Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Clouds of Witness

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, mystery, reviewed, suspense
Recommended for: readers who like British humor and British mysteries
Read 2 times. Last read December 30, 2012.

Clouds of Witness
By Dorothy L. Sayers

Clouds of Witness is number two in the Lord Peter Wimsey detective series written by Sayers in the 1920s and 30s (see my review of Whose Body? for further biographical detail about the author). The novel introduces us to other members of the Wimsey family when his brother, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murdering a guest at the family lodge. Awkwardly, the Duke declines to produce a believable alibi - “‘They can’t hang me; I didn’t kill the man, although I think it’s a jolly good thing he’s dead. It’s no business of theirs what I was doin’ in the garden.’” - and is arrested. Lord Peter’s sister, Lady Mary, reacts with similar recalcitrance, leaving it to our hero to solve the mystery with the aid of his friend Detective-Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard (promoted since book one) and faithful manservant Bunter.

This book ranges further afield than the first book in the series, Whose Body?, as Lord Peter scavenges for clues from the fens of Yorkshire to the jewelers of Paris to the dens of small-time Bolsheviks. Sayers has fun with the Bolsheviks; witness her description of “a thin, eager young woman in a Russian blouse, Venetian beads, a Hungarian shawl, and a Spanish comb, looking like a personification of the United Front of the Internationale. ‘I say,’ said Wimsey apologetically, ‘D’you know you’re dipping those jolly little beads of yours in the soup?’”

There’s also a good, impenetrable English fog to lend atmosphere.

He grasped Bunter’s hand, and they strode gingerly forward into the thick coldness of the fog.

How long that nightmare lasted neither could have said. The world might have died about them. Their own shouts terrified them; when they stopped shouting the dead silence was more terrifying still. They stumbled over tufts of thick heather. It was amazing how, deprived of sight, they exaggerated the inequalities of the ground. It was with very little confidence that they would distinguish uphill from downhill. They were shrammed through with cold, yet the sweat was running from their faces with strain and terror.

Suddenly - from directly before them as it seemed, and only a few yards away - there rose a long, horrible shriek - and another - and another.

Sayers is a good, literary writer who never sacrifices style or character to story - and her stories are arresting. She caps the novel with the murder trial, which, because the Duke is a peer of the realm, is held in the House of Lords so that he can indeed be judged by a jury of his peers (the origin of that expression, no doubt.)

The proceedings were opened by a Proclamation of Silence from the Sergeant-at-Arms, after which the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, kneeling at the foot of the throne, presented the Commission under the Great Seal to the Lord High Steward, who, finding no use for it, returned it with great solemnity to the Clerk of the Crown. The latter accordingly proceeded to read it at dismal and wearisome length, affording the assembly an opportunity of judging just how bad the acoustics of the chambers were. The Sergeant-at-Arms retorted with great emphasis, ‘God Save the King!’, whereupon Garter King-of-Arms and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, kneeling again, handed the Lord High Steward his staff of office. (‘So picturesque, isn’t it?’ said the Dowager - ‘quite High Church, you know.’)

Funny, but also fascinating. Under Sayers’s able pen, the Wimsey family is noble entertainment for the discerning reader.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 18, 2012 – Shelved
December 3, 2012 – Shelved as: favorites
December 3, 2012 – Shelved as: mystery
Started Reading
December 30, 2012 – Finished Reading
January 1, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed
January 1, 2013 – Shelved as: suspense

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