Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers is set almost entirely at Oxford. Alma mater of Lord Peter Wimsey, the fictional version of Oxford University also houses Shrewsbury College--the educational home of Harriet Vane. The all-female college is experiencing a bout of particularly poison pen letters and malicious practical jokes. The warden of the college does not wish to bring in the police and produce unwanted publicity for the school, so she calls upon Harriet Vane to use the knowledge gained as a mystery writer to bear upon the problem. Using the annual Gaudy (a reunion of "old girls" of the college) and later a research project as cover, Harriet begins her investigations. But the mystery proves to be a deep one and Harriet finds it necessary to call upon Lord Peter for help. While wrestling with the problems of the nasty "ghost" of the college, she must also wrestle with her feelings for Peter. Oxford provides the perfect backdrop for the final stages of the romance between these two intelligent characters.
Rereading Sayers is always wonderful. She is the author of my comfort reads. I go to her for superb character development, lucid prose, literary quotes and allusions, and underlying humor. This one is also marvelous for its academic setting. I feel as though I've had the grand tour of Oxford; granted, it's Oxford of another era--but that makes it even more appealing. Gaudy Night stands out for me because of the setting and because, as a quote collector, there are so many tidbits that I've snatched for my collection...and I just have to share them with you. Five stars, by the way.
MD: …I had particular orders to hunt out Saint-George’s Niersteiner ’23 [wine] and mention Uncle Peter in connection with it. Is that right? I don’t know whether Uncle Peter bought it or recommended it or merely enjoyed it, or what he had to do with it, but that’s what I was supposed to say.