1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to make this book one of two Dorothy Sayers mysteries that you absolutely have to read or you are illiterate. I still say that Strong Poison should have made the list, but the good people at The List Inc. haven’t ever listened to my suggestions and certainly aren’t going to start now. That being said, The Nine Tailors is still a delightful addition to Lord Peter Wimsey’s collection of exploits.
The thing I love about Dorothy Sayers, and the reason I now like her more than Agatha Christie, is because I always learn something from her novels. In this book, the lesson of the day is the art of bellringing. (in fact the title doesn’t refer to literal tailors at all; “nine tailors” are the nine bell strokes rung to announce a death) If you think bellringing is a simple act, you will find out exactly how wrong you are by the third chapter. If you acknowledge that bellringing is probably more interesting than it sounds, you will still learn what an understatement that is.
It needs to be admitted here that, having finished the book, I still don’t really understand all the bellringer shop-talk that goes on in the novel. The problem is that Lord Peter is actually a practiced bellringer already (because there is nothing Lord Peter cannot do), so there’s never a need for any of the characters to really explain things. So conversations about bellringing go more like, “Okay, we’re going to flimajig the doohickey, and then we’re going to whatsit the thingamabob with the whangdoodle” and I’m sitting there reading all of this and feeling like I missed something important.
But luckily, a deep understanding of bells isn’t vital to understanding the greater mystery – which is awesome, by the way, and involves stolen emeralds. Also this is the first Sayers mystery I’ve read where the murder occurs after the book starts, which was cool.
Verdict: three out of five stars