Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Man and His Monocle

Book: Clouds of Witness
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the great creations in the British detective novel. Witty and foppish, he is a recurrent sufferer of logorrhea and a master of arcane literary references, any English major’s delight. With his ever-present monocle and cane, he is also something of a ridiculous caricature of British nobility. But all that surface gloss merely conceals the determined and tortured character of a truly great detective. Because it is simply indecent for one to be a good detective without also being tortured.

Clouds of Witness is Dorothy Sayers’ second novel starring Lord Peter. Like all her books, it’s wonderfully intelligent and literate, although not the best she ever wrote. The Wimsey series comes into its true brilliance only with the introduction of Harriet Vane in Strong Poison as a mystery novelist accused of murder whom Lord Peter proves innocent – and then proceeds to fall in love with. Harriet refuses his initial offer of marriage for reasons I won’t spoil, and their story continue through Have His Carcase and into Gaudy Night, which is one of all-time favorite books. Kat and ket may remember a Christmas party two years ago when my love for Gaudy Night was the only thing I could talk about. But together with The Nine Tailors and Murder Must Advertise, these are three of Sayers’ novels that are not to be missed.

But I was supposed to be writing about Clouds of Witness, which I only read recently. In it, Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is charged with the murder of his sister’s fiance, who was a rather shady character. Misunderstandings, foiled plots, torrid affairs, and family tensions ensue, all played out against the backdrop of the British legal system, which has – or at least had – a separate procedure for trying peers of the realm. It’s great stuff, and there’s truly wonderful scene out on the moor involving Bunter, Lord Peter’s faithful butler, which is sure to thrill any Sayers fan.

Although a contemporary of Agatha Christie’s and well-regarded in Britain, Sayers is not as well known in the States. I can’t imagine why. I much prefer her to Christie, whose novels all seem rather dry to me in comparison. Sayers is a much warmer writer. Her dialogue is excellent and her characterization – particularly of Lord Peter and Harriet – is phenomenal. Even Clouds of Witness, which I already mentioned is not her best book, gave me shivers on several occasions.

Bottom line, I adore Dorothy Sayers. When tipsy, I’ve been known to drag friends over to my bookshelves, pull out Gaudy Night, and expound for quite some time on why it’s one of my favorite books of all time. I’ll spare you that rant. Just be forewarned that it’s a weakness that may be revealed in the future!

(Oh, and did I mention that I find Lord Peter incredibly sexy as a literary character? Er…hem…yes, it may be prudent to mention that.)

posted by Elizabeth at 10:02 PM


Blogger reyn said...

You find the extremely wealthy, dapper, intellignet nobleman with a British accent to be kind of sexy? Shocking. Next, one of you will admit that James Bond is "actually a bit hot." Gasp!!

10/25/2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

*grins* I can honestly say that I don't find James Bond "a bit hot" at all! But that may be only because I read Casino Royale when I heard they were filming it with the guy from L4yer Cake. I won't go into the gory details, but I'll just say that it was nasty enough that the name "James Bond" makes me shudder...and not in a good way!

10/25/2006 7:50 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

Then you clearly haven't read enough Fleming to know that the books and the movies tend to only have titles in common.

10/26/2006 7:17 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

Elizabeth, I don't recall that Xmas party, but I've learned over the years to tune you out. Whoever said it was right: "your friends must be very tolerant."

Haha, sorry, couldn't pass up a chance to bring up that wonderful quote, as untrue as it is. :)

"Misunderstandings, foiled plots, torrid affairs, and family tensions ensue" - sounds like something from one of ket's reviews, especially when you work in the Harriet/Lord Peter relationship.

10/26/2006 7:41 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Then you clearly haven't read enough Fleming to know that the books and the movies tend to only have titles in common.

Nope! One Fleming book was enough for me, and the few times I've watched a James Bond film I've tended to fall asleep.

Kat - Sadly, Harriet isn't in this book, but she'll be in other ones that I'll probably be reviewing in the near future...:)

Oh, and that "tolerant" quote? Yeah, that was my own brother. Little jerk!

10/26/2006 10:16 PM  

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