Category Archives: Lord Peter Wimsey

Busman’s Honeymoon

Busman's HoneymoonDorothy L. Sayers, Penguin Crime, 1963. Cover by Romeck Marber.

Busman’s Honeymoon is a  novel  by Dorothy L. Sayers,  first published in 1937. It was the last of her books to feature Lord Peter Wimsey, the “Posh Sleuth”. Wimsey was the archetypal British gentleman detective; a bon viveur who solved mysteries, usually murders, for his own amusement.

Of course the novel has nothing to do with busmen. A “busman’s holiday” is a holiday spent by a bus driver travelling on a bus; by association, anyone who spends his holiday doing his normal job is taking a “busman’s holiday”.

Wimsey and Harriet Vane marry and take their honeymoon at an old farmhouse.  The honeymoon is intended as a break from his usual routine of solving crimes and hers of writing about them. It turns into a murder investigation when the seller of the house is found dead at the bottom of the cellar steps with severe head injuries.

The price on the cover is 5/-, or 5 shillings. This tells us that it was published before 1971, the introduction of decimal currency in the UK. Forty three years later I still know people who begin a sentence with “In old money that’s…”  This is often followed by a casually racist or homophobic remark. The back of the post card tells us that this Penguin Crime edition was published in 1963. In those days racism in the UK was far from casual.

The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company  to employ black or Asian bus crews. This was particularly ironic in Bristol, a city built on the profits from the African slave trade, where there was widespread racial discrimination in housing and employment against “coloureds”. The policy was also common in other British cities. Led by youth worker Paul Stephenson and the West Indian Development Council, Bristolians refused to use the company’s buses for four months until the company backed down and overturned its racist policy.

Reviews of Busman’s Honeymoon were not overly enthusiastic: “Not near the top of her form, but remarkable as a treatment of the newly wedded and bedded pair of eccentrics … plenty of garnishing for an indifferent murder, even if we weren’t also given an idea of Lord Peter’s sexual tastes and powers under trying circumstances.”

The figure at the bottom of the cellar steps on Romek Marber’s cover is Noakes the previous owner of the house: a miser, a blackmailer and the owner of “hideous furniture”.

In 2014 the average price of a best-selling eBook has recently risen to $7.45 (£4.35) from $6.88 (£4.02). That’s 4 pounds, 7 shillings in old money. The rise was blamed on the publication by Penguin Random House of a set of five Game of Thrones eBook titles by George R.R. Martin. There is considerably more sex and violence in one page of a Game of Thrones novel than in the whole of  Busman’s Honeymoon.