Dorothy L. Sayers, (1893-1957), an Oxford-educated British woman rose to be one of the most celebrated minds of her time, counting among her friends, T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams and C.S. Lewis. Sayers introduced her blue-blooded sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey in 1923 with the publication of Whose Body.
“He became her hero for fourteen volumes of novels and short stories. She also wrote four other novels in collaboration and two serial stories for broadcasting. Writing full time she rose to be the doyen of crime writers and in due course president of the Detection Club. Her work, carefully researched and widely varied, included poetry, the editing of collections with her erudite introductions on the genre, and the translating of the Tristan of Thomas from mediaeval French. “ Excerpted from the author’s biography Dorothy L. Sayers Society website: http://www.sayers.org.uk/dorothy.html
Sayers brings to her Lord Peter mysteries a level of logic, articulation, and distinction that is almost unknown in the current genre. Yet, these novels contain humorous and personable main characters which demand an ongoing loyalty among readers. (Witness the yahoo book discussion club organized in 1998 and still discussing the mysteries online today.)
Strong Poison, the sixth Lord Peter novel introduces readers to Harriet Vane, our detective’s love interest for four of the novels (Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon). The novel opens in an English courtroom, Harriet Vane is in the dock, accused of murdering her fiancé and the judge is summing up the case for the jury. Our sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey is only a spectator of the sensational murder trial. In a charming twist on “love at first sight”, Lord Peter falls for the prisoner in the dock and determines, not only to prove Harriet’s innocence, but to marry her afterward.
Providentially, one of the jurors who is an elderly spinster, possesses an iron backbone and won’t be bullied into giving a guilty verdict. A fresh trial is ordered and Lord Peter now has the opportunity to do the impossible, find out who actually “done it” with no evidence of means, motive or opportunity.
“Wimsey darted off and rushed round to the side-door, from which the jury was emerging. Last of them all, her hat askew and her dragged awkwardly round her shoulders came the elderly spinster. Wimsey dashed up to her and seized her hand…”You’re absolutely right. She didn’t do it, and thank God you stood up to them and gave her another chance!” (p. 37-38)
During the complex investigative process, Lord Peter uses unorthodox methods to uncover the truth, including the services of a member his undercover secretaries bureau, the innocuous Miss Murchison, who is planted to detect in the law office run by the main suspect.
Readers are drawn into the author’s time period -the Golden Age of the 1920’s and 30’s. Wonderful characters abound in these mysteries, Peter’s mum – the Dowager Duchess of Denver, Scotland Yard Chief-Inspector Parker, aristocratic business man and friend, Freddy Arbuthnot, Lord Peter’s brother, Gerald, the Duke of Denver and of course, mystery novelist and prisoner, Harriet Vane.
I never guess “whodunit” or even “How – done – it” and that makes these mysteries a puzzle and a worthwhile challenge.
Complete List of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries with publication dates:
Whose Body? (1923), Clouds of Witnesses (1926), Unnatural Death (1927), Lord Peter Views the Body (short stories) (1928), The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1929), The Documents in the Case (1930), Strong Poison (1930), Five Red Herrings (1931), Have His Carcase (1932), Hangman’s Holiday (short stories) (1933), Murder Must Advertise (1933), The Nine Tailors (1934), Gaudy Night (1935), Busman’s Honeymoon – written and performed originally as a play (1936).
“The only Christian work is good work, well done”
Dorothy Leigh Sayers