This is a fun story in terms of the whole idea of Peter being undercover, actually working for his living in an advertising company. Here it makes perfect sense that he’s great at it, and the way he pokes around shamelessly is a delight. I’m not so enamoured of any of the secondary characters in this one, though: Parker barely appears, Bunter and Harriet are entirely absent, and the other characters are all new (and confined to this mystery). It remains fun, but it’s not one of the ones that get me emotionally engaged.
It doesn’t help that in the radioplays, Gabriel Woolf no longer voices Parker; it’s someone else, whose voice doesn’t fit half so well. It might if we’d never had Woolf, but as it is, it’s very distracting. I know exactly how the real Parker would say those lines, and this guy is all wrong… It’s much worse than the changing voice actors for Harriet, somehow.
The ending is an interesting one, in terms of Peter’s moral responsibilities. Several times he ends up having pity on the people who have, after all, committed crimes, and giving them an easy way out. They don’t escape to live perfect lives, of course, but all the same, Peter doesn’t hand them over to justice and punishment. It’s something only a gentleman detective could or would do, and I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Maria Aitken as Harriet Vane
I’ve always loved this book, particularly for the first lines:
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.
The rest of it continues as delightful, and while the BBC radioplay version doesn’t include the narrative stuff like that, it does include a lot of the delightful back and forth between Harriet and Peter — and, beautifully, the wrenching conversation they have when she wants to fight about it. Maria Aitken and Ian Carmichael do an excellent job, and honestly, that partnership is more the attraction when it comes to this book than the mystery plot. Though there are some fun puzzles and red herrings in that too, of course. Still, objectively, Sayers’ books were better when Peter was engaged emotionally, and it isn’t just a puzzle-plot like Five Red Herrings, and that shows with my affection for this one.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey and Peter Jones as Bunter
I have to confess I got an awful shock when Inspector Parker made his brief appearance in this book — it’s no longer Gabriel Woolf! I knew it was coming, but gah, I hate the transition every time. And it doesn’t really help that this might be my least favourite of the mysteries: in the original book, it relies on suppressing information that, in the end, wouldn’t actually help the uninformed reader that much. At least that doesn’t happen in this version, but it’s also a murder mystery worked to a very specific timetable, and on a second, third or fourth reading it gets a little tedious. To me, anyway. I’m sure there’s someone for whom Five Red Herrings is their favourite.
Of course, the attraction in Sayers’ clever dialogue and Ian Carmichael’s perfect delivery remains, and with some crochet to occupy my hands, it’s still a pleasant interlude.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker
For some reason, I can’t find the name of the person who voiced Harriet, and my Audible file doesn’t seem to include that intro. Blast. Still, Strong Poison is mostly not about Harriet, and she appears comparatively little — really, it’s about Lord Peter getting to be a knight in shining armour, and he really starts escalating toward sainthood in his actions here, how he comes to save her and doesn’t push and so on. If you look at it with a cynical eye, it’s all rather obvious lionising of the character.
Still, if you’re a fan of Lord Peter, you can lay that aside and just enjoy him sleuthing away on the trail of the real murderer, plus his sudden feelings for Harriet. The voice acting is excellent, as usual: Ian Carmichael is the perfect Peter, and there’s an awesome little scene with Inspector Parker about Mary which I just had to listen to twice for the fun of it. The adaptation is pretty good, with most details preserved — even down to whole sections of piffle from Wimsey and his mother, and the exact content of various scenes — and though the mystery is a little trimmed down here and there, I think you could almost switch off between the book and the radioplay scenes without losing anything in understanding.
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter, and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker
This has never been my favourite of the books, though it does touch on some of the horrors of war (in the figure of George Fentiman) and there are some interesting moral issues — particularly because this is one of those books in which Peter chooses to offer someone a “gentlemanly way out”. On the one hand, it bothers me because the guy is basically painted into a corner: his guilt has been figured out, and now here comes Lord Peter to make him write a full confession and then gently hint that he should shoot himself, rather than face due process and be condemned by a jury. Of course, the death penalty is probably his ultimate destination, and yet… who is Lord Peter to decide? To offer a way round the law?
It’s one of those stories in which Peter is asked whether he’s a detective or a gentleman, and he pretty much dodges the issue.
The radioplay is a fun enough adaptation, though the pacing is bizarre. Just as you think it must be approaching the denouement, it turns out that no, there’s still half the story to go. It feels very odd, even when you know it’s coming.
As usual, the voice acting is pretty excellent, and there was no desperate overacting by extras in this one, either. Hurrah.
Featuring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter Jones as Bunter, and Gabriel Woolf as Inspector Parker
This is a quick review, since I’ve read the book the Unnatural Death radio play was based on several times, and heard the radio play at least once before too. The casting is generally great: the voices are perfect for the characters, for the most part, though sometimes the dramatics are a bit too dramatic (the boy scout in episode… five or so comes to mind). Miss Climpson’s letters are narrated by the character, which seems fun at first (and gives you a wealth of information on the character’s attitudes, etc), but knowing the story as well as I do, I found it annoying over time.
The story itself is a pretty good mystery, satisfyingly tangled and yet with one of those surprisingly simple solutions. The original crime is simple and elegant: as Wimsey says, it’s everything the criminal does to hide the crime that actually ends up revealing them.
There’s an interesting review here on the race issues in this book. I’m not sure to what extent I agree with it, without knowing more about race issues in Britain in the period, but it is an interesting point to make.
In my thoughts on Urn Burial, I wondered if one of Phryne’s lovers was ever going to be really exposed to danger, so that you don’t feel as if everyone around her lives a charmed life. Well, this one has a bit more threat to it — the confrontation chapter, in particular, was tense and a little shocking. I had the sense that it could’ve gone either way, and the desperation of other characters around Phryne who clearly believed that helped. The lengths they were prepared to go to, to save the character in question… yeah, I felt that more than I have for several books.
As for the plot itself, well — it’s typically dramatic, with Phryne getting tangled up in race issues again: this time not Chinese, but Jewish. I know that some people would probably call her a “Mary Sue” for being so adaptable to other people’s customs, but it makes sense with the character: her background, her generally accepting habits, the fact that she is definitely a lady.
One of the scenes was borrowed whole-cloth from Dorothy L. Sayers, which bothers me a little. I think often the homages are deliberate, but taking one of Harriet Vane’s lines to her future husband and putting it in the mouth of a character who will appear in one book, if the pattern holds? Hm. I don’t know if it was deliberate reference, unconscious plagiarism, or what, but it stood out like a sore thumb — Miss Lee joking to Phryne that she will always find her at home, when of course, she’s in prison and can’t leave. That line, in Sayers, tells us so much about Harriet, and yet here it feels wasted. Sigh.
Still, that’s a minor quibble, and for the most part this is a solid outing for Phryne.
Ask A Policeman, John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy
I think the books and stories the Detection Club did together must have been a lot of fun to do and to share around with other writers, but they come off less well for someone outside that context, and particularly given that many of the authors and detectives are no longer well-known. Sayers/Lord Peter were the only ones I knew from this bunch, so the parody and playing in other people’s sandboxes doesn’t really interest me.
Going through the same murder in however many different ways just… didn’t interest me enough. The parody of Sayers was quite fun, since I know what Wimsey is like, but other than that, I found this fairly boring. Alas.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme is “beach books”. Which is not something I really do, so instead I shall pick the kinds of books I like to relax with. Whether that looks like your beach reads or not, I don’t know!
Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal. Or anything in that series, but the first one is the lightest and closest to Austen and the like.
This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart. Or any of her mysteries — they have an amazing sense of place, it’s like going on holiday without leaving home.
The Rose Garden, Susanna Kearsley. Another one with a great sense of place, this one in Cornwell. It’s not all happy, but the romance is sweet and it has a happy ending.
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer. I have a huge soft spot for these romances. I loved Sophy in particular, though I’m also a fan of…
The Talisman Ring, Georgette Heyer. Which is more of a mystery/adventure than some of the primarily society type ones.
Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews. Light and compulsively readable.
Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers. Okay, I think you need the background of previous books, but I love the first line and the rest doesn’t disappoint: “The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth.”
Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers. For Harriet Vane in the prime spot, with her final answer to Lord Peter’s proposals at the end of the book… Plus, tons of smart women in academia.
Jhereg, Steven Brust. It’s a fun first book of the series, it raced past me, and it’s really easy to read.
Soulless, Gail Carriger. Fluffy fun with werewolves.
I don’t think that’d be a bad selection for the beach, right?
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:
“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”
So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!
The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.
Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —
Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!