Five Red Herrings does a couple of things that really annoy me, like having a long section of people positing obviously wrong ways the crime unfolded, and the whole “the reader will of course know what the missing object was” bit — no, I don’t! I’m not a painter, I don’t have that education, and I don’t know how common it would’ve been in Sayers’ time, but knowing that fact has not lasted.
In any case, reading it this time, I did enjoy Five Red Herrings more than I did last time, perhaps. The introduction in the new edition drew my attention to the fantastic sense of place and character, and to appreciate again the way that Peter is embedded in the mystery, caring about the people involved. Plot-wise, it’s very clever again, literally written according to train timetables and precise distances between places. It might not be my favourite, but I can appreciate all the work that went into it. Sayers may not have thought her detective novels terribly literary or worthwhile, but hindsight says they are.
First of all, I love that the new edition has an introduction by Edward Petherbridge. Ian Carmichael was a brilliant voice for Peter, but if I could picture Peter, I think it’d be Petherbridge I’d see. And his introduction is fitting: erudite and respectful of Sayers’ work, but also playful.
The novel itself, well: it’s Strong Poison. I love it for so many reasons. Okay, I do get a little frustrated with Peter for making the fact that Harriet is likely to be hanged about how awful it is for him, when he barely knows her and has just fallen in love at first sight. But there’s so much witty banter, and Miss Climpson is a delight as well. And there’s the fact that this is the start of a relationship which is never fulfilled until it is equal: they start off so unequal, and Harriet’s prepared to just give in and leave things that way, but Peter steps back and waits and waits and… There could be an easy happy ending, but instead there’s a relationship that has to be worked at, until mutual respect is reached rather than pity or gratitude. No consent but free consent — how can I not applaud that story?
The mystery itself is of course tortuous, but you’d expect that from a Golden Age story like this. Peter, Miss Climpson and Bunter keep it from being weighed down — along with Parker’s delightful realisation about Mary.
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
A reread, of course. Not the best of the Wimsey books, but full of Sayers’ usual brains and wit. There’s some excellent character interactions — especially one between Lord Peter and Parker, where Peter is somewhat resenting the fact that he’s working with the police and potentially having to betray friends. There’s some great quotes, like Peter saying that books are kind of like shells that we discard when we grow out of them, but which lie around as a record of people we used to be. Yes!
This is one of the not-really-high-stakes mysteries, though; the death was of an old man, and was somewhat predictable, and the person who killed him didn’t try to cover his tracks by attacking other people. It becomes more of an intellectual puzzle, though there are some good bits about the feelings of particular characters. I don’t want to say too much in case anyone’s interested in reading this and forming their own opinions about the murder, so I’ll stop there! A solid mystery, but not the most emotionally involving of the Wimsey books, nor the cleverest.
It’s fun approaching these books now I’ve introduced my wife to them, via the radioplays and Edward Petherbridge TV series. (I think most of my gifts from her this year have been Wimsey themed… a bunch of the new editions of the books for my birthday, and then the Petherbridge series on DVD for Christmas!) It gives me a bit of a fresh eye to appreciate things all over again; the wittiness of Sayers’ writing, the cleverness of the plot, the way the characters all work together. Miss Climpson is a delight, up to and including the wry observations on how she’s actually rather nosy, despite saying she’s not. Parker is the perfect partner for Peter when investigating, willing to put in the hard graft which Peter is constitutionally unsuited for. And Bunter… well. I don’t know what Peter would do without him.
The murder/mystery part is rather fun, because it has two key problems: there’s no discernible motive, and there’s no discernible method. Peter has to track down both, and without saying too much, the legal problem on which the plot hangs is rather clever once you work it out, though infuriating while you’re trying to get there. The murder method… well. Embarrassingly simple, but just sneaky enough that it’s difficult to prove.
It’s not my favourite of Sayers’ books, but it’s witty, cleverly written, and definitely worth spending time with.
The Wimsey Family, C.S. Scott-Giles, Dorothy L. Sayers
This is quality piffle, right here. It’s a short volume, and perhaps better in concept than actually in execution, at least as something to read straight through. It assembles a bunch of stories that Sayers and her correspondents came up with, explaining Peter’s family and where exactly he came from. It untangles some inconsistencies, and basically rationalises everything.
A nice thing for a collector of Sayers’ work to have, and for a major fan of Lord Peter, but perhaps not the most entertaining just to sit and read.
What do I even have to say about these books anymore? This is the second Wimsey book, and it ups the emotional involvement somewhat by bringing in Peter’s family, and therefore higher stakes. I love all the stupid, unreliable, ridiculous characters, and the clever ones too, since they’re often one and the same character. I love the fact that if you pay attention, there are clues throughout — if you know your literature. (I refer to the references to Manon Lescaut.)
Yes, it’s Golden Age detective fiction, with everything that implies. At times, things don’t seem to be moving along much further, things get confused and convoluted, and you just long for people to do some straight talking. It’s Peter and Bunter that carry it, along with some help from the Dowager Duchess — I read these books originally because they’re classics, but I came back again (and again, and again) for the characters and the cleverness of Sayers’ writing.
A beloved reread, as you might expect, this time occasioned by having watched the Edward Petherbridge adaptations with my wife (who has, at least in BBC adaptation form, been converted to the love of Lord Peter). Whose Body? is a neat little mystery, and it’s given some depth by the fact that it already deals with Peter’s difficulties about whether he can do detecting as a hobby, or if there’s something wrong with that, etc, etc — and also with his shell shock, which retreats into the background in later books but is a key feature for how he reacts in this book.
He’s a little too perfect, of course, but I knew that going in. I don’t think Sayers had quite settled into what she was doing when she wrote this book, but it’s entertaining and, if you’re not interested in romance, long before Harriet Vane arrives on the scene.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Sarah Badel as Harriet Vane and Peter Jones as Bunter
Busman’s Honeymoon, or: the Wimseys will never, ever catch a break.
Honestly, despite the fact that it is a murder investigation, this one is fun. It has plenty of Peter-Harriet banter, plenty of Bunter being the ridiculously amazing manservant that he is, and plenty of heart as well. Peter and Harriet have finally got married, and they’re letting each other in, and Busman’s Honeymoon sees their first hiccups of married life — where Peter’s work as a detective makes Harriet feel like a traitor to friends who are under suspicion, and they have to decide who compromises… I like Sarah Badel’s version of Harriet, laughing and teasing, but warm too.
It’s not just about the relationship, though: there’s a solid mystery at the back of it, which is fun in its own right. And at least with this one, you really feel no pity for the criminal…
I can’t quite remember what the bad mood was that triggered this return to Strong Poison, so soon after I listened to the radioplay version. Fortunately, given Sayers’ witty, clever and allusive writing, it’s never going to be a chore, especially since this is one of the stronger books of the series — and it was a pleasure to realise how strong the fidelity of the radioplay version was, skipping very little of the original novel.
You see, in Strong Poison, Peter falls in love… with a woman who is almost sure to be convicted of the murder of her ex-lover. Knowing she’s innocent, pretty much because he thinks she’s pretty and her character as described doesn’t support the murder theory, he arranges to meet her, immediately proposes to her, and gets her out of the murder charge by finding the real murderer while he’s at it. The banter between them is delightful, as are the moments where Harriet is more vulnerable — she’s not immune to the situation she’s in, as she shows by breaking down in front of Peter.
The actual mystery is fun as well: in retrospect it’s very obvious, because of certain precautions a particular character has taken, but the unfolding of the hows and whys is still interesting, particularly because Bunter and Parker feature fairly strongly alongside Peter. And there’s also the delightful bit where Peter encourages Parker to propose to Lady Mary…
Still a favourite — even if my eyes popped a little at the point where Peter complains how horrible it is seeing Harriet in the dock… to Harriet. And she sympathises with him and says it must be beastly. Gah!
Featuring Joanna David as Harriet Vane and Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey
Gaudy Night is the odd one out in both the radioplays and the books. It was recorded later, I think, and it shows — Ian Carmichael sounds almost winded half the time, though it does get better as the book goes on. It’s quite a different tone, too, because it’s from Harriet’s point of view. In the audiobook, this involves a fair amount of first person narration of her thoughts and feelings, which was never a feature of the other audiobooks, which makes it stand out as well.
That said, it’s a pretty good adaptation, drawing together all the key features well and giving clues through the voice acting as well as the plot. In audio, it’s a little hard to keep track of all the female dons, but that doesn’t seem to get in the way too much. And Harriet’s realisation of her feelings for Peter is well done; I think I prefer Sarah Badel’s take on it in Busman’s Honeymoon, but it works.