Since discovering Lord Peter in college, I’ve resisted the urge to race through all of his mysteries. There are only eleven, and I prefer to read them slowly, one every year or so, so they can last as long as possible. Knowing that I only have four left makes me sad, but this collection was a nice antidote – with twenty-one stories, it felt like at least three or four novels’ worth of mysteries.
Obviously they aren’t all great. “The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran” is sort of a letdown at the end, and “The Abominable History of the Man With the Copper Fingers”, while suspenseful and creepy, has a pretty obvious solution that I saw from a mile away. But most of the stories are delightful – “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will” rests on the characters having to solve a crossword puzzle, and “The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head” features Lord Peter solving a mystery with his nephew, and it’s just as adorable and charming as it sounds. Also, in case you haven’t guessed, all of the mysteries have delightfully old-school melodramatic titles, which I am always a fan of. And my absolute favorite of the bunch was, of course, “Talboys”, which involves the entire Wimsey-Vane family and I want someone to make a TV series where Peter, Harriet, and their sons travel the country and solve mysteries. (granted, this story does feature scenes where the Wimseys are super rude to a female houseguest, but since she’s the 1930’s equivalent of an anti-vaccer hippie mom, their disdain is earned) Also there’s a mystery that opens with the birth of Peter and Harriet’s first child, which I will proceed to quote almost in its entirety because that’s how well it demonstrates why I love these two:
“‘Good lord!’ said his lordship. ‘Did I do that?’
‘All evidence points that way,’ replied his wife.
‘Then I can only say I never knew so convincing a body of evidence produce such an inadequate result.’
The nurse appeared to take this reflection personally. She said in a tone of rebuke:
‘He’s a beautiful boy.’
‘H’m,’ said Peter. He adjusted his eyeglass more carefully. ‘Well, you’re the expert witness. Hand him over.’
The nurse did so with a dubious air. She was relieved to see that this disconcerting parent handled the child competently; as, in a man who was an experienced uncle, was not, after all, so very surprising. Lord Peter sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed.
‘Do you feel it’s up to standard?’ he inquired with some anxiety. ‘Of course, your workmanship’s always sound – but you never know with these collaborative efforts.’
‘I think it’ll do,’ said Harriet drowsily.
‘Good.’ He turned abruptly to the nurse. ‘All right; we’ll keep it. Take it and put it away, and tell ’em to invoice it to me. It’s a very interesting addition to you, Harriet; but it would have been a hell of a rotten substitute.'”
The book also features an afterword by John Curran, who outlines Sayers’ life, and it’s pretty cool – she had a baby out of wedlock and successfully kept it a secret! He also goes through the trajectory of the Lord Peter novels, including the Harriet Vane romance:
“Sayers introduced Harriet Vane in Strong Poison (1930) and allowed her and Wimsey to embark on a three-book courtship culminating in marriage in Busman’s Honeymoon (1937). This is the longest – and, some would argue, the most wearisome and embarrassing – courtship in the annals of detective fiction.”
Excuse you? No one argues that, Curran. NO ONE. If any detective courtship deserves to be called “embarrassing” and “wearisome,” it’s Stephen Moffat’s take on Sherlock’s relationship with Irene Adler (yeah, I went there – fight me, Sherlock fangirls). Don’t step to me on the subject of Harriet and Peter.
“Detective-fiction purists contend that this type of romantic relationship – between detective and suspect – has no place in a detective story,” Curran writes. “Other sleuths have managed to meet, court, marry, and produce children without any of the soul-searching in which Peter and Harriet indulged.”
You best get out your dueling pistols and choose a second, Curran, because them’s fightin’ words.
(I honestly considered taking off a star for the pure dickishness of the afterword, but then I remembered that it’s not Sayers’ fault.)
Verdict: four out of five stars