When Harriet Vane finds a dead body on the beach, she and Lord Peter Wimsey must solve a murder when all the evidence has washed out to sea Harriet Vane has gone on vacation to forget her recent murder trial and, more importantly, to forget the man who cleared her name—the dapper, handsome, and maddening Lord Peter Wimsey. She is alone on a beach when she spies a man lying on a rock, surf lapping at his ankles. She tries to wake him, but he doesn’t budge. His throat has been cut, and his blood has drained out onto the sand. As the tide inches forward, Harriet makes what observations she can and photographs the scene. Finally, she goes for the police, but by the time they return the body has gone. Only 1 person can help her discover how the poor man died at the beach: Lord Peter, the amateur sleuth who won her freedom and her heart in 1 fell swoop.
551 pages, with a reading time of ~8.5 hours (137,880 words), and first published in 1932. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2016.
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The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and, indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.
Work she had in abundance. To be tried for murder is a fairly good advertisement for a writer of detective fiction. Harriet Vane thrillers were booming. She had signed up sensational contracts in both continents, and found herself, consequently, a very much richer woman than she had ever dreamed of becoming. In the interval between finishing Murder by Degrees and embarking on The Fountain-Pen Mystery, she had started off on a solitary walking-tour: plenty of exercise, no responsibilities and no letters forwarded. The time was June, the weather, perfect; and if she now and again gave a thought to Lord Peter Wimsey diligently ringing up an empty flat, it did not trouble her, or cause her to alter her steady course along the south-west coast of England.
On the morning of the 18th June, she set out from Lesston Hoe with the intention of walking along the coast to Wilvercombe, sixteen miles away. Not that she particularly looked forward to Wilvercombe, with its seasonal population of old ladies and invalids and its subdued attempts at the gay life, seeming somehow themselves all a little invalid and old-ladyish. But the town made a convenient objective, and one could always choose some more rural spot for a night’s lodging. The coast-road ran pleasantly at the top of a low range of cliffs, from which she could look down upon the long yellow stretch of the beach, broken here and there by scattered rocks, which rose successively, glistening in the sunlight, from the reluctant and withdrawing tide.
Overhead, the sky arched up to an immense dome of blue, just fretted here and there with faint white clouds, very high and filmy. The wind blew from the west, very softly, though the weather-wise might have detected in it a tendency to freshen. The road, narrow and in poor repair, was almost deserted, all the heavy traffic passing by the wider arterial road which ran importantly inland from town to town, despising the windings of the coast with its few scattered hamlets. Here and there a drover passed her with his dog, man and beast alike indifferent and preoccupied; here and there a couple of horses out at grass lifted shy and foolish eyes to look after her; here and there a herd of cows, rasping their jawbones upon a stone wall, greeted her with heavy snufflings. From time to time the white sail of a fishing-boat broke the seaward horizon. Except for an occasional tradesman’s van, or a dilapidated Morris, and the intermittent appearance of white smoke from a distant railway-engine, the landscape was as rural and solitary as it might have been two hundred years before.
Harriet walked sturdily onwards, the light pack upon her shoulders interfering little with her progress. She was twenty-eight years old, dark, slight, with a skin naturally a little sallow, but now tanned to an agreeable biscuit-colour by sun and wind. Persons of this fortunate complexion are not troubled by midges and sunburn, and Harriet, though not too old to care for her personal appearance, was old enough to prefer convenience to outward display. Consequently, her luggage was not burdened by skin-creams, insect-lotion, silk frocks, portable electric irons or other impedimenta beloved of the “Hikers’ Column.” She was dressed sensibly in a short skirt and thin sweater and carried, in addition to a change of linen and an extra provision of footwear, little else beyond a pocket edition of Tristram Shandy, a vest-pocket camera, a small first-aid outfit and a sandwich lunch.
It was about a quarter to one when the matter of the lunch began to loom up importantly in Harriet’s mind. She had come about eight miles on her way to Wilvercombe, having taken things easily and made a detour to inspect certain Roman remains declared by the guide-book to be “of considerable interest.” She began to feel both weary and hungry, and looked about her for a suitable lunching-place.