The third Lord Peter novel; in this one, the mystery starts as little more than a bar bet, when Wimsey and Parker are dining out and discussing the na...moreThe third Lord Peter novel; in this one, the mystery starts as little more than a bar bet, when Wimsey and Parker are dining out and discussing the nature of perfect murders. A man at the next table overhears them and volunteers the tale of one of his aged cancer patients who died unexpectedly, but of apparently natural causes; after a brief investigation, Wimsey is convinced that something is amiss, and bets Parker that he will have the woman's great-niece brought to justice for her murder within the year.
The main plot hinges on issues of British inheritance law and questions of genealogy, and as such is more of an Agatha Christie-ish "railroad timetable" mystery than some other Lord Peter novels, but it's not as tiresome as it sounds. It helps that anything Wimsey ever says is entertaining, and also that he's as fed up with the whole laws-and-genealogy bits as we are.
We also meet the irrepressible Miss Climpson for the first time, one of the more lovable recurring characters in the series; she is an "old maid" whom Wimsey employs as a sort of undercover proxy agent to ask questions of those who would never speak to the police or a lord, but who feel quite comfortable gossiping with a delicate spinster in the corner tea shop (although she's anything buy delicate when the rubber meets the road).
And indeed, this novel is notable for its theme of spinsterism, of women who eschew the company of men, and yes, there's at least some vague hints of semi-lesbian attachments. It's quite interesting to see these subjects through the eyes of one of the first Oxford-educated women writing detective novels in 1927 Britain, though whether they're necessarily well-woven with the mystery is questionable.
A warning of sorts: as this was '20s England, casual racism among otherwise likable characters runs rampant in parts (and is much more shocking to modern sensibilities than the mild antisemitic sentiment cropping up in Whose Body?). What a difference 80 years can make.(less)
The very first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and thus the genesis of one of the most engaging characters I've ever encountered, literary or otherwise. Actu...moreThe very first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and thus the genesis of one of the most engaging characters I've ever encountered, literary or otherwise. Actually, make that at least two (since Bunter is equally astounding), and maybe three (because the Dowager's quite engaging, too). In rereading this, I found myself surprised at how solid the characters are at the very beginning of the series; they are essentially the same fully-realized people they are ten books later, though we only see certain facets of them here. More dimension follows later.
There is so much that I love about this book, including the very first page; its first two words, and indeed the first two words Wimsey ever utters to us, are "Oh, damn!" Just a few lines down is the sentence that encapsulates so much about Sayers's writing, the perfect litmus test for the Lord Peter series: "His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola." Either you find that quirkily poetic and want to read more, or you should be reading something else entirely.
(Curiously, this is only the first of no fewer than three completely random and incidental mentions in this volume of that particular cheese. I have to assume that Sayers was a fan.)
The actual mystery is brilliant: a man goes into his bathroom one morning to find a naked corpse in the tub, wearing nothing but a pair of golden pince-nez. He has no idea who the man might be or how he came to be dead in his tub. Meanwhile, a financial bigwig's gone missing, and while he bears a superficial likeness to the corpse found across town, they are clearly not one and the same.
But as satisfying as the cases are, more satisfying by far is the chance to meet Lord Peter as he babbles foolishly in the way only the very rich can get away with, picking apart the mysteries while quoting poetry in between snifters of Napoleon brandy and bidding on early editions of Dante. And early-'20s England is painted beautifully—which is not entirely surprising, given that the book was written in, erm, early-'20s England. Quite.
There are some rough edges, to be sure (the odd temporary shifts into second person perspective leap to mind), but they are ultimately very forgivable in a first novel and almost seem charming in light of the later works.
If you'd like to give it a whirl before expending any energy to get an actual copy of the book, the novel is now public domain, and appears in its entirety here: [http://digital.library.upenn.edu/wome...]. And the preface is quite good, too.(less)
A reread of one of my least-read Lord Peter Wimsey novels—least-read because it's only the second one in the series, and the earliest ones were much m...moreA reread of one of my least-read Lord Peter Wimsey novels—least-read because it's only the second one in the series, and the earliest ones were much more straight-out 'tec yarns in the classic English tradition, before Sayers felt free to deviate from the formula.
So you get the usual Agatha Christie sort of setup: a bunch of aristocratic Brits staying at a country house, and one turns up dead, and everyone's got a shaky alibi, and of course there are three or four completely unrelated secret goings-on, er, going on, just to complicate matters. Wimsey's brother, the Duke of Denver, winds up charged with the murder, and Wimsey must unravel the mystery to save him from the gallows.
Even though this was such an early effort, hints of what Sayers would do so well later on pop up often enough to keep things interesting. There's some hilarious satire in the form of the Socialists' Club and its members, some just-subtle-enough foreshadowing of what will eventually come to pass between Chief Inspector Parker and Lady Mary, and of course the brilliant characterizations and dialogue that she couldn't suppress if she wanted to. As it's early years, yet, the dialogue is quite painfully upper-crust British and Lord Peter is spectacularly dotty, but amazingly it all rings true and resonates especially well in light of how Lord Peter changes as the years wear on.(less)
No spoilers, but I found it a very satisfying conclusion to the series. Given the events of the sixth book, a huge body count was inevitable, and of c...moreNo spoilers, but I found it a very satisfying conclusion to the series. Given the events of the sixth book, a huge body count was inevitable, and of course at least a few of the characters we've known from the beginning were going to die, and yet I wasn't as pained as I was by losses in Half-Blood Prince. Most questions are answered and most characters make at least a token appearance, but it all feels quite organic, not forced just because this is the last book in the story.
Very happy that it ended as it did and all hung together so beautifully. Also very happy that I waited to read the UK edition, as I did for all the others, because after the hatchet job they did "Americanizing" the first book, I just don't trust any but the original.(less)
Not bad, I suppose—especially interesting when compared to the film adaptation, which I'd seen first.
The movie was no great shakes, really, although t...moreNot bad, I suppose—especially interesting when compared to the film adaptation, which I'd seen first.
The movie was no great shakes, really, although the cast did a solid job with what they'd been given. Still, I sought out the book because I felt that, as with most film adaptations, a lot of depth had probably been jettisoned, and rightly so, in the translation to the screen. After all, a novel can tackle a lot more than two hours of screen time can.
Imagine my surprise to find that the movie had more depth than the novel did. One of the most charming and fully-realized characters (relatively speaking, here) in the movie was nothing more than a throwaway gay joke in the book. And whereas there's growth and change among most of the major players in the movie, the novel pays only lip service to "your characters must change by the end of the book," and then only to the protagonist, whose "change" is telegraphed from page 1. The boss, the "devil" of the title, remains exactly the same from beginning to end—possibly intentionally, but I thought the Hollywood treatment of her, though formulaic, was more satisfying.
These things would have cheesed me off more if I hadn't discovered that the whole thing was written by a 22-year-old, because lord knows I never could have written something as impressive as this at that age, so I'm willing to cut a great deal of slack. And the truth is, it is an enjoyable read on a page-to-page basis, even if the whole book isn't altogether satisfying. Empty calories.(less)
Just reread it for the first time in years, and found it, like all of the Lord Peter stories, every bit as enjoyable.
This was the very first Lord Pete...moreJust reread it for the first time in years, and found it, like all of the Lord Peter stories, every bit as enjoyable.
This was the very first Lord Peter book I'd read, though not the first Sayers; weirdly, I started with her only non-Lord Peter novel, The Documents in the Case, an epistolary mystery that I liked enough to seek out Sayers's other work. I was hooked right away by this oddly silly '30s aristocrat with his monocle and first editions. In retrospect, I would like to have started with one of the earlier books so that I could have seen just what a change has come over him in this one.
The plot is straightforward: a woman is on trial for poisoning her ex-lover with arsenic, and the case against her seems water-tight, but a hung jury buys her a new trial and Lord Peter has a month in which to prove that she's innocent. Complicating matters is the fact that the woman is a mystery novelist whose new book is all about how to poison someone with arsenic. Whoops.
The thing about Sayers is that, as handy as she is with plot, she's better with character than almost anyone out there; the subtlety with which she animates these people is astounding. Even the throw-away two-dimensional characters have a perspective that lends them a semblance of reality. The real characters, meanwhile, I feel I've gotten to know as deeply as anyone I've met walking around outside of books.
As in all of Sayers's novels, Strong Poison delivers a perfect snapshot of its place and time, in this case London in 1930 or so, and the opportunity for satire is ripe. Her description of two bohemian parties as Lord Peter makes the rounds to learn more about the suspects is genius.
Strong Poison also introduces us to series regular Harriet Vane, one of my favorite characters in fiction, and is therefore the beginning of one the most amazing love stories and courtships I've ever encountered. (It culminates in Gaudy Night, probably my choice for the singularly most stunning mystery I've ever read: no murders, no deaths, just some nasty letters at Oxford and a gripping love story that attempts a marriage of passion and intellect and nails it perfectly.)
This is fiction that transcends its chosen genre, and not to read it because it's "mystery" is every bit as self-depriving as skipping Vonnegut because he writes "science fiction." And it's learned and well-written stuff; Sayers has her own translation of the Divine Comedy, so no worries about bad writing here. In fact, the later Sayers books contain some of the best writing I've ever seen.
Seriously, you should check out the Lord Peter books, and unless you're already a mystery fan, this is as good a place to start as any.(less)
Thursday's back, in the first installment of her second four-book series; how I'd missed her.
Familiar ground is less familiar than I might have expect...moreThursday's back, in the first installment of her second four-book series; how I'd missed her.
Familiar ground is less familiar than I might have expected. It's 14 years later, SpecOps has been disbanded, and Thursday is working at a carpet company while England's love of reading (so prominent and charming in the world of the first series) has plummeted so far that bookstores no longer sell books and reality TV has resorted to titles like Samaritan Kidney Swap. It takes a couple of chapters for one to get a footing.
All the old characters make an appearance, though, albeit usually brief ones, and the new characters (in particular, Thursday's kids) are engaging. Probably the ones with the most page-time are still Thursday... but the fictional Thursdays from the books written based on her experiences. This, you might imagine, gets even more meta than usual, as Thursday in the Bookworld mucks about with the first four books we've already read (and one we haven't).
As usual, the plot threads are myriad. The main plot involves a drastic plan to raise Outlander reading rates by turning the classics into interactive reality TV, but there are also bits about Felix8's return, Aornis's imprisonment, the evaluation and training of potential new Jurisfiction agents, and a really dangerous cheese.
Still, it's not my favorite Thursday book by a long shot. For one thing, it feels rushed (as it probably should, since it was written in seven months), which might explain why the Hodder first edition is missing all footnotes; in another book, that might not necessarily be a real problem, narrative-wise, but when Next communicates with Bookworld inhabititants via footnoterphone, we're literally missing half the conversation. For another, the dangling plot points feel more dangly than in previous books, probably because Fforde knows he has three more books in which to tie them to something, but it does hurt the novel's feel as a finished work unto itself.
Overall, I enjoyed it, but it's clearly not Fforde's best. And now that he's apparently committed to Thursday for his next three novels, I find myself craving another Nursery Crime book.(less)
Despite having seen a zillion movies based on his work, somehow I never actually read any Dick. So far, I'm underwhelmed; I'm only a few chapters in a...moreDespite having seen a zillion movies based on his work, somehow I never actually read any Dick. So far, I'm underwhelmed; I'm only a few chapters in and I can tell it's going to be a struggle to finish. This is perhaps a perfect example of why I don't read much "hard" science fiction: the ideas are intriguing, but the writing feels so clumsy and sophomoric that I can't lose myself in the book, despite being the King of Willing Suspension of Disbelief.
Many people who read this because Blade Runner is based on it may be put off right from the start, as plot and character have taken a definite back seat to Let Me Tell You About All These Crazy Sci Fi Ideas syndrome. Few, if any, of these concepts made it into the movie, which is just as well, as dial-a-mood machines, lead codpieces, and gestalt-consciousness religions have little place there. And I could excuse the quality of the writing if it weren't for the fact that there are writers who have tackled similar ideas and themes without coming across like they've written a junior high English assignment. (Vonnegut, in particular, springs to mind.)
Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time, but this novel on which it's based is turning out to be a grave disappointment. Still, it's early days yet; maybe it's an acquired taste.(less)