P.D. James on Gaudy Night

For me Gaudy Night is one of the most successful marriages of the puzzle with the novel of social realism and serious purpose. It tells me, as a writer of today, that it is possible to construct a credible and enthralling mystery and marry it successfully to a theme of psychological subtlety, and this is perhaps the most important of Dorothy L. Sayers’s legacies to writers and readers. She wrote to her friend Muriel St. Clare Byrne that Gaudy Night was not a detective story at all, but a novel of an almost entirely psychological kind with a mild detective interest. But here I must take issue with the author—a presumptuous and perhaps a dangerous thing to do. She did herself less than justice. Gaudy Night is a true detective story. We want to know who among a closed circle of suspects is responsible for the malicious disruption at Shrewsbury College, and the clues to the mystery are fairly, indeed plainly, presented. I can still recall my first reading of the novel, when I was sixteen, and my self-disgust at my failure to identify the culprit when all the necessary information had been so carefully, if cunningly, provided.