BooksOfTheMoon

Five Red Herrings

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 2 stars

Lord Peter Wimsey is spending some time hanging around artists in the Scottish Borders when one of them is murdered. It turns out that any of about half a dozen people could have done it and he ends up helping the police with their enquiries.

I must confess that I found this one a bit difficult to wrap my head around. Keeping track of all the suspects, their motives, stories and alibis got quite tricky, and the fact that travel was important made it difficult as well, as the train timetable became central. Not to mention little things that would have been so common as to be barely worth mentioning in Sayers’ day but because train travel has changed so much in the last eighty or so years, it’s confusing when she talks about bicycles being ticketed separately to the person and held in a different compartment, and rather than taking it in, you’re left going, ‘eh’? Oh, and the idea of trains mostly running to timetable as well seems less than credible!

Lord Peter is a fun protagonist, ever cheerful and bimbling about in an inoffensive way that ferrets out information without people even noticing, and yet with an edge that lets him push if he has to. Neither he, nor the rest of the cast, get much in the way of character development – I suppose with six suspects, hangers on and a number of police officials, there just wasn’t room for it. I certainly struggled to keep things clear in my head, even with the handy list near the start and the police recap near the end.

I wasn’t sure about writing the Scottish characters in dialect to start with, but it did grow on me and I was enjoying it by the end. I also laughed out loud at Sayers’ little wink to camera in a section near the start where Wimsey is frantically searching for something to do with the murder and when the policeman asks what it is, the author puts in an insert to the effect that Wimsey tells him, but leaves it hidden from the reader, in a very post-modern way.

So enjoyable enough and it wouldn’t put me off reading more Wimsey stories, but it’s definitely one that needs attention and to be read in reasonable chunks.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450038457
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1931

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #3)

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

A chance conversation leads Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate a case that the doctor is convinced is murder, but all the evidence points to a natural death. But as he investigates further and the bodies start to rack up, it’s a race to find the murderer before he becomes one of the victims.

Although I’m a bit of a fan of Agatha Christie and like that style of whodunnit, I’ve never read anything by Dorothy L. Sayers, but a mystery-loving friend of mine has talked about her in the past and I found this in a second hand bookshop. Peter Wimsey is an interesting character, more self-doubting than, say, Hercule Poirot but putting on a whimsical face. He’s got his sidekick in the form of his butler Bunter, and the the police inspector Charles Parker as well as Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster who is employed to make the sort of discrete enquiries that only an elderly lady of a certain variety can.

While some casual racism exists in the book, I thought it was interesting to see how Sayers portrayed it as the lower classes who engaged most in it, while the aristocrat Lord Peter and middle class Inspector Parker treat Hallelujah Dawson most sympathetically. It’s difficult to know where the author fell along this axis, but I’m tempted to say that she sided with her protagonist on this. The language, of course, is shocking to modern ears, with the ‘N’ word thrown around quite casually, but of course, it’s a product of its time, and like I say, I think it’s handled well, and in service of the plot, by the author.

I enjoyed the story, the mystery and the writing here and I’ll certainly look out for more of Lord Peter’s[*] adventures

[*] although in my head the ‘Lord’ honorific normally goes along with a title or surname, it seems that Lord Peter isn’t the heir to the family title (the Duchy of Denver), so as second son, the honorific goes with the first name

Book details

Publisher: Four Square Books
Year of publication: 1927

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