There’s a lot that I found annoying about this book: the allergy to using the word “said” (in one page: smirked, ranted, argued, retorted, started — and not one ‘said’), some of the made-up words and overenthusiastic descriptions of Kerri’s hair being alive, the breaking of the fourth wall… On the other hand, it’s all part of the exuberant pastiche, I think. And mostly it does work, for me anyway: I had a lot of fun. It’s goofy, but it’s pretty much Scooby Doo: of course it is.
For that reason, it’s reasonably predictable if you’ve seen a couple of episodes of classic Scooby Doo (plus maybe the movies like Zombie Island where it turns out that some supernatural stuff is real). Well, except for the Latina heroine, the lesbians, and the fact that one of the four is already dead.
It’s not the best thing I’ve read all year, but it was such solid fun I can’t give it less than four stars. I can understand those who find it too annoying, but for me it just about toed the line.
I’ll admit that I was hoping for more of the Museum atmosphere from this, and that I was a little sad that the academic rivalry subplot peters out. But it’s still entertaining: nothing too solid, fairly stereotyped cast of characters for a Golden Age crime novel, quick to read… I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary (and indeed, don’t remember Martin Edwards mentioning this author at all in The Golden Age of Murder, which talked about some of the more interesting members of the Golden Age crime fiction movement and particularly the Detection Club), but this was the sort of undemanding, mild fun I imagined. Despite involving murder, it’s pretty darn cosy. The only uncomfortable bit is the abduction of the female character.
So not an enormously high rating, but it deserves at least a three. I had fun. Not recommended if you don’t like Golden Age tropes, though!
This is probably my least favourite of the trilogy, though it’s partly down to personal taste: I didn’t enjoy the characters or their dynamic as much. Nathaniel is pretty awesome in his unthinking protectiveness and willingness to help others, but Justin mostly just ticked me off. He does have some redeeming features (particularly his relationship with the kids he looks after), but I still didn’t quite get that relationship.
It’s useful for piecing together the full story begun in An Unseen Attraction (or An Unsuitable Heir if you started with that, like I did!) but it’s not necessary, and personally, I wouldn’t have minded giving it a miss. It’s not a bad story, and there certainly is intensity between the main couple, but they just weren’t the type of characters I really root for.
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.
I read the last book in this series first, but it doesn’t matter too much, because they’re linked but don’t follow the exact same characters. This book features Clem and Rowley, and it’s a delight: Clem’s obvious ADHD and the way he and Rowley work with that in their relationship, and also the way that the sex scenes are not just “insert tab A into slot B”, but have feeling and thought behind them and don’t feel mechanistic at all. I’m not interested in the tab A/slot B type, but when it deepens characters’ relationships, and especially when it isn’t a mechanical write-by-numbers scene, it can still be worth reading — and such is the case here. I remember the same being true of An Unsuitable Heir.
It’s an enjoyable romance on its own, and the mystery adds a little, but I do think you might need to read all three books to really find the mystery satisfying. I need to read the middle book, and I’m honestly curious about how those two characters meet and get along, because from their appearances in this book and the third… nope!
If you’re not a fan of m/m romance at all, this won’t be for you, but if you’re looking for something in that genre which is thoughtful with rich characters, this should qualify admirably.
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.
Winterwood is a Gothic-ish mystery/romance, very much in the vein of Mary Stewart’s work. I think it rather reminded me of her Nine Coaches Waiting — though of course, I don’t actually read these books for originality. I wasn’t sure if I could root for the pairing, given that the main male character is married at the beginning and certainly affectionate and respectful with his wife, but it worked out fairly well with both halves of the potential romance keeping in mind the barrier between them. The characters are reasonably likeable — Flora is spoilt and willful, but also generous and capable of great affection, which redeemed her somewhat for me. Charlotte, Daniel’s wife, is obviously troubled and at times is rather transparently wicked, but there are also moments where Eden manages to get across some of the pathos of her character. Daniel is a little bland, though.
If you don’t expect too much of it, it’s a nice distraction. Eden’s writing isn’t bad, though she can’t quite evoke a sense of place the way Mary Stewart can — I didn’t ‘feel’ Winterwood the estate very much.
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Reading this a second time, I liked it more; I think my theory the first time I read it that it’d lost some of its freshness because I’d been reading too many Phryne books in a row was probably true. It gives us a glimpse of a different Phryne, and the experiences that made her the person she was, covering her life in Paris just after the war, and that’s pretty interesting — you can see it informing the way she chooses her lovers in the present-day of the books, and how she really became tough as nails.
It’s also nice because the book gives us a little more focus on Bert and Cec — a little more of a glimpse at their history and their bond, and some of their friends.
Against that, the plot with the girl who was going to marry a chef feels very light, almost inconsequential. It does help keep the book moving along when there’s a lot of other emotions that could make it heavy-going, but it’s not memorable or especially interesting in itself.