Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dorothy Sayers and a January challenge

As part of a reading challenge for January (read books with numbers in the title), I picked up two Dorothy L. Sayers books I've been meaning to read for several years now. My favorite Sayers books are those with Harriet Vane in them, but I still enjoyed these two. One of the Golden Age era dames, Sayers is till much loved, for the wit and humanity her novels bring. These two, for the most part, are very much in the vein of puzzle books:

Five Red Herrings
Protagonist: Lord Peter Wimsey
Setting: Galloway, Scotland
Rating: 4.2
An unlikable painter is killed, and his murder made to look like an accident. But Wimsey detects right away it is murder. There are six fellow painters who had reason to kill him -- and most of them don't have a good alibi. Working with local police, Wimsey figures out who the five red herrings are -- and who the killer is. There were many names to keep track of (I had to keep a cheat sheet) and much of the plot revolved around train schedules (I didn't even try to keep track of those!). In the end, the vital clue is a pretty simple one, although Wimsey's solution also needs to make sense of those train tables.

The Nine Tailors
Protagonist: Lord Peter Wimsey
Setting: East Anglia, England
Rating: 5.0
One of Sayers' most renowned works, The Nine Tailors is not about nine people who mend clothes, but about church bells -- the title signifying the nine teller strokes that mark the passing of a man. Wimsey, in addition to solving crimes, has practiced change-ringing. So a few months after enjoying the hospitality of the Rev. Venables, rector of Fenchurch St. Paul, and helping with an all-night bell toiling, Wimsey receives a call for help from the minister -- someone has buried the body of a stranger in the parish graveyard. An emerald necklace stolen years ago and never recovered also comes into play. Sayers draws a beautiful portrait of a country church in the fens with her descriptions of bell toiling (See here for a quick YouTube explanation) and of a country life that revolves around the church: "The congregation streamed out from the porch, their lanterns and torches flitting away into the whirling storm like sparks tossed from a bonfire." This is one of Sayers' best regarded novels, and for good reason: the ending is still one of the best written in crime fiction.

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