Authors I enjoy – Dorothy Sayers
Allow me one sentence as a kind of preamble: This is my second book review I’ve ever written. I even think this is not a book review – these are just some thoughts I want to share regarding an English author which has me in her grips for some days now. I would be very glad if those written down thoughts will prompt you to read one of her books, even if I run the danger of getting thumped on my head for making you spend money on a book you won’t like. But maybe you will like it or them?
A long time ago I read all of Dorothy Sayers’ crime novels. Now I am rereading them again – in English. Reading one novel after the other (I began with “Strong Poison” and have now “The Nine Tailors” and “Busman’s Honeymoon” on my desk) I am more and more convinced that however brilliant the translation into another language may be: Those books must be read in English.
Dorothy Sayers lived from 1893 to 1957. The leading character of her detective stories is Lord Peter Wimsey who uses his sharp brain to solve murder mysteries, supported by his manservant, Mervyn Bunter. Although they are on different social levels the relationship between both men is full of mutual respect. There are even moments of tenderness without words, for example when the time has come for the murderer to be hanged, and Peter Wimsey is feeling guilty of being the cause for his death.
In “Strong Poison” Wimsey meets his love, Harriet Vane, in the courtroom – she is accused of having killed the man she lived with, and of course he manages to prove her innocence. Let me quote the beginning of the book:
“There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.
The judge was an old man; so old, he seemed to have outlived time and change and death. His parrot-face and parrot-voice were dry, like his old, heavily-veined hands. His scarlet robe clashed harsh with the crimson of the roses. He had sat for three days in the stuffy court, but he showed no sign of fatigue.”
Wimsey’s familiy is not very happy about his relationship with somebody accused for murder and not on their social level. This may sound strange to us living in the 21st century; but in the society of the beginning 20th century in England this was a fact – that people kept to themselves. Wimsey’s way of speaking is definitely ‘upper class’, but his way of treating people on lower ranks is one of kindness and respect.
In “The Nine Tailors” he and his manservant Bunter have to leave their car on New Year’s Eve because it broke down. Fortunately they find their way into a village nearby, where there are wined and dined by the parson. The parson’s big goal is it to ring in the New Year with nine hours of Treble Bell Majors, and one of the ringers is struck down by influenza. So Lord Peter Wimsey has to have a go, one lord among 8 people from the village. Of course there is a dead body found later on, and of course Peter Wimsey solves the mystery of his death, but it is the atmosphere in this village deep down in the Fens which kept me reading on and on.
Whereas in other detective stories the focus is on action here I have the impression that Dorothy Sayers put the focus on the atmosphere, the social setting, the people, some lovable, some shown with their weaknesses. And this is what makes me love her books.