Book Reviews

A Catch Up Post from July

Continuing my adventures in the wonderful world of re-reading, I present: Another three Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries!

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a book that’s not one that features Harriet Vane (she doesn’t even appear until the next one), this one is really good. Not my top favorite (that would be Clouds of Witness) but a contender!

I liked the mystery-within-a-mystery. First, Peter is just called in to help determine the time of death for the victim, because there was a sizable inheritance at stake. It’s only halfway through the book that it’s proven to be murder, though Peter suspects it all along. Then the story hinges around two aspects: who murdered the old man, and who purposefully delayed the discovery of the body (if they weren’t the same person). While you do get the idea that Peter knows (or suspects) the culprit all along, rather like Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, it doesn’t feel like he is deliberately holding back facts until a dramatic reveal.

I do like how Sayers doesn’t shy away from having a character be obviously suffering from PTSD (shell shock, in that time) along with lingering complications due to mustard gas. Not only is this character treated sympathetically, but no one seems to jump to the conclusion that he must have done the murder because he was crazy. He is given reasonable motives as a suspect, and when there is a hint that the PTSD contributed to his possible guilt, it’s still not taken as a given.

One aspect of this story that I do not like is the treatment of women. This is unfortunate in an otherwise brilliant series that puts emphasis on women being independent from the males in their lives. But here we have: a woman who is manipulated by two different men, and only saved by one “doing the honorable thing”; a wife who does her best to support and encourage her ill husband, and get nothing but rage from him that she has to; and a bohemian artist who Peter flirts with and then, seemingly, drops when he no longer needs her.

However, if you are reading 1920s mysteries for their progressive views on women…

Read the next book in the series!

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here we go! I think this is my favorite book in the whole series. The introduction of Peter Wimsey’s love interest is brilliant and I love her as a character. Their relationship is one of the best I have encountered. I believe I have reread this book more times than any other in the series.

But to the mystery. Peter comes in at the literal last minute for this one. He only finds out about the case at the trial, and he feels in his gut that Harriet Vane is innocent. Yes, you heard me right: Harriet Vane is the murderess on trial at the beginning of the story. She is accused of murdering her lover with arsenic. Everything looks to be going wrong. The defense has not put up a good case, and even the judge seems to believe that Harriet is guilty.

Miss Climpson to the rescue!

She happens to be on the jury, and stubbornly manages to force the other jurors into a hung jury. Now Peter has about 30 days to figure out who really did it, or the woman he’s fallen in love with will be hanged for murder.

Hold onto you britches, this is gonna be an emotionally bumpy ride. In a thoroughly noble, English way, of course.

The women really shine in this story. Miss Climpson, in her managing of the lady investigators of Peter’s “cattery” and her excellent performance that provided the final clue. Miss Merchison, in her investigation of one of the suspects, not only provides a first clue, but learns to lock pick so that she may be of further assistance. And of course, Harriet Vane, who is entirely sensible in turning down Peter when he proposes to her in prison. Their discussions show exactly what kind of position Harriet is in, and she treats that position with care. And Lord Peter Wimsey, second son to a Duke, listens to her!!!!

He doesn’t want to, but he does get her permission before visiting again.

This is glorious.

Oh, and the mystery was great as well. It’s fairly clear early on who might have done it, but the real mystery is why and how. And those are enough to keep the reader turning all the pages.

The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one gets better the more times you read it. Unfortunately, the first time I read it I got so confused with the large cast of characters and the ever changing stories that I nearly put it down. Twice.

This was a pretty big disappointment after Strong Poison. What worked for me, after I read the novel, was to listen to the BBC radio play. Then re-reading the novel became much easier and more fun.

Let’s start with the premise. Peter’s up in Scotland to do some finishing, and he breaks up a fight one evening between his (English) friend and the local Scottish hell raiser, Campbell. Come to find out that Campbell has managed to piss off nearly everyone in this small town. Then he shows up dead the next day. Well. There is no dearth of suspects. In fact, there are six. Five red herrings and a murderer.

And it is murder, despite the murderer making it seem like an accident.

So we have 6 threads to unravel, and the stories constantly change. And we go over them again and again and again. Sayers pulls a fast one on the readers, by not revealing the important clue until the very end, even though Peter saw it immediately. Sometimes I like that kind of thing, but here it was just annoying, because he kept referring to it but never explaining.

However, there are good things about this! The police force is excellent, and not just as a backdrop for Peter to hang his genius upon. There are some great interactions between Bunter and Peter, and the way they trap the murderer is a grand piece of drama that would never happen in a book today. Once I started to make sense of all the connecting threads, it was SO MUCH easier to just sit back and enjoy Sayers’ lovely writing.

Also, the backdrop of this whole story was great, and Sayers portrayed it so well. The language of the characters all fit perfectly with their characterization, without making it difficult to read, and the descriptions of scenery were excellent.

So, not as great as some others, but perfectly acceptable for the series. And much better on a second read, even though you already know the ending.

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s