Hazel Holt

Hazel Holt
The Cruellest Month

In her undergraduate days at Oxford, where “Fate was kind enough not to disillusion me,” Sheila Malory had a clear romantic ideal: Lord Peter Wimsey. The first young man she fell in love with bore a marked physical resemblance to Dorothy Sayers’s upper-crust detective; the man she eventually married was named Peter and attended Balliol.

So it’s no surprise that the Mrs. Malory mysteries smack of academia. The Cruellest Month revolves around the world of universities, famous and not-so-famous authors, research projects, scholarly papers, and all the feuds and rivalries that go with the territory.

Hazel Holt may be best known as the literary executor of Barbara Pym, that creator of excellent women, tame gazelles, and blessing-filled glasses. Pym devotees will recognize echoes of her work in phrases like “rather too eventful” and the reverential attitude toward the Bodleian Library.

But if their characters share certain sensibilities, Holt’s writing is all her own, shot through with whimsical observations and abundant bibliophile references. Sheila loves rural signposts like the one designating The Pluds, “who must surely be cartoon characters.” Her handbag rivals Miss Prism’s, capacious enough to “easily accommodate the manuscript of a three-volume novel” (Mrs. Malory and the Festival Murder). And in Holt’s mysteries, as in Dame Agatha’s, solutions hinge on devilishly clever details.

Personally, I’m delighted every time I turn a page and find someone discussing yet another cherished writer. It’s like watching Josephine Tey and Somerset Maugham play mixed doubles with Dorothy Parker and A.E. Housman. There’s even a Sayers Society luncheon commemorating Lord Peter’s centenary.

“I am an absolute sucker for atmosphere,” admits Sheila. If your idea of comfort reading is mysteries piled on classics underpinned by quotes, allusions, and homages, Holt supplies enough atmosphere to keep you in print paradise from Michaelmas through Trinity term.

One thought on “Hazel Holt

  1. Terrific. Any admirer of Dorothy Sayers is okay by me. Not reading much these days, but this sounds absolutely perfect for this moment in my life.

    Thank you. Diana.

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