I got this one on the Kindle because I was troubled by something Joe mentioned, about the way Walsh describes Tolkien. And now, having just read it for myself, I can see that it's even worse than I thought: Walsh explicitly calls Tolkien a misogynist.
Or, to be more accurate, she has Lord Peter Wimsey do it, referring to JRRT as "this misogynist professor". Here's the passage in full:
[HARRIET:] 'Well, do you know that the Merton Professor of English here will not take women pupils for tutorials? With one exception, that is -- he will tute
[LORD PETER:] 'Have I heard of this misogynist professor?'
[HARRIET:] 'Didn't you read The Hobbit to the boys during an air-raid?'
[LORD PETER:] 'Yes, I remember that.'
[HARRIET:] 'That's him -- the Merton Professor is Tolkien'
Tolkien never appears in the book, though he's referred to twice more: once as being one of several medieval scholars at Oxford -- Lewis and Tolkien and Wren*** -- who tried (unsuccessfully) to find out who wrote a damning review in the TLS, and once near the end when a new term begins and life goes on, signalled by mention of new lecture series by Lewis, Bowra, and one J. L. Austin.
So, where did Walsh get the idea that Tolkien was a misogynist? Certainly it means she doesn't know much about Tolkien, who was well-known at Oxford from his earliest days as a tutor for being unusually welcoming of women as students**** (the exact opposite being the case with CSL, whom she treats more favorably). I suspect the truth is that Tolkien famously once expressed criticism of Sayer's novels, saying that he was thoroughly tired of both Peter and Harriet by the time of GAUDY NIGHT (a sentiment Sayer herself seems to have shared, since she only wrote one more novel in the series after that point), and that Paton Walsh is gratuitously blackening his name as a belated revenge.
By contrast, Lewis is on record saying some good things about DLS, which I think here translates into a warmer depiction, despite the fact that Lewis had some real issues with women as students. It turns out Wimsey's brother-in-law, Inspector Parker, is a SCREWTAPE and NARNIA fan who, when in Oxford, asks to visit the Eagle & Child so he can see the great man go by -- not to meet or talk to or anything like that, but just to see in the flesh. This reminded me of Cripsin's famous "There goes C. S. Lewis -- it must be Tuesday". Perhaps there's now a tradition of characters in mysteries seeing CSL coming or going to that pub (if two examples seventy years apart can form a 'tradition').
As for Elaine Griffiths, it's nice to see a fictional portrayal of someone who played a key role in THE HOBBIT reaching a publisher, even if Walsh's apparent desire to honor an old friend does lead her to present Griffiths as the pre-eminant Old English scholar in all of Oxford, which one very much suspects was simply not the case.
As for Paton Walsh's portrayal of JRRT, technically you can't libel a dead man, so we need to come up for a new word for posthumous blackening someone's reputation with falsehoods.
current reading: THE LATE SCHOLAR by Jill Paton Walsh (2014) [just finished]
IN SEARCH OF J. D. SALINGER by Ian Hamilton (1988)
Duke's Denver catches fire, Peter's brother the duke dies of a heart attack while trying to save it, and Peter inherits the dukedom and family home, or what's left of it.
***sic; presumably she means Tolkien's successor as Rawlinson-Bosworth Professor, fellow Inkling C. L. Wrenn
****for the evidence of this, see my forthcoming essay "The Missing Women", which I delivered at Kalamazoo last year.