Ten years after she is graduated from Shrewsbury College, in Oxford, Harriet Vane accepts the invitation of a classmate, Mary Stokes Attwood, to return for an annual celebration, the “Gaudy.” While at the college, she finds a scrap of paper blowing around the quadrangle; on it, she finds a crudely drawn picture of a naked woman stabbing a figure in academic dress. Later, on her way back to London, a message flutters from her gown: “YOU DIRTY MURDERESS. AREN’T YOU ASHAMED TO SHOW YOUR FACE?” The words have been formed with letters cut from newspaper headlines.
Harriet thinks no more of the picture and assumes that since she was accused of murdering her lover, Philip Boyles (as recounted in Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison, 1930), the message is a personal attack. Several months later, however, Dean Letitia Martin asks Harriet to return to Shrewsbury, because many similar notes have been appearing on campus. In addition to these hateful letters, vandalism has become a problem. The manuscript of Miss Lydgate’s study of English prosody has been mutilated, gowns have been burned in the quadrangle, and library books have been torn.
Reluctantly, Harriet accepts the task of trying to find the person who is responsible for these bizarre occurrences. Despite her careful records of each episode and her attempts to catch or at least discourage the vandal, she cannot identify or apprehend the perpetrator. Members of the faculty begin to...
(The entire section is 590 words.)