Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Strong Poison (Dorothy L Sayers)
I love Dororthy L Sayers. I can't say it any better than that. I could read her Lord Peter Wimsey novels any time and I've already read them many times (more than I can count). I reach for Sayers when I need a pick-me-up, a soothing read, good writing, great quotes and references, a good dose of golden age mystery, any or all of the above. I also reach for Sayers when the Fall Into Reading Challenge calls for me to "Re-read a book you consider an old friend." My only quibble with the Wimsey books is that I have already read them all and I have no new stories to look forward to. Oh to be in the position to pick up a Sayers for the first time--that would be bliss.
Strong Poison marks the beginning of real changes in the Wimsey character. Prior to this he comes across as a bit of a Bertie Wooster type--but with brains. Starting with this novel and his romance with Harriet Vane, Wimsey begins to develop more and more layers. I love watching Wimsey and the romance develop over the course of four books.
The story begins with Harriet Vane on trial for her life. Accused of murdering her former lover, things look mighty black for the detective novelist until Miss Climpson, "a tough, thin, elderly woman with a sound digestion and a militant High Church conscience of remarkable staying power," decides that Miss Vane did not do it and will not let the jury convict her. A new trial is called and Lord Peter, who has in the course of the trial both decided that Harriet is innocent and that he loves her, has about 30 days to find new evidence to prove her innocence.
What follows is an absolutely delightful investigation which involves everything from teaching a legal secretary how to pick locks to Miss Climpson's posing as a medium to find a missing will. The novel contains some of the best quotes and this is one of my all-time favorites from Wimsey's first visit to Miss Vane in prison:
(Harriet Vane) "But, by the way, you're bearing in mind, aren't you, that I've had a lover?"
(Lord Peter) "Oh, yes. So have I, if it comes to that. In fact, several. It's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody. I can produce quite good testimonials. I'm told I make love rather nicely--only I'm at a disadvantage at the moment. One can't be very convincing at the other end of a table with a bloke looking in at the door."I could write pages and pages...but not nearly as well as Miss Sayers. I'll just leave it at this: If you enjoy good prose by an intelligent writer then you'll want to read this series. Start with Whose Body? and work your way through to get the full effect of Lord Peter's development. Five out five stars.