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Attention All Challengers! I have returned from the Wild West and have posted review sites where needed. I am working on the Check-in Posts for the Just the Facts & Mount TBR challenges. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

TNB: Sayers and Crime in Costume

The Tuesday Night Bloggers are getting ready for Halloween. So for October we have chosen "Crime in Costume" as our month-long topic. All mysteries that feature costume/disguise/appearance misdirection EXCEPT theatrical mysteries (we're saving that for another time) are fair game. If you'd like to join us for discussion of the use of costumes, masks, masquerades, costume parties and the like in the mystery genre--particularly Golden Age dangerous dress-up, 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...

When I was hunting a likely cover to convert for our October logo, I came across Therese Benson's Death Wears a Mask. I found it so intriguing that I immediately went online to see if there were any reasonably priced copies--and snagged one (without the lovely dust jacket, unfortunately). I'll be serving that up in a future TNB post. In the meantime, I've been considering Dorothy L. Sayers use of costumes and misdirection in a few of her short stories and, particularly, in Murder Must Advertise. I thought it fitting that since I ended with Sayers in September that I should lead off with her in October. 

First up is the short story "The Queen's Square." This story is set at a Christmas season masquerade ball hosted by Sir Charles Deverill. Most interesting to me is theme of the party--everybody has come as a game. Which, as one party-goer notes, "cuts out all those wearisome pierrots and columbines." Lord Peter Wimsey is dressed as the Jack of Diamonds, his mother is the Queen of Spades, and other costumes include Badminton, Water Polo, and one unfortunate young man who has devised a really clever rendition of a billiard table that doesn't allow him to sit down unless he wants to "hitch [his] behind on a radiator, and as they're all in full blast, it's not very cooling." The center of the story focuses on the White Queen, Charmian Grayle--an unashamed flirt who winds up strangled and the question of costumes provides Lord Peter with a key clue to the crime. 

Sayers short stories also feature several occasions where Lord Peter goes undercover or in disguise, as it were. These include "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba" where Wimsey goes to the extreme of being declared dead so he can go undercover amongst a den of ruthless thieves who hold their meetings while masked and are identified by only numbers; "The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey" which sees Wimsey appear in a small Basque village as a wizard of sorts, performing various small wonders, and eventually rescuing the wife of a cruel and vindictive man; and "The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste" where not one, but two Wimseys, as well as a man claiming to be Death Bredon--a cousin of Lord Peter--present themselves at the home of a man with secrets to sell to Britain and must prove, through a knowledge of wine and their palates, which of them is the bona fide representative of His Majesty's government. 

But the finest example of Lord Peter in disguise is presented in Murder Must Advertise--for not only does Wimsey set himself up as an advertiser in Pym's Publicity under those very useful middle names Death Bredon, but he also does a bit of extra costume flim-flammery as the flamboyant Harlequin who so fascinates Dian de Momerie. As Bredon, he is appears as a Bertie Wooster type, the money-come-down-in-the-world sort who seems to be a friend of the boss and whom no one expects to make a copy writer. They would be wrong. Mr. Bredon seems to have a flair for bon mot turned advertising slogan and a way with witty literary quotes and puns. Just the thing to make the client's advertising heart all a-flutter. He also seems to have a nose for gossip and soon has turned the entire staff inside out on the subject of Victor Dean and his tumble down the firm's deadly staircase.

Little does Pym's know that they are nursing a detective in sheep's clothing and in their

midst is none other than Lord Peter Wimsey that aristocratic sleuth-hound. Hot on the scent, Wimsey confirms that Dean had found that something was a bit odd in the advertising house and that porridge and sanitizers and household supplies aren't the only things being advertised in Pym's campaigns. Before he's uncovered the entire scheme, there will be masquerades and unmaskings....and, of course, a spot of murder. Dressed as Harlequin, he attends a masquerade party at a certain Major Milligan's and comes across the de Momerie woman--who is rich and bored silly and ready for anything to get a new kick out of life. Harlequin provides the kick through wild stunts and a daredevil car race and pumps Dian for information on Milligan and his crowd. 
Sayers novel is a brilliant use of disguise to ferret out the crimes committed and it is particularly fun to watch the disguise within a disguise. It is even more fun to watch the misdirection put into play when Lord Peter and Inspector Parker use a clever bit of sleight-of-hand to establish that Death Bredon and Lord Peter Wimsey are two separate individuals--one a shady character of interest to the police and the other the well-known scion of the aristocracy.

2 comments:

Kate said...

Your memory is much better than mine, as I had forgotten about the short stories with disguise in. Wimsey as Harlequin is a good moment of disguise, though you are right to bring up the identity splitting - as I think splitting himself up so much causes a strain on Wimsey in this book.

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks, Kate! Sayers is somebody that I read and reread (kindof like Brad and Agatha Christie)--so her works are more accessible to me. I decided to start off easy. Now to dive into my new book--Death Wears a Mask.