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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Monday, 11 May 2020

"The Five Red Herrings" by Dorothy L Sayers

A Lord Peter Wimsey whodunnit. When an artist is found murdered, there are six suspects, all artists. The discovery of the body involves some very careful unpicking of the timing of alibis made with the assistance of a bicycle and the local train timetable.

This is a classic 'puzzle' mystery.

As it says in the introduction, "Lord Peter Wimsey, with his aristocratic manners and mien, may seem precious in the modern era of alcoholic, working-class coppers with fractured marriages" but he is at his debonair best in this book. Of the other recurring characters, Bunter the servant has a very small part to play while girlfriend Harriet Vane and private sleuth Miss Climpson do not appear.

The book is amusing for its depiction of the dialogue of the Scots, a comedy cockney (I actually laughed out loud), and a fabulous character who lithpth.

I also enjoyed it for its description of artists working:

  • "That’s the green for the gentleman’s coat. No – don’t pinch it, or you’ll get it all over you. Yes, you can put the cap on. Yes, that’s to keep it from drying up. Yes, put it back in the box . . . That’s yellow. No, I know there isn’t any yellow in the picture, but I want it to mix with the green to make it brighter. You’ll see. Don’t forget the cap. What? Oh, anywhere in the box. White – yes, it’s a big tube isn’t it? You’ll see, you have to put a little white into most of the colours – why? Well, they wouldn’t come right without" (C 20)
  • "That’s called a palette knife. No, it isn’t meant to be sharp. It’s meant for cleaning your palette and so on. Some people use a knife to paint with. Yes, it’s nice and wiggly, but it won’t stand too much of that kind of treatment, my lad. Yes, of course you can paint with a knife if you want to. You can paint with your fingers if it comes to that. No, I shouldn’t advise you to try. Yes, well, it makes a rougher kind of surface, all blobs and chunks of paint." (C 20)
  • "I’m going to begin with the sky. Why? Well, why do you think? Yes, because it’s at the top. Yes, of course that blue’s too dark, but I’m going to put some white in it. Yes, and some green. You didn’t know there was any green in the sky? Well, there is. And sometimes there’s purple and pink too. No, I’m not going to paint a purple and pink sky." (C 20)

There are a couple of moments when Sayers has Lord Peter semi-quotes Jerome K Jerome's wonderful assertion about work ("I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."; from Three Men in a Boat) when he says, for example: "I think the most joyous thing in life is to loaf round and watch another bloke doing a job of work." (C 21)

She also says: "Life’s just one damn thing after another." (C 19).  This, presumably, pays homage to ODTAA, an adventure novel published by John Masefield in 1926, although it would seem that the phrase was around earlier in the twentieth century.

Other great moments:

  • "To boast loudly in public of one’s own country seemed to him indecent – like enlarging on the physical perfections of one’s own wife in a smoking room." (C 1)
  • "a sky full of bright sun and rolling cloud-banks, hedges filled with flowers, a well-made road, a lively engine and the prospect of a good corpse at the end of it, Lord Peter’s cup of happiness was full. He was a man who loved simple pleasures." (C 2)
  • "The wild garlic was over now, but the scent of it seemed still to hang about the place in memory, filling it with the shudder of vampire wings" (C 2)
  • "it doesn’t do to murder people, however offensive they may be." (C 2)
  • "I’m probably the least awe-inspiring man in Kirkcudbright. I was born looking foolish and every day in every way I am getting foolisher and foolisher." (C 6)
  • "To her, the beauty of an ordered life was more than a mere phrase; it was a dogma to be preached, a cult to be practised with passion and concentration." (C 6)
  • "the more you hate everybody for hating you, the more unattractive you grow" (C 6)
  • "'I have always done my duty as his wife.’     ‘Too true,’ said Wimsey. ‘He put you up on a pedestal, and you have sat on it ever since. What more could you do?’" (C 20)

May 2020

I have set myself the task of reading all the Lord Peter Wimsey novels (mostly again) in order. The ones I have read and reviewed in this blog so far include:

There are also Wimsey books written since the death of DLS by Jill Paton Walsh. These include:

  • The Attenbury Emeralds in which Lord Peter, in 1951, recalls the circumstances of his first case, the Attenbury Emeralds, which have gone missing again.
  • The Late Scholar: in which Wimsey returns to Oxford

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