CR3 #76: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Gaudy Night is technically part of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, but it isn’t narrated by Wimsey. Instead, he is a secondary character, and the narrator is author Harriet Vane. Harriet has returned to her alma mater, Shrewsbury College at Oxford, for her “gaudy” (reunion). She finds while she is there that there is a malicious poison-pen writer stalking the current students and faculty, and what begins with childish pranks soon becomes more and more terrifying. Harriet, as a mystery novelist, is called upon by the dean to try and investigate the situation while ostensibly staying at the college to work on some academic writing. Eventually, she finds herself beyond her depth and calls upon Lord Peter Wimsey–who managed to save her from hanging a few years previous when she was accused of murder–to assist her. He brings with him his own set of difficulties, as their relationship isn’t really what either of them wants. They have to work together to both find the suspect and figure out what they mean to one another.

The book is set in the early 1930s, and women who pursued higher education were looked on very differently than they are now. Woven in with the mystery is the debate over what a woman’s role in society should be. Should all women be in the home? Should they all be attending college? Is one group superior to the other? Harriet has to navigate through a variety of viewpoints, and also decide what her opinion is, and that adds another dimension to the book, elevating it above a simple mystery tale.

Sayers has people this story with many different and interesting characters. The professors at the college, as well as the domestic staff, the students, and the male students at the institution of learning next door are all detailed and entertaining. The plot is interesting, and made sense logically. There were some points where things dragged a little bit–some of the philosophical debates ran a bit long for my taste–but the pace would always pick up again. Also, the interactions between Harriet and Lord Peter are adorable.

I highly recommend this book to fans of old-fashioned mystery stories, and I intend to pick up more of Sayers’s work in the future.

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