Book Review: The Wyndham Case
The Wyndham Case by Jill Paton Walsh
Hardcover, my own collection
I went looking for novels by Jill Paton Walsh because I have so much enjoyed Walsh’s work in completing and extending the detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers (Thrones, Dominions; A Presumption of Death; and The Attenbury Emeralds). In these novels somehow Walsh managed to get right into Sayers’ head and (in my opinion) reproduce perfectly her style and her feelings for her characters Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.
Reading The Wyndham Case (published in 1993), I can see why Walsh was a perfect choice to continue Sayers’ work. There are certainly stylistic similarities here with Sayers – the sly sense of humor, the intelligent female protagonist, and even the academic background – so that The Wyndham Case seems to harmonise with Sayers’ novel Gaudy Night in particular, though of course Walsh’s novel reflects the very changed life, concerns and freedoms of students in the 1990s compared with the 1920s when Sayers was writing.
Yet it would be a injustice to imply that Walsh is simply travelling in Sayers’ footsteps in this novel. It stands up entirely by itself.
Set in the fictional St Agatha’s College, Cambridge, the story is centered around the college nurse Imogen Quy (rhymes with ‘why’), who becomes involved with the death of a student in the Wyndham Library. Of course, this being a mystery novel, this incident is quickly identified as a murder. Imogen’s intelligence and concern for her patients, the college students and staff, rapidly push her into an involvement with the solution to the case.
There are several clever twists in the complex but intelligent plot, including one which involves the terms of a 400-year old bequest to the college.
I particularly like how Imogen’s character drives her to demand further answers to details of what occurred even when the police feel they have solved the case.
It is this compassion and focus on human concerns which lift this novel out of the ordinary mystery genre. Recommended.
Unfortunately most of Walsh’s own novels now seem to be out of print. I had to buy The Wyndham Case second-hand, and the three others featuring Imogen Quy seem hard to find at a reasonable price. Nor are they yet available as e-books. Let’s hope that her success with the Sayers’ continuations encourages publishers to re-release these works.