I’d never heard of either Winifred Peck or her 1933 novel The Warrielaw Jewel prior to reading a favourable review by Curt Evans on the excellent Mystery File site. Curt has a deeply impressive knowledge of Golden Age fiction and his opinions are always soundly reasoned, so I was keen to seek out the book. Thanks to an excellent book dealer, Jamie Sturgeon, I’ve laid my hands on a copy and read it quickly.
Winifred Peck – who was to become Lady Winifred Peck – was a mainstream novelist who occasionally dabbled in crime fiction. She came from a remarkable family. Her niece is the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald, and her brothers also achieved eminence. Ronald Knox was one of them, and he was a major Golden Age writer and founder member of the Detection Club.
The main events of The Warrielaw Jewel are set in 1909, and upper class society in Edwardian Edinburgh is well described through the eyes of Betty, an Englishwoman who has recently married a Scottish lawyer. Through him, she gets to know members of the somewhat dysfunctional Warrielaw family, whose prize possession is a ‘fairy jewel’. One or two aspects of the story reminded me of J.J. Connington’s The Dangerfield Talisman, but in this book, unlike Connington’s, murder is done.
The plot and prose are well-constructed. However, I felt that they were both rather ponderous, and I found myself longing for a bit of excitement. Even potentially dramatic scenes had a rather soporific feel to them. This book is interesting as an example of a novel written in the midst of the Golden Age that sought to be something more than a puzzle, and really is a study in character and setting. But despite Peck’s literary talents, I say: give me Agatha Christie every time!