Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Tuesday Night Bloggers: Confessions of a Wimsey Fangirl

The TNB is the brain-child of Curtis at The Passing Tramp. It's a weekly gathering of like-minded folk to discuss a mystery author from the Golden Age of Detection. We began our meetings with the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie and have since worked our way to Dorothy L. Sayers and her gentleman sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey. February meetings of the TNB Club are being hosted by Helen over at Conservative History Journal (and featured by her in our Facebook Group: Golden Age Detection), so feel free to join the party at her place. Noah Stewart has provided the fine logo for February (photo at right).
I love Dorothy 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 more times 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 and more. I also reach for Sayers when any challenge I do calls for me to "re-read an old favorite" or something similar. 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 (unless you want to count those things written by Jill Paton Walsh--I don't, even though they suck me in every time). Oh to be in the position to pick up a Sayers for the first time--that would be bliss.
The Wimsey novels are one of the few sets that I collect in multiple editions. I am always on the look-out for versions that I don't yet own--both hardback and paperback. I'm pleased to say that I own every edition of Strong Poison featured here. And speaking of Strong Poison....This novel is probably my favorite Wimsey novel (depending on when you ask me--sometimes the answer might be Murder Must Advertise) and it definitely is the one that I have read the most often.
Strong Poison marks the beginning of real changes in the Wimsey character. Prior to this he allows himself to come across as a bit of a Bertie Wooster type--but with superior brains.  Starting with this novel and his romance with Harriet Vane, Wimsey peels off more and more layers to reveal what a complex man he is. I thoroughly enjoy watching the "humanization" of Wimsey (as Sayers herself called it) and the developing romance over the course of four books which is much more realistic than the bulk of mysteries that involve a romantic subplot. Quite often hero/heroine meets an absolutely stunning person in the course of the mystery, they undergo various challenges, and by the end of the book the starry-eyed lovers are strolling arm in arm off into the sunset or are clasped rapturously in each other's arms or some such thing. And usually the time period involved is ridiculously short.
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" who also happens to be one of Wimsey's "undercover" typing bureau employees (the "cattery"), 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 Bunter's mild vamping of a cook and a maid to Miss Climpson's posing as a medium to find a missing will. The novel contains some of the best quotations 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 also love this book because both the Dowager Duchess and Miss Climpson make appearances and give their own brand of support to Wimsey. But, for me, the book would be worth it just for the scene where Miss Murchinson learns to pick locks from former burglar Blindfold Bill. There is much to love in this mystery--and most of it involves the marvelous characters that Sayers presents us with. Five stars has been my consistent rating every time I've read it.
I could write pages and pages...but not nearly as well as Miss Sayers. I'll just leave it at this for those who have never tried her: 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.



Clothes In Books said...

Loved this - I feel much the same way about Wimsey, the books (not quite all of them) have been part of my life for a long time and I can always re-read them. Life would be a duller place without them. As you can say, you can always fall back on them when times are hard.

Terry said...

While I read several of the blogs in the TUesday Night series, I am simply wallowing in these posts about the Wimsey books, and DLS's other fiction. I'm glad to finally have come across one who loves them as whole-heartedly as I have, for going on 50 years now! For a young person in the middle of the USA's boring, conservative, conformity-crazed Great Plains, Sayers' books were bombshells - feasts for a hungry mind, hungry for language, for humor, for the world outside the corn fields. Thanks for doing this!