Busman's Honeymoon

Busman's Honeymoon is a 1937 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her eleventh and last featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, and her fourth and last to feature Harriet Vane.

Busman's Honeymoon
First edition
AuthorDorothy L. Sayers
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesLord Peter Wimsey
GenreMystery, Detective novel
Publication date
Media typePrint
Preceded byGaudy Night 

Plot introduction

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane marry and go to spend their honeymoon at Talboys, an old farmhouse in Hertfordshire which he has bought her as a present. The honeymoon is intended as a break from their usual routine of solving crimes (him) and writing about them (her), but it turns into a murder investigation when the seller of the house is found dead at the bottom of the cellar steps with severe head injuries.


A "busman's holiday" is a holiday spent by a bus driver travelling on a bus: it is no break from his usual routine. By analogy, anyone who spends his holiday doing his normal job is taking a "busman's holiday".


After an engagement of some months following the events at the end of Gaudy Night, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane marry. They plan to spend their honeymoon at Talboys, an old farmhouse in Harriet's native Hertfordshire which Wimsey has bought for her, and they abscond from the wedding reception, evading the assembled reporters.

Arriving late at night, they are surprised to find the house locked up and not prepared for them. They gain access and spend their wedding night there, but next morning they discover the former owner, Noakes, dead in the cellar with head injuries. The quiet honeymoon is ruined as a murder investigation begins and the house fills with policemen, reporters, and brokers' men distraining Noakes' hideous furniture.

Noakes was an unpopular man, a miser and (it turns out) a blackmailer. He was assumed to be well off, but it transpires that he was bankrupt, owed large amounts of money, and was planning to flee his creditors with the cash paid for Talboys. The house had been locked and bolted when the newly-weds arrived, and medical evidence seems to rule out an accident, so it seems he was attacked in the house and died later, having somehow locked up after his attacker. The suspects include Noakes' niece Aggie; Mrs Ruddle, his neighbour and cleaning lady; Frank Crutchley, a local garage mechanic who also tended Noakes' garden; and the local police constable, who was his blackmail victim.

Peter's and Harriet's relationship, always complex and painfully negotiated, is resolved during the process of catching the murderer and bringing him to justice. In a final scene, in which almost the entire cast of characters is gathered in the front room of Talboys, reflecting the novel's origin as a work for the stage, the killer turns out to be Crutchley. He planned to marry Noakes' somewhat elderly niece and get his hands on the money he had left her in his will. He set a booby trap with a weighted plant pot on a chain, which was triggered by the victim opening the radio cabinet after locking up for the night. Wimsey's reaction to the case – his arrangement for the defendant to be represented by top defence counsel; his guilt at condemning a man to be hanged; the return of his shell-shock – dominates the final chapters of the book. It is mentioned that Wimsey had previously also suffered similar pangs of conscience when other murderers had been sent to the gallows. His deep remorse and guilt at having caused Crutchley to be executed leave doubt as to whether he would undertake further murder investigations – and in fact Sayers completed no further Wimsey novels after this one.

The 1942 short story Talboys, the very last Wimsey fiction published by Sayers, is both a sequel to the present book, in having the same location and some of the same village characters, and an antithesis in being lighthearted and having no crime worse than the theft of some peaches from a neighbour's garden.

Principal characters

  • Lord Peter Wimsey – protagonist, an aristocratic amateur detective
  • Harriet Vane, now Lady Peter Wimsey – protagonist, a mystery writer, wife of Lord Peter
  • Mervyn Bunter – Lord Peter's manservant
  • Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver – Lord Peter's mother
  • William Noakes – previous owner of Talboys and murder victim
  • Miss Agnes Twitterton – a spinster niece of the murdered man
  • Frank Crutchley – a motor mechanic and gardener
  • Mrs Martha Ruddle – neighbour of Noakes and his cleaning lady
  • Bert Ruddle – her son
  • Chief Superintendent Kirk – Hertfordshire CID
  • Joseph Sellon – the local police constable
  • The Reverend Simon Goodacre – Vicar of Paggleham

Literary significance and criticism

In their review of Crime novels (revised edn 1989), the US writers Barzun and Taylor comment that the novel is "Not near the top of her form, but remarkable as a treatment of the newly wedded and bedded pair of eccentrics ... with Bunter in the offing and three local characters, chiefly comic. Peter's mother – Dowager Duchess of Denver – Peter's sister, John Donne, a case of vintage port, and the handling of "corroded sut" provide plenty of garnishing for an indifferent murder, even if we weren't also given an idea of Lord Peter's sexual tastes and powers under trying circumstances."[2]


Busman's Honeymoon first saw the light of day as a stage play by Sayers and Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Subtitled A Detective Comedy in Three Acts, it opened at London's Comedy Theatre, in December 1936.[3]

A 1940 film version, based as much on the play as on the novel, starred Robert Montgomery as Peter and Constance Cummings as Harriet.[4] The movie was released in the United States as Haunted Honeymoon.[5]

In 1983 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a six-part adaptation. This starred Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Sarah Badel as Harriet, Peter Jones as Bunter, Rosemary Leach as Miss Twitterton, Pearl Hackney as Mrs Ruddle, Peter Vaughan as Superintendent Kirk and John Westbrook as the Narrator.[6]

Lifeline Theatre (Chicago, Illinois) presented an original adaptation of Busman's Honeymoon in the spring and summer of 2009.[7] Frances Limoncelli adapted the script from Dorothy Sayers' novel. The show was directed by Paul Holmquist. Busman's Honeymoon was preceded by adaptations of Whose Body?, Strong Poison, and Gaudy Night (all adapted by Frances Limoncelli and produced at Lifeline Theatre).[8]


  1. "British Library Item details". primocat.bl.uk. Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  2. Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8
  3. Hesse, Beatrix (2 August 2015). "The English Crime Play in the Twentieth Century". Springer via Google Books.
  4. "Busman's Honeymoon (1940)". BFI.
  5. "Haunted Honeymoon (1940) - Arthur B. Woods - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related". AllMovie.
  6. "BBC Radio 4 Extra - Wimsey, Busman's Honeymoon, A Chain of Circumstance". BBC.
  7. Desk, BWW News. "BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON Concludes Lifeline Theater's Season". BroadwayWorld.com.
  8. "Sayers for Players: Lifeline's Gaudy Night - Theatre News - Theatre In Chicago". www.theatreinchicago.com.
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