Finally, the project is finished: started 18 months ago to read all of the Peter Wimsey novels. This last more character study than plot-driven mystery, written, remarks Sayers “as a sort of an answer to many kindly inquiries as to how Lord Peter and his Harriet solved their matrimonial problem.” Certainly the love interest, unexpectedly saccharine and sentimental, takes up all of the first hundred pages or so until ever so reluctantly Peter and Harriet takes up
I forgot that I reread this one over a month ago, which says something about the book. It marks the point where I became bored my project, and veered off to read different stuff. But it bothered me. I couldn't figure out what went wrong. Wimsey is there, silly and clever as ever. There's some really good stuff about advertising agencies in the thirties. Sayers worked in one herself, so
After what seemed that odd interlude (Five Red Herrings), Harriet Vane is back on the scene in Have His Carcasse (this is a legal phrase rather like habeas corpus I gather--you need a body to prove the murder, and for a long time there isn't one in this book). Harriet's point of view (mostly) dominates the narrative, allowing readers to learn more about her character and appreciate the source for her ambivalence regarding Lord Peter's ever so chivalrous attentions.
Alas, I have been diverted from my journey through Dorothy Sayers' opus, not that I haven't been reading (I have), just not keeping up with Sayers or my posts. I do intend to catch up--eventually. What diverted me, you might wonder: well, first there was Benjamin Black's "Death in Summer." I will be writing about that shortly. Then there was Sonia Sotomayor's new memoir about growing up in Fort Apache (the East Bronx projects) and how she got through Princeton, and Yale, to her first seat on the seat on the Federal bench. Wow! I may write about that one for Goodreads as it's somewhat off program here. And then there was John Grisham's first (and, he claims, favorite) novel, "A Time to Kill,"
And so at last Harriet Vane appears on the scene . . . well, in the dock actually, on trial for her life, accused of poisoning her lover, Peter Boyes. Lord Peter attends her trial with his buddy Inspector Parker, and is smitten. Harriet Vane cannot be guilty he declares, obviously not possible as he decides in an instant to marry her. Harriet's response to this idea?
Quite a long book this, incorporating not one but two dovetailing plot lines which meet more or less mid-point in a Big Pause that feels at first like a plot stutter. What’s going on here? I muttered into my scotch. Peter solved the initial question—when precisely was General Fentiman killed—so how come there are two hundred more pages?
It really is quite interesting to re-read Sayers in chronological order; for me it facilitates the emergence of favorite themes and characters, but also provides a peak into how the author approaches her chosen genre. It comes then as no surprise then that Unnatural Death represents not only a third exploration of those basics of any crime--victim, perpetrator, method, and witnesses--but also a pause to consider murder itself and, for what it's worth, why this crime in particular stands out as more heinous than others.
Okay, so if “Whose Body” explores how to find a murderer when the victim is unrecognized and there are no witnesses to the event, then Sayers’ second mystery (1926), can be viewed as an exploration of what to do when, though the victim be known, there are too many witnesses, all telling different stories! The title says it all—or almost. I mean, why isn’t this book called “Cloud of Witnesses”?
Recently I decided to re-read the unfortunately short list of Dorothy Sayers' fine Lord Peter murder mysteries, just for the pure pleasure of it. Some I recall quite well, others I've more or less forgotten. Join me, won't you, even if you saw the tv versions? Here's the list of titles, in chronological order.
A reader, a writer, a poet, and sometime philosopher; an urbanist, a planner, an earth advocate, a peaceable person; a mother, a grandmother, a weeder of gardens, a baker of pies.