After a brief fling with Miss Marple, I’m back with Lord Peter Wimsey – the most delightful detective who ever delighted whilst detecting. This book is one of two Dorothy Sayers mysteries featured on The List, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as Strong Poison, it was still very good.
The majority of the action takes place at Pym’s Publicity, an advertising firm in London (if you read that and started hearing the Mad Men theme song in your head, we have a lot in common). One of their employees recently and mysteriously died after falling down an iron staircase in the office, and it’s suspected that he was murdered. So Lord Peter gets out his Super Awesome Detective Disguise Kit and goes to work at Pym’s undercover in order to find out what this guy might have known that caused him to be killed.
Like Strong Poison, you learn a lot of random but useful information over the course of the mystery. Then, it was lockpicking and Spiritualism. Now, it’s the secrets of advertising and the cocaine trade. (and the two are not necessarily unrelated) In fact, you learn a lot about the whole advertising business, resulting in some interesting bits like this:
“Like all rich men, [Lord Peter] had never before paid any attention to advertisements. He had never realized the enormous commercial importance of the comparatively poor. Not on the wealthy, who buy only what they want when they want it, was the vast superstructure of industry founded and built up, but on those who, aching for a luxury beyond their reach and for a leisure for ever denied them, could be bullied or wheedled into spending their few hardly won shillings on whatever might give them, if only for a moment, a leisured and luxurious illusion.”
I’m also happy to report that Lord Peter is still a darling in this one, and still hilarious. My favorite moment was at a point in the plot when it becomes necessary to get Peter out of police headquarters without being spotted by the press outside. His brother-in-law, an officer, is explaining that they’ll have to sneak him out the back and Peter interrupts happily, “Disguised as a policeman? Oh, Charles, do let me be a policeman! I should adore it.”
A few other reviewers have complained about Lord Peter’s conduct towards one of the characters, Dian de Momerie. She’s in with the cocaine-smuggling crowd, so Lord Peter basically has to seduce her in order to get at the drug kingpins. This involves dressing in disguises, following Dian around, and admittedly treating her rather dismissively. Ungentlemanly? Yes. Proof that Lord Peter isn’t as great as I say he is? Shut your whore mouth. Here’s the thing: Lord Peter acted like a jackass to Dian because that’s the kind of guy she’d be most attracted to. She’s dating a drug kingpin who treats her like dirt, and she in turn treats her various beaux like dirt. She responds best to dismissive and insulting behavior (what we’ll call the Bella Swan Complex), and that’s just the fastest way to get on her good side. I maintain that Lord Peter is still wonderful.
Also there’s a great offhand line that mentions that Lord Peter “went out to keep his date with the one young woman who showed no signs of yielding to him” and I got really excited there because I knew who Sayers meant. I read that line and was like, “It’s Harriet Vane! He’s going on a date with Harriet! Hi, Harriet! Hi!” and it was a little embarrassing.
Verdict: four out of five stars