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  • The series ends in disappointment for me

    Following the death of his older brother, Peter is now the Duke of Denver. One of his more arcane responsibilities is the post of Visitor at an Oxford college. He is called to Oxford to resolve a dispute between the fellows. Half want to sell an ancient book, possibly linked to King Alfred, in order to buy a piece of land for development. The college is short of funds and the fellows argue that keeping an ancient relic while letting the college decline is foolhardy. At first Peter and Harriet think of this as an opportunity to return to their beloved Oxford for a brief interlude. But what Peter uncovers is a catalogue of mysterious near-death experiences which bear an uncanny resemblance to the plots of Harriet's novels. Then the near-misses turn into murders and the duo have to uncover who is killing off the dons. This was my least favourite of the Jill Paton Walsh series of books. Frankly I had difficulty keeping all the characters straight in my head and I found the idea that someone would commit, or attempt to commit, a series of murders which mirrored the plots of Harriet's novels was laughable. Also, I thought that the villain was so strongly signalled almost from the start that I was more exasperated than anything when the two of them seemed to be totally oblivious. As others have pointed out, it is ridiculous to claim that Harriet's plots were all based on Peter's cases, or even some of them, that makes a character who was always described as a brilliant writer who creates intricate plots seem derivative. I understand why some people have balked at Peter and Harriet's son not being as intellectual as Bunter's son, arguing that two intellectuals could not produce a 'not-very-clever' son. I take the point, but children can be very different to their parents, it is not inconceivable that Bredon is more like his uncle, the late Duke of Denver, than his parents. Also, I thought it was illustrative of the changing society, Bunter himself is shown as being intellectual but hampered by his social standing, don't forget that it is he who draws Peter's attention to rare papers and the like, whereas as the barriers between the classes weaken his son is given the opportunities to let his intelligence shine. Finally, of course he would be far more grateful for the opportunities than Bredon, just like Harriet was when she was at Oxford. I understand that there was supposed to be a fifth book but following Jill Paton Walsh's death in October 2020 I imagine that will remain a dream. Farewell Peter and Harriet.

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