‘I may be in a damned rotten position, but I ain’t makin’ a public spectacle of myself, by Jove!’
When I was younger, I was obsessed with detective fiction. I devoured Agatha Christie novels as a teen, before embracing the sharp jazzy prose of Raymond Chandler and the satisfying plots and fleshed out characters of P.D. James’ novels. Over time, my taste shifted and I delved into the classics and contemporary literature, leaving crime fiction behind, until now.
Recently I was asked if I could come up with some patterns for knitted figures based on mystery and crime writers, for a knitting publication, and who better to fit the bill than Dorothy L. Sayers’ fabulous detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. I managed to get hold of a few secondhand copies of Sayers novels to refresh my memory, so my knitted Lord Peter will be as close to the text as possible, and what a joy the research has been!
First off, I read ‘Clouds of Witness’, which was a real treat. It reminded me why I love crime fiction so much. I love the twists of plot, the gradual unveiling of clues, the characters scrutinised, not to mention the red herrings and blind alleys! I think it appeals to the crossword puzzler in me, trying to solve the case before all is revealed. I had also forgotten what a wonderful writer Sayers was. Her portrayals of the aristocracy have all the wry charm of a Wodehouse novel – all the foppishness, bumbling idiocy, shallow vanity and family dysfunction is portrayed in hilarious detail for the enjoyment of the reader, but with added intrigue and peril.
‘Clouds of Witness’ sees Lord Peter trying to save his brother, the Duke of Denver, who is accused of murder, and on trial for his life. The investigation also throws his sister, Lady Mary, into the frame, as the deceased was her fiancee. Wimsey is helped in his investigations by his faithful butler, Bunter, and his trusted friend Parker, a police officer.
It turns out that the Duke’s refusal to provide an alibi for the murder boils down to a gentleman’s code of honour in not wishing to tarnish the reputation of the woman whose company he was in at the time, (a fact unbeknownst by his wife or her husband!), and despite Lord Peter’s best efforts, he refuses to budge even if it means certain death. So, it is up to Lord Peter to uncover the events of the fateful evening and prove his brother innocent without his help. The investigation takes him to Paris and New York, as well as London and his ancestral family home in the country.
It was a joy to read, and a nice change from some of the heavier novels I’ve been reading lately. I tend to blanche at the thought of ‘light’ reading, but while this was undoubtedly a light entertaining murder mystery, Sayers writes with great intelligence and style. I simply can’t wait to read the next one!