Dorothy Sayers binge read

September 6, 2018

When two of my favorite writers (Connie Willis and Lois McMaster Bujold) cite the same influence, it’s high time I go read that influence. Which is daunting, because Dorothy Sayers wrote a lot of books. I asked some advice, and got a bit of a reading list for specifically the Lord Peter Wimsey books, and here are my thoughts:

The Nine Tailors: I have to admit, I didn’t like this one so much. The pace dragged — every conversation with every person is given in excruciating detail. Part of the mystery is exactly how the victim actually died, and I knew it 30 pages before everyone else figured it out, which was frustrating.

Strong Poison: But I kept going because I wanted to meet Harriet Vane, and this is the book she’s introduced in. I liked it a lot better. Moved at a better clip, some interesting side characters, and Peter is much more conniving and active and competent in this. And in this one I could really see how Sayers’ writing influences Bujold’s handling of relationships and so on.

Murder Must Advertise: Not quite finished with this one yet, but…it’s great. Should have started with this. It’s kind of nuts, Peter is hella competent and conniving, and this is the one where I can basically see a bunch of Connie’s writing style and where she gets it — the banter, the absurdism, etc.

It’s also been interesting reading these after watching 8 seasons of Midsomer Murders, how deep the roots of British cozy mystery really go and how established these tropes are. Like, it’s as much about dissecting various incarnations of British psyche as it is about the mystery.

But my final takeaway from this binge-read is that I’d really like a movie version with Tom Hiddleston playing Lord Peter Wimsey.



6 Responses to “Dorothy Sayers binge read”

  1. Oh, gosh, who recommended Nine Tailors as a starting point? I’ve been a Sayers fan since my early teens and have maybe read that once.

    Strong Poison is very good. There are a couple of books between that and Gaudy Night that fill in some details (Have His Carcase is… okay; I love Murder Must Advertise). If you find yourself caring about the relationship between Harriet and Lord Peter, Gaudy Night is *so* good and *so* emotionally satisfying. There’s a line I won’t quote because if and when you read it, it’s so good in context I don’t want to spoil it.

  2. Kim Elaine Power Says:

    love to see a see a Lord Peter series

  3. Amy Kazanas Says:

    There was a PBS mystery series with Edward Petherbridge back in the late 80s I think. He was a great Peter. I think Tom Hiddleston is too young and too attractive. The TV series was good but they did a terrible job of Gaudy Night which was my favorite Sayer’s book. Just skip those episodes and you’re good.

  4. carriev Says:

    Gaudy Nights is next on the list. It’s a universal favorite, but I was encouraged to start with the others to get a feel for the characters first.

    Finished Murder Must Advertise, and it was great. The confrontation between Wimsy and the murderer is one of the more chilling scenes I’ve ever read.

  5. Nathanael N. Says:

    I thought it was worth reading all 11 of the Wimsey novels in order because it shows how Sayers started with classic mystery tropes and then used the format to write books which were really about something else. I thought most of them read fast; the only exception was Have His Carcase.

    Whose Body? is a very conventional mystery, but Clouds of Witness starts digging into characterization. The next two are rather flat and puzzle-driven, though Bellona Club is funny. The books really come alive with Strong Poison.

    Most people like Gaudy Night, and it has a lot of great material, but there are some ways I found it disappointing; the resolution is not plausible. I must be a romantic because I like Busman’s Honeymoon (which is also a clear influence on Bujold).

    The Nine Tailors isn’t about the mystery at all; the cause of death is arguably obvious before the death actually *happens*. It’s a long anthropological excursion into a culture of change-ringing, with a thin mystery plot on top… much like Murder Must Advertise is really about the advertising business, not about the murders. (But the advertising business is much more interesting than change-ringing!) Gaudy Night is basically about Oxbridge culture during the period, and the mystery is largely a device to keep the story moving.

    This actually reminds me of your Coast Road books, which I love… they mostly have mystery plots, but that’s not what they’re *about*.

  6. I’m a huge Sayers fan and have read all of the Wimsey stories several times…all except t The Five Red Herrings. I can’t seem to make it through that one.

    If you aren’t interested at all in her essays, I recommend Are Women Human. It’s excellent.
    Glad you discovered Sayers!

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