Series: Lord Peter Wimsey
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Genre: Mystery, historical fiction
Copyright Date: 1930
Cover: Mostly white with text, the author's name is prominent. A small picture towards the bottom shows a corpse lying in bed with a bottle apparently hovering over him. If the word "poison" in the title was not enough of a clue for you, the bottle has a skull and crossbones on it. To the right, a tiny courtroom scene in which the judge is banging his gavel. To the left, two men are enjoying either hashish or Black Caravan, based on the shape of the golden object in the center of the table.
First Line: "There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood."
Best part: So very funny.
Worst part: There are many characters to keep track of. Wimsey's friends are numerous and all seem to have long, complicated histories with him.
Recommended for: Any fan of the mystery genre who has not read Sayers before.
This is a rare occurence for me - I started a mystery series in the middle. Yes, it's really true. I was reading an article about Sayers, and it mentioned the first book in her Lord Peter Wimsey series, and then said that if you found that one too pretentious, you might want to start the series at the point of Strong Poison, in which the female lead of following books, Harriet Vane, is introduced. I tried reading the first few pages of the really-first book at a used bookstore, and it made me want to throw the book. Of course, I did not do so, and would not have even if the book had belonged to me. Some things just aren't right.
Lord Peter Wimsey is watching a trial he finds fascinating. His friend and employee Miss Climpson is one of the jurors. The charge is murder by poisoning. The accused is a woman who was "living in sin" with the deceased, and left him angrily when he proposed marriage to her. Wimsey is certain that she didn't commit the murder, but who did?
"'What I mean to say is, when all this is over, I want to marry you, if you can put up with me and all that.'
Harriet Vane, who had been smiling at him, frowned, and an indefinable expression of distaste came into her eyes.
'Oh, are you another of them? That makes forty-seven.'
'Forty-seven what?' asked Wimsey, much taken aback.
'Proposals. They come in by every post. I suppose there are a lot of imbeciles who want to marry anyone who's at all notorious.'
'Oh,' said Wimsey. 'Dear me, that makes it very awkward. As a matter of fact, you know, I don't need any notoriety. I can get into the papers off my own bat. It's no treat to me. Perhaps I shouldn't mention it again?'
His voice sounded hurt, and the girl eyed him rather remorsefully.
'Why? Oh, well -- I thought you'd be rather an attractive person to marry. That's all. I mean, I sort of took a fancy to you. I can't tell you why. There's no rule about it, you know.'
'I see. Well, that's very nice of you.'
'I wish you wouldn't sound as though you thought it was rather funny. I know I've got a silly face, but I can't help that. As a matter of fact, I'd like someone that I could talk sensibly to, who would make life interesting.'" (p 44-45)
This dialogue continues in the same hilarious vein for some time, covering such topics as the lovers they have had in the past and whether she finds him repellant.
This book made me laugh out loud, a lot. I thought that Kate Ross was the last word in historical mysteries, although she only wrote three of her terrific Julian Kestral novels before she passed away. But I was wrong. Sayers has her beat cold. Great mystery read, and I will definitely be looking up the rest of these. This is easily the year's best read so far. Grade of A.