him "come out" as a mocking atheist is disappointing and as you said, not true to the original author's intentions, I think.

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