I am ashamed to say that I’ve never read a Dorothy Sayers mystery before.
But I promise that after reading The Attenbury Emeralds, I will fix that, and fast.
The Attenbury Emeralds begins with the (natural) death of old Lord Attenbury, which inspires Lord Peter Wimsey to recount his very first case to his wife, the mystery writer Harriet Vane. With the help of his loyal right hand man, Bunter, Peter tells the story of a weekend engagement party at the Attenbury’s where a jewel in the family’s heirloom emerald necklace went missing–a jewel that once belonged to a maharajah, whose envoy happened to visit the Attenbury house to assess and purchase the emerald only hours before it vanished! Peter goes on to explain how he uncovered the real culprit and returned the emerald to its rightful owners, and to recall further incidents where the emerald caused trouble for the Attenbury children.
Soon enough, the famous emeralds surface in the present day: the new Lord Attenbury comes to the Wimsey home in a state of high agitation. There is a dispute over the provenance of the emerald in the family’s bank vault, and the new Lord Attenbury desperately needs to sell the emerald to cover the death tax. Things come full circle as Lord Peter, Harriet, and Bunter return to the original investigation to help a friend and, they soon learn, to stop a murderer.
I loved so many things about this book. I think it goes without saying that the characters are all extremely well written, interesting, and complex. I really have to go back to the beginning to fully understand all of them, but even from The Attenbury Emeralds, I was able to learn a lot and immediately wanted more! The mystery itself was intriguing without getting too twisted up; Harriet actually has a moment where she explains her method for crafting a successful mystery novel, and it exactly reflects how Dorothy Sayers and Ms. Paton Walsh constructed this one. My absolute favorite thing about it, though, was watching the characters struggle with the break down of the class system after World War II, something which comes into the foray when the Wimsey family has to cope with an unexpected and life changing tragedy. It was interesting to see the contrast between the adults, who grew up with the very distinct separation of upstairs vs. downstairs, and the children, for whom all of that was much less important. And it reminded me of Gosford Park and Upstairs/Downstairs, so to have that visual made the whole story even more vivid for me.
The Attenbury Emeralds is one of those books you read on a particularly atmospheric day that calls for a transporting journey to the past. I can’t wait to follow these characters’ adventures from the beginning.