A downpour just before kick-off and continued showers through the first half made handling difficult and with passions running high, referee Ashley Rowden never seemed to be off his whistle.
In the end, Ed Thrower's try in the opening seconds of the second half was enough to earn Wasps their third successive victory.
Shane Drahm, influential at fly-half for Northampton, had kicked his side into a 9-3 lead at the interval and Northampton responded positively to Thrower's try.
But simple mistakes and a lack of composure cost them as they slipped to defeat, their third from a tough run of games after losses to Gloucester and Leicester.
All the focus before the game had been on Dawson's return to Franklin's Gardens for the first time since his summer move which had coincided – whether by intention or not – with the arrival of Corné Krige to Northampton.
There is no love lost between the pair. Dawson described Krige, now Northampton captain, as "thug-in-chief" for the manner in which he led the Springboks against England at Twickenham in November 2002.
It took just five minutes for the pair to come together on the field. Krige wheeling away smiling after he charged in with a late shoulder as Dawson, exposed, attempted to clear.
Referee Ashley Rowden warned Krige about attempting any repeat but Wasps games against Northampton often have a lively edge and the opening exchanges proved to be highly competitive.
Northampton's pack had the clear advantage early on and Dawson was penalised for trying to disrupt Mark Robinson's delivery from the base of a strong Saints scrum.
Having missed a first-minute effort from halfway, Drahm found his aim and gave Northampton the lead after just four minutes.
Alex King, the Wasps fly-half, missed two chances to get his side on the scoreboard as Wasps huffed and puffed against Northampton's defence without creating a clear opening, despite the inventive running of fullback Mark Van Gisbergen and centre Peter Richards.
But they were hit on the counter-attack when Northampton took a quick line-out and Wylie Human chipped through for the on-rushing John Rudd, forcing a desperate Wasps to concede again and Drahm landed his second penalty after 23 minutes.
Robinson launched another sustained attack shortly before the break and with Northampton camped just shy of the Wasps try-line, Phil Greening strayed offside and Drahm, opting for the points, slotted his third penalty.
King was eventually successful, though, his fourth attempt in the last minute of the half only just squeaking inside the left upright.
Wasps emerged a different team after the break, and within a minute, substitute Ed Thrower slid into the corner for the game's only score.
Richards burst down the right, beat one tackle and then handed onto Van Gisbergen who found Thrower running through on the angle.
King's conversion was on target and within a minute of the restart Wasps were a point ahead at 10-9.
Northampton had the better of the later exchanges, but with Drahm's boot misfiring and the backs curiously unable to find a killer pass, Wasps were able to cling on.
Mark van Gisbergen ruined the one chance Northampton carved out with a magnificent try-saving tackle on Andrew Blowers, and with both sides making mistake after mistake, further scores were always unlikely.
For Northampton Saints:Pens: Drahm 3
For London Wasps:Try: ThrowerCon: KingPen: King