Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers

Dorothy L Sayers
Busman’s Honeymoon

I do adore Lord Peter Wimsey, and this book is special as he’s married his love and is happy and content, until murder intervenes of course. But there’s also sadness as it’s the final book, the end of the story, and I’m already missing Lord Peter.

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers available on Amazon
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I do adore Lord Peter Wimsey, and this book is special as he’s married his love and is happy and content, until murder intervenes of course. But there’s also sadness as it’s the final book, the end of the story, and I’m already missing Lord Peter.

I love this book straightaway as it begins with several letters relating Lord Peter’s marriage, and I love reading letters in a novel, with the joy of nosying at them! And these letters made me chuckle with the bitchiness and sniping of the writers, especially from Lord Peter’s sister-in-law, Helen Denver, whose nose has clearly been put out of joint, tee hee. And even more exciting than reading someone’s letters, is reading someone’s diary, eeek, and we have the wonderful Dowager Duchess of Denver’s diary to read (Lord Peter’s mother), I love her gossipy writing style, in fact it makes me wish she wasn’t a fictional character so I could buy a book of her diaries! And she’s so funny when she gets her words mixed up, like when she uses the word ‘chameleon’ instead of ‘camomile’! And I love her and Peter’s relationship, how they trust one another and value each other’s opinion and genuinely like one another’s company, and how lovely and encouraging she is to his bride, Harriet. 

And Lord Peter and Harriet are actually married, on 8th October (1935?) at St Cross Church in Oxford (I’ve had to google the church to look at pictures of it!). And one of my favourite characters from the books, Miss Climpson, is a guest, I just adore her with her long rambling letters to Lord Peter, and the ‘cattery’ of typists (from earlier books) which she runs for Lord Peter, bringing fraudulent people to justice. I get the feeling she isn’t going to feature much in this book though, which is a shame. And lovely Lord Peter invites Bunter’s mother to the wedding too (Bunter being Lord Peter’s valet), Lord Peter really is so thoughtful and kind. And even more awww, Lord Peter gives the expensive London hotel room, along with the boat and train accommodation to France (which he’d booked to throw journalists off the scent), to a poor ill accountant and his wife who Miss Climpson knows. But, oh dear, it takes me so long to read these books because I am so obsessed with Lord Peter and everything to do with him and I get lost googling things mentioned, such as his mother’s cat’s name Ahasuerus (which is a Hebrew prince, apparently), and the book his mother is reading called The Stars Look Down (which I see is by AJ Cronin and is about a coal-mining family, though clearly she was disappointed in it!), and I remember from earlier books that Through The Looking Glass is her choice for bedtime reading, which makes me want to have that book beside my bed too! And I was desperate to know which John Donne poem it was that Harriet bought as a gift for Peter and which he was also intending to buy for her (my copy of the book has Donne’s ‘An Epithalamion on the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine’ as one of the chapter headings, but also has his ‘Eclogue for the Marriage of the Earl of Somerset’ at the end of the book, or was it neither of these?). 

It always makes me sad when people talk about hoping there won’t be another war (I see the book is written in 1937) with us having the knowledge of what is coming with the Second World War. But I did chuckle at Lord Peter’s mother’s view of war, ‘with meat coupons and no sugar and people being killed. Ridiculous and unnecessary’, tee hee, I love that the concerns of meat and sugar comes above people being killed and her understated description of war as ridiculous and unnecessary, like a naughty wayward child, tee hee, and particularly her wondering if Mussolini’s mother ever spanked him!

Bless him, I love Bunter and his diligence, his concern about the vintage port wrapped in eiderdown in the back of the car, and his view that ‘he did not really believe that anything could be suitably organised or carried out without his assistance’. 

I sometimes fear with the Wimsey books that I focus too much on the lives of Lord Peter and his mother and Bunter, rather than focusing on the crime! But I will try and focus…I’m wondering if Noakes, the previous owner who was due to greet Lord Peter and Harriet at the cottage and of which there is mysteriously no sign, may be the murdered victim? And whether the casually mentioned missing note-case of Noakes, ‘…wot ’e made all the fuss about’, actually contained information about someone that the murderer wanted concealed!

I love the first couple of fun lighthearted chapters when Lord Peter and Harriet arrive at the house, with amusing characters like Mr Puffett and Miss Twitterton (Noakes’ niece). Although I have to say the house sounds horrifyingly basic, I would not cope well turning up there! And I’m struck again with how well written this book is, I particularly love all the emphasis in Miss Twitterton’s conversation, with words in italics which she is emphasising, it works beautifully and I can just hear her voice in my mind saying the words in that flustered manner, just as with Miss Climpson in earlier books, it is so effective and so charming and makes me adore these little old ladies. And tee hee, Miss Twitterton’s parsnip wine and how awful it must taste to Lord Peter with his vintage port waiting for him! And Miss Twitterton is such a perfect name for her too, with her twittering away! And again, I just adore Bunter busying about ‘with the air of one to whom neatness and order came first, even in a crisis’. And eeek, I’ve always loved the name of Mrs Merdle for Lord Peter’s cars, from a character in Charles Dickens’ book Little Dorrit, I was overjoyed it was mentioned in this book too. 

And then a few chapters later, it all seems a bit chaotic, very amusing but chaotic and crowded, with Puffett defending the chimney and determinedly blaming Noakes for neglect of the soot, Crutchley watering the plants stood on a stepladder and talking about his garage and the money that Noakes owes him, Goodacre the vicar collecting funds for the church organ, and Miss Twitterton twittering on all the time to everybody! And then everyone bursts into song! It almost feels like a play, I can just picture them all crowded together in that little living room, and Lord Peter heartily enjoying the ridiculousness of it all. And then as if it couldn’t get any more ridiculous, Goodacre suggests firing a shotgun up the chimney to clear the soot…! And I did giggle out loud at him aiming the gun towards the doorway whilst examining it, as Bunter enters ‘with superb nonchalance but a wary eye’, just so beautifully professional as ever.

Eeek, Noakes’ body has been found! But there still seems some humour with Inspector Kirk and Lord Peter and Harriet all utilising quotes from the books of ‘Great Minds’ while sharing evidence and discussing the case. I especially love the reference to Dickens with the Captain Cuttle quote from Dombey and Son, and Inspector Kirk’s statement that Noakes was ‘a regular Artful Dodger’, leading him to add that Dickens was ‘an author who knew a bit about crooks…Fagin and all’. It feels like Sayers had great fun writing this book, as I’m having great fun reading it!

But I will focus on the murder now, and not get so distracted! So no-one had a spare key to Noakes’ house apart from Miss Twitterton (and how charmingly chivalrous, though unprofessional, Lord Peter is in not wanting her suspected or questioned, and how considerately Inspector Kirk recognises Lord Peter’s feelings on this matter), and she benefits from the will and admits that she knew this beforehand, and of course this explains why (if she is the killer) she wouldn’t have taken the money from Noakes’ pocket as she knew all the money was coming to her anyway. And I wonder what Miss Twitterton was going to say, when she stopped herself after murmuring ‘What have I done…?’, I thought it was just about lending money to her uncle but Inspector Kirk seems to think it was something else that she was going to say. Surely she can’t be the killer though, I like her! Crutchley seems to have a firm alibi too from the time he left Noakes’ house, and I like him too. But it doesn’t seem as if it could have been an outsider, as Noakes’ house seemed very secure so it’s unlikely that someone broke in and killed him. And Lord Peter asks about Noakes’ missing note-case, so I wonder if there is some importance connected with this, although it seems to have happened a couple of years ago and Lord Peter says it could be that the only significance was to make Noakes secure the house more. But eeeek, all of a sudden Sellon the police officer looks potentially guilty, having found Noakes’ note-case and kept the money in it and Noakes then blackmailing him about it ever since. And it’s odd with Sellon saying that he saw the clock from outside the house, when Lord Peter states that the clock can’t be seen from there because of the cactus in the way. I was beginning to wonder if Noakes had been killed by the cactus pot, meaning it therefore wasn’t in its usual place which then allowed Sellon to see the clock, but obviously Noakes was alive then as he was talking to Sellon. But I don’t want it to be Sellon either, oh dear, I am clearly going to struggle with this book as I like all of the characters so far! And I loved the description of Lord Peter talking to Sellon ‘in a voice that had induced many a troubled private to disclose his pitiful secrets’, bless him, and I like these reminders of his time in the war, as mentioned in earlier books, although it’s sad with the shell-shock he suffered. And another mention of a Dickens’ character with Mr Micawber! 

It’s a good point of Inspector Kirk’s about how the murderer must have been puzzled that the body hadn’t been spotted through the living room window, guessing that the murderer presumed Noakes would have died in the living room where he was struck, rather than the body being found down the cellar. I am tempted now to look back at everyone’s first entry into the house, to see if they could have been surreptitiously looking around for the body. And (due to me not wanting any of the characters to be the murderer!) I was ridiculously hopeful with Inspector Kirk’s suggestion that it might not even be murder, that Noakes could have taken down the cactus himself and then fallen and banged his head when replacing the cactus and later died from this injury, which of course also nicely (for my peace of mind) exonerates Sellon and his odd story of the clock. But I feel it is highly unlikely that a detective story would be written about an accident! And there are more authors mentioned, I am loving all these literature references, this time it is Eden Philpotts and GK Chesterton. 

The next few chapters both overwhelmed me and puzzled me and also saddened me, whilst still making me chuckle with another wonderful Bunter quote. I felt a bit overwhelmed with all of Lord Peter’s and Harriet’s surmises about how each person could have done the murder, there are just too many possibilities now! I was also puzzled by Lord Peter’s question to Sellon about the length of Noakes’ candle and wondering what (if any) relevance that could have, and again I was puzzled if there was any relevance to them finding one of the house’s chimney pots, and again puzzled at the frequent mentions of the cactus in the pot (this time by the vicar, who admires it and wishes it for himself), it does feel like this cactus is relevant somehow and that we are being reminded of it for a reason. And I was saddened by poor Miss Twitterton being in love with Crutchley and willing to do anything for him, including investing £50 with Noakes, planning to then give the money to Crutchley, and how horrible and cruel Crutchley is to her, it quite surprised me that he could be that way, I’d liked Crutchley before, but now I’m quite willing for him to be the murderer! And I chuckled at Bunter’s memorable line, ‘His lordship is very particular about peas’ (I would love to know exactly in what way he is particular!), and it was comical with Bunter arranging hazards for the journalists, using herds of cows and a dog and a goat! And more literature quotes (to my joy!), with Mr Squeers being mentioned (from Charles Dickens’ book Nicholas Nickleby), and the author Izaak Walton. I feel a bit like ringing a bell every time I spot one of these literature references, though I am sure I am missing lots of them. And there is also lots of romance in the book (and I’m intrigued by all the romantic-sounding French used, particularly in Uncle Paul’s letters to Lord Peter and Harriet), and details of Lord Peter and Harriet’s relationship and how they are learning to live together and express themselves to each other, it feels like the murder story aspect is a side issue at times, which I don’t mind as I love all the details of Lord Peter’s life and these are often my favourite parts of these books as it feels special to learn all these things, but it does feel like an unusual detective book.

Eeek, so the murderer was Crutchley after all! I have to say I am pleased, as I had taken against him after the way he behaved to Miss Twitterton and all we’d learnt about him. And the cactus was crucial, very crucial, to it all! I am left wondering though how Crutchley had planned to remove the fishing line hanging off the cactus (as it was Mrs Ruddle who removed this, not realising what it was), and how he had planned to be the one who discovered the body (expecting it to be in the living room), perhaps he intended to look in at the window when he came to do the gardening. He must have been very confused with there not being a body and no fishing line either, and then to have Puffett cleaning the chimney and finding the chain! I must look back at the start of the book again to see how he acted when he first got into the house. 

And then I was very surprised with how things turned, with Lord Peter wanting to help Crutchley get away with it and hiring a top solicitor for him! I can understand Lord Peter’s shellshock (bless him) and the bad dreams and fears of responsibility and knowing Crutchley will be hanged if found guilty, and he has had these concerns in earlier books (and it was interesting to learn more about his shellshock in this book). But it was still a surprise that he wanted Crutchley to be found not guilty. I at first wondered if Lord Peter was doing this as he believed that Crutchley wouldn’t kill again so therefore would be safe to go free, but this seems a bit of a risk. Obviously Noakes was a nasty piece of work and it could be said that he drove Crutchley to act as he did, but still, to potentially let a murderer go unpunished seems quite bizarre, and I can’t help wondering what Inspector Kirk would think. Or I did wonder if this was actually Sayers (through Lord Peter) protesting at the death sentence, as maybe it’s not so much that Lord Peter wishes Crutchley to be found not guilty at his trial but more that he wishes he wasn’t to be hanged, perhaps if it was just imprisonment then Lord Peter wouldn’t feel so remorseful. 

But it also made me so sad to see Lord Peter torturing himself and so unhappy and suffering so much, and it made me very sad that the book ends with him crying. And I was also sad that Bunter was patiently waiting to help him, as he usually does when Lord Peter has these episodes, but Lord Peter went to Harriet instead, I wondered how Bunter felt about that, I think it would be entirely human of him to be hurt and feel pushed aside, but I guess it was perhaps written this way in order to demonstrate that Lord Peter’s life is now bound up in Harriet and she is his crutch now, but I still feel sad for Bunter, bless him. I hope there will always be a part for Bunter in Lord Peter’s life, though Harriet seems to be determined to ensure this, which I like her for. I think I would have preferred the book to have ended with the section at the grand house with the history of the Wimsey family and the tales of the family ghosts being explained to Harriet, but perhaps that would feel less real, and I imagine Sayers wanted to show Lord Peter as vulnerable and needing comfort and perhaps also to demonstrate that Harriet is the person who can offer him strength when he feels weak, and to show the contrast of his suffering with his seemingly perfect life on the surface. And I feel it was brave of Sayers to write all this, it feels very unique, as usually with a detective story the murderer is named and then the story ends, we don’t usually see what happens next and definitely don’t see the detective regretting what he’s done and actually asking for the murderer’s forgiveness. I think this is why I like the Lord Peter stories so much, as they have this unusual aspect, and he isn’t confidence-brimming and boastful like most detectives. And it seems quite brave of Sayers to show the mental health effects of the war. I remember in some of the earlier books, Lord Peter was close to stopping his detective work because of how guilty he felt for being the cause of the murderer being caught and killed, and I wonder if we’re being led to presume that he will no longer investigate crime after this case. But, as I said before, I do feel sad that the book ends with sadness. 

I’ve also pondered on how much this book differs from the regular detective book, with all the emotion and agonising and suffering from the detective, or even if it can be called a proper detective book. The blurb on the back of my copy (published by Hodder & Stoughton) says it is ‘variously described as a love story with detective interruptions and a detective story with romantic interruptions’, and I think this describes it well! I was aware that my worry about Lord Peter distracted me from the puzzle of whodunnit and how and the whole plot, and I’ve not had my usual response of reaching the last page and then going over the cleverness of it all in my mind and puzzling out the clues and red herrings, and I wonder if some readers could be quite frustrated by the book as it’s not the run-of-the-mill detective story. But I like how it feels more in-depth and involved and unusual than other regular detective books, and it also seems too like Sayers is rewarding the faithful reader for sticking with Lord Peter throughout the series and is letting us see behind the scenes and letting us be involved in his life and his choices, perhaps too as a kind of goodbye to Lord Peter and the other wonderful characters. It feels like a book for the loyal fans of Lord Peter, the ones who have seen him go through difficulties and joys and have stayed with him through thick and thin, it almost makes me like we’ve been privy to a secret and seen under the surface of something, and it feels kind of special and memorable and precious for that. I feel as well that Sayers thoroughly and completely enjoyed writing this book, and I can’t help imagining that she just wrote it for her own pleasure and it was inconsequential to her if the readers enjoyed it or not. And if that’s the case (as I’d love to believe), then why not, surely that’s her right, for having the wonderful imagination to create such a character as Lord Peter in the first place! 

I did love this book very very much, even though I feel like I’ve gone through the wringer with Lord Peter (!), and now that I’ve finished it I immediately want to re-read it. I loved the insights into Lord Peter’s character, and the literature references, and the comedy of it all, and the romance, and the wonderful feeling that Lord Peter will be happy and content with Harriet, though I am sad to think we won’t have any more stories about him. It feels such an unusual book, and as I said before, somehow very precious.

And usually I let the book I’ve just finished then guide me to which book I’ll read next, as often that book has references to other books or reminds me of other books, but where do I start with this book’s suggestions, it is just brimming with references and reminders of other books, and I also feel I’ve probably missed many of these! Firstly I think I can’t let Lord Peter go, I just can’t, he is part of my life now (!), so I will re-read the books that feature Harriet (Strong Poison and Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night), just to reassure myself that Harriet is the best woman for Lord Peter! And I see there is a book called Lord Peter Wimsey: The Complete Short Stories (which are compiled from four other books) which seems to have at least one story of Lord Peter as a father, so that feels like there is further details of his life after Busman’s Honeymoon (so it’s not goodbye forever, phew!). But for other non-Wimsey books that I now fancy reading or re-reading, I already had Eden Phillpotts on my list of authors to try as he was apparently a Golden Age detective writer and set many of his books in Devon (which is a part of the world I love) such as The Red Redmaynes, and The Grey Room, and particularly the book Redcliff which was based in the lovely village of Lympstone. I’m also intrigued by the book which the Dowager Duchess of Denver was reading, The Stars Look Down by AJ Cronin (even though she didn’t seem impressed with it!), and I’ve been meaning to re-read Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass for a while. I am partway through GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories (The Incredulity of Father Brown is the next one for me to read) and I have his books The Club of Queer Trades, and The Man Who Was Thursday, on my shelves waiting to be read, so the mention of Chesterton in this book was an apt reminder to continue with him. And I always feel like something is missing in my life when I’m not reading a Charles Dickens book, and this book has reminded me of a couple of my favourites which I’ve not picked up in a while, such as Little Dorrit, and Dombey and Son. Oh my goodness, which to start with first…!

Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers available on Amazon
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