In The Nine Tailors, Peter and Bunter find themselves stranded in the Fen country due to their car being driven into a ditch. Taking shelter for New Year’s Eve in a small vicarage, Peter gets pressed into joining the vicar and his bellringers in ringing in the New Year, literally, with a complex and record-breaking peal. The reader might be slightly confused by this beginning, which features no crime, but after a while things become clear: the vicar writes to Peter later, asking for his help. A body has been found in the grave of a woman who died that New Year’s Day, and nobody knows who he is, who killed him, or even exactly how he died.
This was one of my favourite of the Peter Wimsey books from the start of my acquaintance with them, when I was rather less under the spell of Peter, and more inclined to be sceptical — I think I might’ve given Whose Body? two stars, so thank goodness I didn’t have a blog then: my mother would’ve had a fit. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why this book is a favourite, though. Part of it is a sense of place — the desolate power of the Fenlands, the beauty of the church, the brooding menace of the bells… Part of it is that refrain from the book: “Nine tailors make a man.” For me, anyway, there’s a kind of magic in that phrase, in the idea of the bell slowly tolling to announce a death. And there’s also a good deal to love in the care Sayers took in using the bellringing for so much, weaving it into the plot inextricably, and making all the infodumps about change ringing useful to the rest of the story. There’s a powerful melancholy in the whole book.
(I’m sure for some people that’s also a reason to dislike the book; it’s a fairly measured and slow-paced story.)
For me, there’s also significant pleasure in the ironies of the story, and to elaborate would be to spoil the story. It’s a rather literary effort, compared to the snappier books from earlier in the series: for me, that’s a positive thing, though I like the earlier books as well. Could use more active involvement of Parker, though…
In this book, Amory and her husband Milo go — together, as a couple! with no drama about who is sleeping where! – to a country house at the request of her cousin, a dear friend, who was once on the periphery of a murder and has been called back to the site, along with other people, for some new revelation. Feeling uncomfortable, and knowing Amory’s stuck her nose in a few police investigations, she asks Amory to come — and though she’s no detective and not qualified, etc, etc, she goes, to support her cousin. So far, so very typical of the genre, honestly, and the rest of the book more or less continues that.
I don’t think I’ll continue with this series; it’s nice mindless stuff, and at least she’s stopped (for now at least) playing with the drama about Milo being a playboy. But it’s just a bit too much like everything else, and Amory hasn’t caught my attention in the way Daisy has. I might pick up the next book if I’m bored sometime, but the library wanted it back, and I didn’t care enough to reserve it again, so… there you go.
After rereading the Lord Peter Wimsey books at a fairly leisurely pace for a while, I more or less sat down and devoured the ones I had left, in December. Murder Must Advertise has long been a favourite for the fun of seeing both somewhat of how an advertising agency works, and how Dorothy Sayers herself worked in such an environment. (One feels one’s glimpsed her particularly in the figure of Miss Meteyard, I think — though Sayers herself was writing copy, more in Wimsey’s job than Miss Meteyard’s.) The book features Peter’s one real sustained undercover op: he embeds himself into an advertising agency under the name of Bredon, sniffing out a murder and a dope gang, all at once.
It’s also one of those books with a sincere sense of danger, and a bittersweet ending in which Peter allows a man the dignity of choosing the manner of his own death rather than immediately telling the police what he’s worked out. That tendency is one of the things that irritates me about Peter as a sleuth; his code of honour means he feels he has to allow people an out, even if that out is an honourable suicide. Of course we know that it never does go wrong, for Peter, but it could and it’s a flaw in him for me that he’s always so tempted to put the decision in a murderer’s hands. In this case, he suggests a method of suicide to someone that means their family won’t be overshadowed by the trial — but leaves him no chance of a fair trial. Peter is judge and jury, and the murderer themselves becomes their own executioner. It might not feel like cricket to turn people in to the police, but darn it, the legal system is there for a reason. Peter’s meant to be too decent to back someone against a wall and make them think all is lost, but still. Real people aren’t always right, or always decent.
All the same, for the most part it’s a bit of a romp, with Peter coming up with advertising slogans, and leading a double life to provide himself with alibis (of sorts). Harriet’s not really mentioned, and Bunter and even Parker are often in the background, with the setting and characters of the advertising agency taking centre stage. It makes a nice change.
I was surprised to read that this was something of a filler book, while Sayers was actually working on The Nine Tailors to get all the details right, but it makes sense in a way. It doesn’t advance Peter’s character arc much, or really do anything profound — apart from the last act of bravery on the part of a particular character.
Dead in the Water is the 6th in the Daisy Dalrymple series. In this book, Daisy and Alec are officially engaged, and he’s actually got to face her family — thankfully, her more likeable aunt, and not more time with her strict and old-fashioned mother! Of course, as usual, Daisy quickly falls over a fraught situation, expects murder, and eventually gets it. The same formula is in place here as usual: a crime is committed, and by the time Alec investigates, Daisy’s picked someone to champion. In this case, it’s actually someone she doesn’t even like, who she feels deserves better than he’s been getting all the same.
It’s little things like that (Daisy not liking the person she champions) that help bring some variety to the series; if it was always the exact same kind of person, it’d quickly get tedious, but there’s always just enough variation that it works. For me, and so far, at least. Daisy herself is a worthy sort of heroine: not totally unflappable, but practical and trying to keep her head; a girl who works for her living when she doesn’t have to (except of course, she considers that she does have to, valuing the work); someone with a sense of justice. Alec, too, is a basically decent guy, doing his best to find the culprits and put aside personal feelings. And their relationship is sweet, too.
It didn’t blow me out of the water (heh), but again it’s a fun entry in a series that’s working for me.
Death Wears a Mask is another competent cozy-ish mystery in the same vein as the first, with the side plot of Amory’s playboy husband being, well, a playboy. There’s a fair bit of relationship drama here, where he gets into compromising situations and she refuses to quite believe he’s faithful to her. Plenty of misunderstandings on her side, while he’s actually mostly perfect (cares about her, acts wild but is faithful, etc). Spare me. I hope the oh-no-is-he-cheating drama is over as of this book, because yeesh.
The mystery itself was somewhat predictable, as was the resolution of the relationship drama. The attraction remains that it’s just a really easy and fast read, without being too involving emotionally or too full of guts and gore. A mild pleasure rather than something that bowled me over in any fashion.
Actually, I’m so lukewarm on this and only a little warmer on the following book (which I’ve already read — I’m just behind on actually writing up my reviews) that I wonder why I’m continuing with the series when I have so many lovely things to read.
In this instalment of the Daisy Dalrymple series, Philip falls in love, and immediately gets into a scrape. Daisy, of course, is pretty glad to hear about the lucky girl (it gets Philip off her back, and after all she wants him to be happy) and immediately plunges into trouble to help rescue her when something goes wrong. Alec comes into the story later, and mostly unofficially, with plenty of derring-do and dramatic rescue attempts on the part of all concerned.
In a way, there’s not much to say about this book: it’s fairly predictable as far as the fact that you know Daisy is going to get into all the trouble there is to get into, and figure out most of the salient points (with Alec not doing so badly either, of course). Things turn out pretty much okay at the end, not to mention the fact that Alec and Daisy end the book engaged.
The series remains a lot of fun, and rather wholesome fun at that. If you can’t bear Phryne Fisher’s taste in men, it’s a good alternative for a cosy mystery series.
The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard
This is basically a Sherlock Holmes retelling, set in de Bodard’s Xuya universe of short stories and novellas, where Watson is actually a sentient ship, and the mystery involves a body dumped into the equivalent of hyperspace, through which humans can’t travel without a ship to protect them and a cocktail of drugs (served in teas, traditionally, though presumably the format doesn’t necessarily have to be a tea) to keep them from going insane.
Of course, the ship, The Shadow’s Child, is less blindly fascinated by the Holmes character (Long Chau) than Watson is in the original stories, and there’s a certain friction between them throughout. The ship doesn’t like Long Chau’s attitudes (she can be abrasive) and is suspicious of her past. The Shadow’s Child has her own tragic past, in which she lost her crew, her family, in an accident — in those deep areas of space that the mindships are able to navigate and from which humans need protection. Naturally, the mystery — and Long Chau’s incisive commentary on her understanding of The Shadow’s Child — end by drawing the ship into the space she fears, in order to prevent further tragedies. Likewise, there are links to Long Chau’s own history and her past disgraceful involvement in the disappearance of a young woman she was tutoring.
Ultimately, the story is perhaps less about the actual mystery and more about that interplay between the two personalities — and The Shadow’s Child eventual decision to face her fears in order to rescue Long Chau and another human, at the conclusion of the mystery. There’s definitely room for more in this world (of course, since it’s part of a whole series of not-necessarily-connected stories) and with these characters: I’ll be interested to read whatever might come of that in future.
This installment of the Daisy Dalrymple series features Alec’s daughter prominently: she decides to run away and find Daisy as she’s getting on a train to Scotland, and ends up witnessing key facts in a murder case (of course). The murder takes place on the Flying Scotsman, so of course Scotland Yard have to be called in, and of course, Alec is in the neighbourhood and concerned because of his daughter. There’s the usual sort of cast of characters with perhaps a few more unpleasant folks than usual, with the leavening ingredient of Dr Jagai. I had my eyebrows raised a little over him using yoga to help treat a shellshock case (not that it’s a bad idea, but seemed like it was a bit of a stereotype and had the potential for being a magical Negro type moment), but it mostly came off okay.
Alec’s interactions with Daisy remain delightful, and this book includes some slightly steamier scenes (insofar as these books ever get steamy) — the biggest indicator being Alec rather firmly going off to take a specifically cold bath. I laughed at that bit, I must confess. Belinda makes a fun addition too, though she was also used as a bit of a prop for a “diversity is good” moment (on race instead of sexuality, which was covered in The Winter Garden Mystery; yeah, I know, I’m getting cynical in my old age).
I hope I don’t get tired of this series, because it does delight me in the same sort of way as the Phryne Fisher books, albeit with a more conventional (i.e. less sexy and more sexually inhibited) female main character. It’s nice that Daisy has to get by on her wits, too — no pearl-handled revolvers for her.
I was fascinated to read about the background of the author of this book: she sounds like a really interesting person, one of the first female MPs, and really dedicated to her work and her constituents. Respected across party lines, too! I was a little worried that her work was included for the novelty of the author being an actual MP writing about a mystery set in the Commons, but it’s competently done and the little personality sketches feel so real. She didn’t overwhelm the work with her actual knowledge, but she definitely used it to advantage.
The mystery itself isn’t exactly revolutionary, and her female femme-fatale style character (and the male reactions to her within the story) were so very, very typical of the period, but the ending brings in a surprisingly real note of pathos, and the setting is somewhat unique. It comes together into an enjoyable little amateur detective story, with some funny lines, some interesting details, and some surprisingly vivid thumbnail sketches of a few characters. I enjoyed it enough to rank it a cut above the sort of baseline enjoyment I’ve had with other British Library Crime Classics.
The Daisy Dalrymple books are definite cosies: mostly victims the reader will dislike, while the real culprit is never someone the reader is meant to like, or had a really good reason if they are; a ‘clean’ romance, with Alec and Daisy decorously falling in love with only hints here and there of physical lust; blood and guts minimised. Requiem for a Mezzo continues in that vein as expected, with the poisoning of a woman who rather made the lives of everyone around her miserable — a literal diva who has made a career for herself as a singer at the expense of her sister. The villain is not quite as expected, mind you — but I won’t spoil that part for you.
The investigation goes along as expected: various suspects, the weird complication of a Ukrainian terrorist group (an issue mostly skirted around and not used to full potential), plenty of red herrings. Daisy remains likeable, though not someone I’d ever invite round to my house (someone would be sure to die). She’s a little bit too perfect, despite her unfashionably rounded figure and her freckles (it all just makes her sound comfortable and cute to the modern reader), but she gets away with it. Alec isn’t too clever, but avoids ever relying hopelessly on Daisy’s help. It’s all within the bounds of tolerability — this makes it sound like I’m damning the books with faint praise, which is not my intention: I deeply enjoy them for the cosy mysteries they are.
I found the resolution of this one maybe a little too pat. I don’t believe in the motive, and feel like we ended the book without an answer as to who was the real culprit. But it’s still fun, and there were some lovely character moments: not just Daisy and Alec, but little glimpses of other people’s thoughts and feelings that make it feel a little more real.