Nancy McKibben's Reviews > The Nine Tailors

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, mystery, reviewed
Recommended to Nancy by: I read it in the process of reading the author's entire works.
Recommended for: readers who love a well-written, atmospheric British novel
Read 2 times. Last read January 2, 2013 to January 3, 2013.

The Nine Tailors
By Dorothy L. Sayers

The Nine Tailors is one of my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey stories. The setting is brooding and mysterious - the fens of East Anglia - but populated by a whole village full of fascinating characters, including the eccentric but gracious Rector Venables and his wife, old Hezekiah Lavender the bellringer, the young heiress Hilary Thorpe, crazy Potty Peake, and many more. A character in itself is the village’s magnificent church, St. Paul’s and its famous bells, the nine tailors of the title.

The art of bell-ringing is called campanology, and Sayers made a study of it for this book, which is part of what makes it an absorbing read. We learn that the church bells have names (Dimity, Batty Thomas, Tailor Paul, Sabaoth, Gaude, John, Jericho, Jubilee in this case) and are rung in courses, or perhaps peals (I don't claim to have made a study of campanology!) The author uses colorful bell-ringing terminology as a motif throughout the book - I didn’t have to understand it to enjoy it. Some chapter titles, for example: “Lord Peter is Called Into the Hunt”; “Lord Peter Follows His Course Bell to Lead”; “Monsieur Rozier Hunts the Treble Down” and so on.

Lord Peter and his faithful manservant Bunter happen upon the village of Fenchurch St. Paul when Lord Peter drives his Daimler into a ditch in a snowstorm on New Year’s Eve. Providentially, as it happens, since one of Lord Peter’s many talents turns out to be bell-ringing (“‘ I used at one time to pull quite a pretty rope,”’ Lord Peter says modestly) and when the rector entreats him to replace a sick bell-ringer for a positive marathon of New Year’s Eve bell-ringing, Lord Peter’s sense of noblesse oblige kicks in and he insists to his host, “‘Nothing would please me more than to ring bells all day and all night. I am not tired at all. I really don’t need rest. I would far rather ring bells.’”

After nine hours of bell-ringing, Lord Peter and Bunter leave their hosts and drive home. But Fenchurch St. Paul harbors its secrets: a stolen emerald necklace, a mysterious disappearance, a mistaken identity, and at least one murder. Lord Peter’s investigation stretches over the next year, inextricably entangled with the bells, which are even an occasion for the breaking of a cipher (the British term for a secret code). Fortunately, Sayers never overdoes it, at least not for my sensibilities. Her description of the New Year’s Eve ringing rises to poetry:

“The bells gave tongue: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas and Tailor Paul, rioting and exulting high up in the dark tower, wide mouths rising and falling, brazen tongues clamouring, huge wheels turning to the dance of the leaping ropes. . . every bell in her place striking tuneably, hunting up, hunting down, dodging, snapping, laying her blows behind, making her thirds and fourths, working down to lead the dance again. Over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping countries went the music of the bells . . .”


The following Christmas comes with the solving of the mystery, and a fittingly clever and surprising solution it is. Throughout the novel, Sayers combines humor and pathos and deductive reasoning with fine writing to produce a detective story worthy of the best English mystery writers - in fact, I feel that The Nine Tailors rises above genre all together. It is simply a fine book. Don’t miss it!



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