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The Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey, #11)The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The last Wimsey. Last that I hadn't read, I mean. I couldn't remember whether this one or Five Red Herrings was the truly bad one; I meant to save the worst for last, but guessed wrong, so ended up surprised by the quality of this chilly, densely-peopled, eerie book. She writes beautifully of the fens, the tiny villages, the convolutions of life around the church, the rising water, the ringing ringing ringing of the bells. I stopped reading this as a murder mystery very early and recalibrated my attention to a novel of place. That turned out to be just right, because it's a good novel of place, though I think many people will like it more than I did. And also it set me up perfectly to be genuinely chilled by the ultimate solution, even if I had guessed three-quarters of it all correctly. Ooof.

I am not, I must say, sorry to see the back of Peter's 'oh woe is me, I wish I had never carelessly wandered into this murder mystery because I'm endlessly nosy and then discovered later that real people really got hurt, oh waily waily.' I understand this is supposed to be a function of his PTSD, and this book does weave together the strands of his war recollections with the present abdication of responsibility. In fact, I think it does so notably better than Busman's Honeymoon does (Busman's Honeymoon being the obvious thematic and structural companion to this book, at least to my eye). I just don't have to like it, and for complicated reasons I deeply do not.




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Five Red Herrings Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers


My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Doubling back to a Peter Wimsey book from earlier in the chronology. The one where Peter solves the murder of a painter in a small Scottish town.



I frankly find it astonishing that the woman who wrote Gaudy Night also wrote this. It's a long slog of tedious detail seasoned with train schedules. I had a hard time keeping the six murder suspects straight, and it didn't seem to really matter.



Saved from utter ignominy by two things: (1) Peter occasionally breaking into blank verse just because he can, and (2) the narrator of my audiobook doing six or seven different accents as appropriate, including a wonderfully impenetrable Scots.




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The final Lord Peter book, the complete collection in short stories, and a spontaneous reread because I just couldn’t help it, in that order.

Sigh! Lucky for me, I’m not actually quite through all the Peter – I just picked up the handful of books I couldn’t find before at a used bookstore, and I’ll go back and fill in the gaps in the series. But it will be strange to return to the younger Peter, Peter before Harriet. I’ve heard some vague mutterings about Busman’s Honeymoon, and I flatly don’t understand that. I all but wriggled with glee through Peter and Harriet’s wedding, their hasty flight to seclusion, the discoveries of married life. One of which turns out to be a corpse in the basement, naturally. Unashamedly and gorgeously romantic, sly, a little sad around the edges.

Then the short stories, polished off with a nebulously obnoxious critical essay. I have to admit I like Peter much better in novels than short stories. Novels get the smug out, some, and the self-righteousness.

And then back to Gaudy Night. Different from the first time, as you might think. Last time I was breathless and giddy by the end. This time, knowing the way, I could watch the turns a bit more. I think this is the sort of book I will continue to read, every few years, and each time I do it will illuminate some strand of my life. Last time it was Harriet’s lesson to Peter, that demanding someone love you is the best way to get them to recoil (I’d very recently failed to get that one across to someone). This time it’s Harriet and Peter’s shared devotion to the sort of integrity that admits no personal pain. Integrity in work, I mean, in doing the thing you set out to do (take a wild guess what that's about). I wonder what it’ll be in another few years?

Okay, now the real question: what poor book has to follow Peter?
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I hesitate to call this ‘a Lord Peter book.’ Peter is here, certainly, though in lesser proportion than you might expect, considering he changes in quiet but extraordinary ways. But this book is rightly and greatly Harriet Vane’s, as she returns to the Oxford college of her education to do some academic work, write her next novel, and investigate some nasty disturbances around the college.

Oh. For Oxford alone, which I love, I could love this book. Luckily, however, there are any number of other reasons. This is a book about pain, about the heart and the mind working in opposition, about academia, about the perils of being an intelligent woman, about the perils of unthinking feminism, about mistakes, about love. Harriet has been trampled over by the world and left in the mud, and I love how Sayers understands the way she would snap and snarl at the first hand that reached out to help her, and resent its very kindness. Harriet wants to stop hurting, and she thinks she knows how.


If only one could come back to this quiet place where only intellectual achievement counted, if one could work here steadily and obscurely at some close-knit piece of reasoning, undistracted and uncorrupted . . . abolishing personal contacts, personal spites, personal jealousies, getting one’s teeth into something dull and durable, maturing into solidity like the Shrewsbury beeches, then one might be able to forget the wreck and chaos of the past, or see it, at any rate, in a truer proportion.


It’s a beautiful thought, and it’s all the ways that academia is not like this that will keep me away.

In this book it’s a more painfully direct question, given the social climate of the times, between academia and marriage. It’s a practical result of separated colleges, of course, but also a more fundamental observation about the ways that female achievement can become a barrier in and of itself. “. . . the rule seemed to be that a great woman must either die unwed . . . or find a still greater man to marry her.” And though the exact correlations of virginity and academia do not apply to us today, the idea of woman having to choose between achievement and relationships still resonates eighty years later. Hell, just ask Time Magazine, apparently.

But it’s more complex for Harriet, who tried living by the heart once before, with disastrous consequences. This book is about her learning to use her heart again, but to do it in balance with the mind. She is coming to know that passion and reason are not antithetical, that applying the second to the first makes them both greater, not less. Peter is learning the same thing from the other side of the coin, as Harriet refuses his proposals again and again and again and he comes to know that simply wanting and asking are an exercise of privilege, and not the extent of love.


“It’s the pressure of other people’s personalities that does the mischief.”

“Yes. . . .You may say you won’t interfere with another person’s soul, but you do merely by existing. The snag about it is the practical difficulty, so to speak, of not existing.”


They both know how awful love can be when it is all heart or all brain, when it presses and demands and makes sacrifices and then says “now what will you do for me in return?” They are both just growing into the awareness that there is another way.

I think, above all, the thing I admire most in this book is the way it practices what it preaches. Sayers’ brain is here, as it always has been, but for perhaps the first time, her heart is too. Harriet, her partial avatar, is also learning that the heart is required in equal measure in writing as in love – in any work of importance.


“You would have to abandon the jigsaw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.”

“I’m afraid to try that, Peter. It might go to near the bone.”

“It might be the wisest thing you could do.”

“Write it out and get rid of it?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll think about that. It would hurt like hell.”

“What would that matter, if it made a good book?”


I won’t go into Sayers’ biography here. But as Peter says, “you can’t keep the feeling out.” The beauty of this book is the way Sayers is here, unashamedly, honestly, with enough distance to be lucid and thoughtful, but enough heart still in it to hurt, and to matter. And that’s the point of the book – writing like that Is writing well, and living like that is living well.
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Fiction, historical mysteries. Lord Peter Wimsey inquires into the apparently innocent death of an elderly lady from miles away, acquits a woman accused of poisoning her lover, fails to get her to marry him, and goes undercover in an advertising agency to solve a murder and eventually crack an enormous drug trafficking ring. The first did not do much for me aside from the baseline Sayers cleverness and way of making me actually like historical British mysteries featuring the upper class. Which is to say that it’s an excellent book, and I hold particular authors to very high standards. Strong Poison is interesting, if only to see Peter agonizing over something which he has previously called a lark. The thing about Peter is that he has spent so long pretending the fool that he nearly believes it himself. It’s safer that way, judging by the short personal history slipped in at the front of Unnatural Death. Watching him not just touched by a case, but tormented, was engrossing.

As for Murder Must Advertise, there is no other word than romp. Glorious romp, in fact. I don’t think I’ve had that much fun in weeks. It’s hilarious, full
of off-color jokes and office personalities and politics, and I spent a lot of time grinning and muttering “oh, Peter.” But the book is not just a game; there is something watching and sad and deeply pensive here. I suspect it is Sayers herself.
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Fiction. Historical murder mysteries. The first two Lord Peter Wimsey books, and wow can I ever see how these influenced Bujold. Peter is very much a proto Miles Vorkosigan in that way where most people think he's crazy, but that's just because he's moving so fast. Charming, exasperating, bemusing -- the books, and the character.

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