Olivia Waite is a romance author, practicing feminist, and wide-ranging dilettante.
I went into this knowing this was the Wimsey mystery where Harriet finally falls in love with him and says yes. I also knew that it was about harassment in an all-female Oxford college, and talked a lot about women's place in the world.
What I wasn't expecting: the long, meaty passages where Harriet was doing nothing more than reflecting on what she knew of herself and what she wanted of the world. That lovely, lovely sonnet passage -- and Peter's addition to it. The absolute romanticism of the tone, the college's rigorous scholarship mixed with a sense of comfort and belonging, the envy and insecurity that nevertheless roiled just below that placid surface. The fear that no matter what one chose, one was going to lose. The blistering revelation at the end, when the villain is unmasked (with the full metaphorical force of the term).
And that beautiful Latin proposal, so calculated to stab me happily in the heart. Two small words with a particle in the middle, the summation of a whole book's worth of thought and struggle and clarification. Two people getting over their own past mistakes and building a quiet sort of hope for the future.
The book is work, no doubt -- some of Harriet's and Peter's references are too obscure or outdated even for an entrenched old-fashioned reader like myself to follow entirely. But it has an absolutely perfect, cathartic payoff. I have rarely felt so satisfied at the end of either a mystery or a romance, much less in the trickier subgenre that combines the two.
Highly, highly recommended.