Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Strong Poison

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, mystery, reviewed
Recommended for: anyone who loves good writing; lovers of English mysteries with good plots and characterization
Read 2 times. Last read April 9, 2013 to April 10, 2013.

Strong Poison
By Dorothy L. Sayers

In my unending quest to introduce today’s readers to the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories of Dorothy L. Sayers, I give you Strong Poison, the book that introduces Wimsey’s eventual mate and fellow amateur detective, Harriet Vane.

Harriet is a an unusual character for the 1930s: she is a woman of independent means, earning her living as a writer of detective novels, and she lives with her lover Philip Boyes, whom she leaves when he later proposes marriage. “She was angry with Boyes because, after persuading her against her will to adopt his principles of conduct, he then renounced those principles, and so, as she says, ‘made a fool of her.’”

We meet Harriet when she is in the dock for having poisoned her former lover. Lord Peter is convinced that she is innocent, confessing to Harriet, when he interviews her in prison, that he has quite fallen in love with her. He sets out to puncture the distressingly watertight alibi of the man whom he suspects.

Sayers has a faultless ear for dialogue, and not only the upper crust banter of the aristocrat. Here, for example, is a conversation between Lord Peter and the reformed burglar Bill.
“. . . from time to time, when I need a little help in a righteous cause, Bill gives me the benefit of his great experience.”

“And oh! What ‘appiness it is, miss, to turn them talents which I so wickedly abused to the service of the Lord. His ‘oly Name be blessed that bringeth good out of evil.”

“That’s right,” said Wimsey, with a nod. “Now, Bill, I’ve got my eye on a solicitor’s deed-box, which may or may not contain something which will help me to get an innocent person out of trouble. This young lady can get access to the box, Bill, if you can show her the way inside it.”

“If?” grunted Bill, with sovereign contempt. “’Course I can! Deed-box, that’s nuffin’. That ain’t no field for a man’s skill. Robbin’ the kids’ money-box, that’s what it is with they trumpery little locks. There ain’t a deed-box in this ‘ere city wot I couldn’t open blindfold in boxing gloves with a stick of boiled macaroni.”
Her descriptions are also arresting - here is Miss Murchison, one of Lord Peter’s spinster detectives, as she poses as a secretary to gain information:
Miss Murchison picked up the papers and came out, looking flustered. She dragged the cover off the typewriter with much sound and fury, jerked out the desk-drawers till they slammed against the drawer-stops, shook the stop-sheet, carbons and flimsies together as a terrier shakes a rat, and attacked the machine tempestuously.
And here Lord Peter goes to a Bohemian part of London to question an acquaintance of the murdered man:
Wimsey, entering on her heels, was struck in the face, as by an open hand, by a thick muffling wave of heat, sound, smoke and the smell of frying. It was a very small room, dimly lit by a single electric bulb, smothered in a lantern of painted glass, and it was packed to suffocation with people, whose silk legs, bare arms and pallid faces loomed at him like glow-worms out of the obscurity.
I could go on, as I am an admirer of Sayers’s prose, but suffice it to say that Strong Poison has it all: charming and intelligent hero and heroine; colorful minor characters; snappy dialogue; clever mystery; compelling prose style; fabulous setting. You need only add an armchair.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 18, 2012 – Shelved
December 3, 2012 – Shelved as: favorites
December 3, 2012 – Shelved as: mystery
April 9, 2013 – Started Reading
April 10, 2013 – Finished Reading
July 20, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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