There are some commonly accepted rules for novel-writing, and detective-novel-writing specifically, that authors have to follow in order for anyone to enjoy/buy their books. Dorothy Sayers looks at these rules, scoffs, and goes ahead and writes great detective novels that manage to break just about every commonly-accepted rule of good writing. The only way I would ever recommend Busman's Honeymoon to someone is if I knew that they had already read Strong Poison AND Have His Carcase AND Gaudy Night AND loved every minute of each of those books. The only people who are going to enjoy this book as fully as it should be enjoyed are the ones who have read all the previous Harriet/Peter mysteries, swooned over every second of their romance, and are dying for Sayers to give up the deets on their wedding night. Another author might have settled for just having a Shakespeare-quoting detective, but not Sayers. The mystery, like in Gaudy Night, is actually just a subplot, something to complement Peter and Harriet's ongoing romance. You shouldn't read Sayers novels for the mysteries - there's so much other interesting stuff going on, it's easy to miss the fact that the mystery is often pretty simple, and doesn't require that much work to solve. Peter and Harriet look at the crime scene, talk about it, take a drive, talk with some other people, have a few subplots, quote lots of stuff, and finally figure it out. There was something in this book that I had never seen in any other mystery novel before - the detective feeling extreme remorse over the murderer's death.
I have been cheering for Lord Peter through all the novels since he first met his intellectual match and emotional support in the person of Harriet Vane. The secret that Bunter and the Dowager Duchess kept from everyone else was that Lord and Lady Peter (yes, thats how they are referred to) had purchased a weekend cottage in the country and would be on honeymoon there for a month. Sayers wrote in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. There are two more books that are included as part of this series, and both are short story collections that I will probably read at some point. However, to appreciate it fully I will likely need to allow some space between this novel and the extended series.
It is a BBC Radio 4 dramatised version that is only 150 minutes long, and reading some other people's reviews I realise that it does NOT include certain aspects of the book at all. The cast of this dramatised version, are excellent, and reads like a who's who of classic British actors from the 1970/80s, including of course the indomitable and ubiquitous Ian Carmichael, who to me is Lord Peter Wimsey, as he played the role in numerous TV episodes and radio plays.
Having never read Busman's Honeymoon, I'd still somehow managed to pick up the vague idea that: 1) it featured a married Peter and Harriet, and, because of that fact, 2) it wasn't very interesting. It's true that this final Sayers-penned Wimsey mystery is more a meditation on the ups and downs, joys and negotiations of new marriage (Harriet and Peter manage to sneak off for a honeymoon only to discover a corpse in the house), but the mystery is still engaging (Sayers adds some great twists to the classic "all the doors were locked from the inside" problem) and points toward the ethical dilemmas that seem to characterize the latter Wimsey books. I thought the truly masterful aspect of this book wasn't the whodunnit (or howdunnit) but rather that Sayers extends the story beyond the typical "detective explains all" closing scene and depicts the psychological toll that years of detection have taken on Peter. While Sayers has often been accused of first creating the perfect literary man and then marrying herself to him via Harriet-as-stand-in, I thought her depiction of early married life was decidedly realistic and both universally recognizable and true to the specific two characters.
Of course, eventually it turns out that Mr Noakes a rather unsympathetic victim had a good reason for not being there to welcome the couple and they find themselves rather unwillingly thrown into a murder investigation. First published in 1937, it started life as a stage play in 1936 and, indeed, much of the action takes place in Talboys, or while visiting other houses, so you can get an idea of how it would have appeared on stage.
And I just love Peter and Harriet finding their footing after the major shift in their relationship, particularly juxtaposed with how they both are in Gaudy Night. The Dowager Duchess (and her relationship with Harriet) is my favourite. I love how this continues where Gaudy Night left off, and makes it really very obvious that Peter and Harriet have both made their relationship a choice. Gaudy Night focuses on Harriet's issues with the relationship, while Busman's Honeymoon is much more about Peter's. Harriet is terrified of allowing herself to fall in love with Peter (or acknowledging it), but then when she chooses to do it, she goes all in (describing it as like falling down a well). And while she does have moments in this of not quite believing it's actually happened, for the most part she's serene.
(I have an old edition of Busman's Honeymoon - probably printed in the 1970s - with no translations or notes: possibly more recent editions translate the bits which aren't in English?) Anyway, even if it could be considered pretentious by today's standards, I love the French and the Latin...and the poetry with which each chapter starts and which characters quote with abandon.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a renowned British author, translator, student of classical and modern languages, and Christian humanist.