Monday, January 3, 2011

The Nine Tailors: Review

I started off the New Year and the Vintage Mystery Challenge right--with The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers. Most appropriately this novel finds Lord Peter Wimsey beginning his latest mystery on New Year's Eve. This was a re-read for me (as all Sayers mysteries are), but it was a delight for me to finally sit down and read the first edition pocket book (pictured) that I picked up at Red Cross Book Sale a few years ago. I love my pocket-size editions.

The holiday finds Lord Peter and Bunter traveling to the fen country to stay with friends of his lordship. On the way, the Daimler has a misunderstanding with a narrow, hump-backed bridge and the pair find themselves nose down in a ditch. They make for Fenchurch St. Paul and soon become acquainted with most of the main characters in the upcoming mystery. A bout of influenza has also arrived in Fenchurch St. Paul and the Rector finds himself one man short for the bell-ringing scheduled to bring in the New Year. Fortunately, Lord Peter has rung a bell or two in his time and he gallantly offers to fill the gap. This gives him the opportunity to befriend and exchange gossip with most of the central actors.

A couple of months later finds a grave being opened to bury Sir Henry Thorpe with his wife (who had succumbed to the 'flu over New Year's). The gravediggers are surprised to find an unexpected corpse--the body of an unknown man, with features disfigured, and no coffin. The Rector decides to call in Lord Peter and he assists Inspector Blundell in the unraveling of the this very complicated case. Who is the man in the grave? How and when did he get there? Does it have anything do with the emeralds that were stolen at Sir Henry's wedding many years ago?
I love the research that Sayers did into campanology and how she works the bells and bell-ringing into every aspect of the novel. We find the bells serving as clues as well as bell-ringing phrases serving as chapter headings. None of it is gratuitous--it all serves a purpose and works incredibly well. Some of the descriptions of bell-ringing is a bit much if you aren't absolutely fascinated with the subject, but not so much that you can't thoroughly enjoy the story. Sayers is my absolute favorite of the queens of the Golden Age mysteries. Her books are so literate and full of interesting information and quotes. It may seem like she's throwing around all kinds of obscure bits and pieces, but readers should remember that during her time a liberal arts degree acquainted one with all the classics as well as languages (particularly Latin and French) in a way that college graduates rarely seem to accomplish these days. Four stars out of five.

This counts for the Vintage Mystery Challenge, as well as the Outdo Yourself and 100+ Reading Challenges.


Jennifer M. said...

Very Interesting! Never heard of Vintage Mystery books to be honest. I'll have to look into reading some of these. This book in particular sounds very interesting to read. I'll put it on my To Be Read list. :D

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Well I thought there was way too much about bell-ringing for amateurs to understand but I do love Lord Peter and Bunter so this was just an average read for me.

Birdie said...

I love this book! It totally got me into campanology and change ringing. I didn't understand large chunks of it at first, so I was determined to figure it out. And the mystery is heartbreaking a good way

Yvette said...

I read this many years ago and it is probably one of the Sayers books I won't be rereading. See, it's the bells thing. I just wasn't that enthralled with all the esoteric info. Don't know why, I'm usually one for esoteric tidbits, but this didn't work for me. Still, I love Peter Wimsey and I will definitely be rereading a few of the books for the Challenge. :)

Cristina (Rochester Reader) said...

Great review, Bev! I have added this to the As My Whimsy Takes Me Challenge page ( I can't wait to read this one :-)