Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Published: 1932 originally, 1995 HarperPaperbacks
Has anyone noticed that this book's been hanging out on my sidebar under "Up Next" for a few weeks? Yeah, I've been working on this book since October. I love Lord Peter, but this one was a bit of a trial for me. (For those unfamiliar with Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey is an English gentleman detective who appears in an entire series of books, sometimes joined by Harriet Vane.)
Mystery writer Harriet Vane is on holiday in the south of England. One day as she's hiking along the coast, she notices what appears to be a very freshly murdered man resting atop a boulder on the shore. Harriet fearlessly goes up to investigate; she examines and photographs the body, much in the way of the fictitious detective-hero she writes. It turns out that the evidence she's collected comes in very handy because while Harriet is fetching the police, the tide comes in and sweeps the body away. Lord Peter soon arrives on the scene and starts investigating. But with each new piece of evidence the case just gets more and more confusing. They have lots of suspects, some of whom have strong motives but perfect alibis, while others are obviously lying about the evidence but appear to have had nothing to do with the victim.
This is one of those books where I want to give two grades, one for technical merit and the other for how much I enjoyed it. Because who am I to find fault with the great Dorothy Sayers? She was a master of the mystery novel, and I love some of her books to death. But, dear God, this thing was loooong, and so involved with so many, many details that I lost interest about halfway in. I was siding with the provincial policemen when they wanted to proclaim it a suicide and forget the whole thing. I think this is mostly to do with my personal preferences; I can read and enjoy a whodunit, but figuring out who done it is hardly ever what keeps me reading. I read for the characters, and Lord Peter is the reason I managed to get through this at all. He comes across as such a charismatic man, which is something I would imagine would be very hard for an author to accomplish. He is just charming and intelligent and very funny.
We do see a little development in Harriet and Wimsey's relationship (of course, not as much as I might have liked). He keeps proposing and Harriet keeps saying no. My favorite proposal Wimsey sends in a telegram:
FOLLOWING RAZOR CLUE TO STAMFORD REFUSE RESEMBLE THRILLER HERO WHO HANGS ROUND HEROINE TO NEGLECT OF DUTY BUT WILL YOU MARRY ME---PETERBut Harriet is re-establishing herself as an independent woman, and Wimsey is trying not to step on her toes as she does this, no matter how much he may want to take care of her. I have to quote the very first paragraph, because it sums up their relationship, and is such an incredible beginning and so brilliantly written:
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.So it gets a 7 overall (averaging a 9 for technical merit and a 5 for personal entertainment value). But for those who like a really meaty, complex mystery, this one's for you.