This week’s reading:
Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers
Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers
Unnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers
Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers
Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers
Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers
The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers
Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers
Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
Thrones, Dominations, Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
Lord Peter, Dorothy L. Sayers
Goodness, I love Dorothy L. Sayers. Or, more accurately, I love Lord Peter Wimsey. He’s witty and vulnerable, brilliant and erratic, and he makes me weak in my fucking knees if I think about him too long.
The books in this series range from good to magnificent, with the early novels and the Wimsey-Vane outings being my favorites. The Five Red Herrings is the sort of mystery I roundly dislike, full of maps and train time-tables and other ephemera, though her tongue-in-cheek attitude rescues the novel. Murder Must Advertise has a wonderful premise, but bogs down in a morass of copy-writers who all sound alike. The Wimsey-Vane mysteries, on the other hand, had me reading the same scenes over and over to savor the dialogue and the wonderful characterization, which is something I rarely do.
I think my favorite part about the series is how smart it is, and how smart it assumes you’ll be. While I myself don’t have a particularly quotational intelligence, even I recognized how every scene is peppered with allusions and quotes from Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, the Bible, Tennyson, you name it. I admit to being bitterly jealous that no matter how much I read, I’ll never have that particular facility in either my writing or my speech, but it does make a wonderful novel for a passionate reader to enjoy. If nothing else, I’ve come away from the series resolved to memorize some Donne!
If you’ve never encountered Sayers, you ought to go read these books - or, if you have limited time, at least the three books of the Wimsey-Vane courtship. Strong Poison is the best-constructed of the three, I think, and the first one where Harriet Vane is introduced. Peter has to save her from being convicted of murdering her lover in the face of some rather strong evidence that she did, and the solution to the mystery is quite neat indeed. At the same time, the romance between them is believable and sharp, and totally gripping from the first scene where they meet in the jail. Have His Carcase has the best character insights of the three, though, with Harriet struggling with the fact that Peter saved her life; I’d tend to agree with her that healthy relationships can’t begin out of a sense of obligation. Finally, Gaudy Night is often considered one of Sayers’ best works, and her portrayal of life at a women’s college at Oxford is absolutely compelling. (It made me want to throw everything over and rush off to study at Oxford myself!) I found the novel a bit frustrating, as Harriet spends most of the novel investigating, only to have Peter swoop in and solve the case. Still, the characters and the world she sets up are wonderful, and the development of the Wimsey-Vane relationship is both believable and affecting.
I only wish I had more of these books to read. Still, I have some wonderful reading coming up this weekend, so hopefully I can be consoled!