Tuesday, September 27, 2016

TNB: More Sayers and Children

The Tuesday Night Bloggers have returned from our August summer holiday and the topic for September is, appropriately enough, Children in Crime. As the little darlings go back to school, we are turning our thoughts to child detectives and even perhaps the evil that lurks behind the innocent faces of childish criminals. If you'd like to join us for discussion of the youngsters in the mystery genre--particularly Golden Age youngsters, but all are welcome--then please stop in every Tuesday as we gather at Kate's place over at crossexamingcrime. Pull up a chair and have a scone or two...

Last week, Kate took a look at "Talboys," Dorothy L. Sayers's short story which features Lord Peter Wimsey and his son Bredon in the mystery of the missing peaches. For my final entry, I'm going to give Sayers another look--starting with the young Lord Peter in "A Tribute to Sherlock Holmes on the Occasion of his 100th Birthday" (from Sayers on Holmes: Essays & Fiction on Sherlock Holmes) and then finishing up with "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head" in which Lord Peter's small nephew Viscount St. George appears and Lord Peter uses clues from a rare book to find a treasure.
The young Lord Peter, who was "rising eight at the time," has what would seem to be his first mysterious adventure when the family cat, a black kitten named Seneca, disappears from the night-nursery. Not only is this Peter's first mystery--but it is an impossible crime of sorts. The children were at their breakfast in the play-room (which held the only entrance to nursery) and they noticed that Seneca had not come out of the nursery to join them for a saucer of milk. 

"Nobody had entered or left the night-nursery except the maid, who affirmed that she had not seen him, although she had done the room very thoroughly. He could not have got out the window, which was securely wired over. The whole house was searched in vain. The grown-ups, in their casual way, said 'He'll turn up all right'; but we children suspected that the maid (who disliked cats) of kidnapping and murder." 

Alarmed for the safety of the kitten, he takes himself off to the celebrated detective's lodgings and presents him with the problem of the missing kitten. After listening to Wimsey's description of the room and the morning's activities, Holmes tells his young client precisely where to look for the lost Seneca. Dr. Watson accompanies him home and Lord Peter finds the cat just where Holmes said he would be. 

There isn't, of course a great deal of detecting going on in this story--and what little is done is done by Sherlock Holmes. But it is a lovely little story and it does show the young Lord Peter with the sense to consult an expert. It also highlights the sensitivity of Wimsey (which will later be his undoing in the war and when helping to send murderers to the hangman) when he bursts into "unmanly tears" at the thought of poor Seneca's predicament.

The ten-year-old Viscount St. George, Pickled Gherkins to his uncle, has a much more exciting time of it when he winds up visiting Lord Peter due to an outbreak of measles at his boarding school and parents who are absent from England. Gherkins accompanies his uncle to a bookseller where he discovers a copy of Cosmographia with lovely illustrations of "a funny man...with a great long nose and ears and a tail and dogs' heads all over his body" and "a man being chopped up in little bits," and other fun, gruesome things to delight a boy's imagination. He decides to buy the book with his pocket money and no sooner gets it home to Wimsey's Picadilly flat then a man comes and wants to buy the book from him. He doesn't want to give the book up and Wimsey has his suspicions about the man's motives and they send Mr. Wilberforce Pope away empty-handed.

Three days later, the viscount experiences "the most glorious and soul-satisfying night that ever a boy experienced. He was almost too excited to eat the [breakfast] kidneys and bacon placed before him [the next morning] by Bunter, whose usual impeccable manner was not in the least impaired by a rapidly swelling and blackening eye." The excitement was due entirely to the presence of burglars in the library--most obviously after the viscount's precious book. And after an exhilarating night catching burglars and seeing his uncle produce a genuine automatic pistol from his handkerchief drawer, Gherkins elevates Lord Peter from the status of "Quite Decent Uncle to that of Glorified Uncle." But the fun isn't over. The Glorified Uncle discovers something in the viscount's book that leads them to an honest-to-goodness buried treasure. 

Lord Peter claims that he's no good with children--that no nurse anywhere would be delighted with his "way with children." But he really is quite good with them. He treats them as intelligent young people who can be relied on to do their part in whatever adventure comes along. Young Gerald Wimsey is allowed equal shares in all excitement and even gets to relieve one of the burglars of his pistol. Lord Peter's nephew quickly recognizes how his uncle catches Mr. Pope out on lies he has told about the book and generally shows himself to be a worthy assistant in the detecting business.

Next month, in honor of Halloween, we will turn our attention to "Crime in Costume." All mysteries that feature costume/disguise/appearance misdirection EXCEPT theatrical mysteries (we're saving that for another time) are fair game.


Kate said...

Interesting post. I don't think I have read the young LPW story but I do remember the one with Gerald and the book. He certainly seems a more favourable parental figure in this latter story, but with 'Talboys' in mind I'm still a bit uncertain about how good a parent he would make.

Clothes In Books said...

Very interesting - this was unknown territory for me, despite my great and longstanding love for Sayers.