The first Lord Peter Wimsey detective story I ever read was Five Red Herrings. I have to admit that I mainly read it because it took place in a Scottish town full of artists, my dream dwelling (minus the murder). I was somewhat reluctant to read any more Wimsey books, knowing I wouldn’t get as many Scottish accents. But with Strong Poison, I was able to pay more attention to the main character, and thus found my new favourite detective.
“See here,” said Wimsey. “You’re not safe. You’re too clever by half. But, I say, it’s a good plot, isn’t it?” “It’s a winner! Shall we write it?” “By Jove, let’s!”
He’s quirky, but he seems to be well aware and accepting of it. He knows his position, and his influence, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously. His dialogue is very entertaining, lots of quotable material. He even does a fair bit of quoting himself, sometimes slipping in other references.
The jury wrote them down. Lord Peter Wimsey murmured: ‘They all wrote down on their slates, “She doesn’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.’”
One thing I noted, and appreciated, was how Wimsey would spread the sleuthing. He mentors ‘disciple detectives’ and then sends them out with full confidence. Watson and Hastings never seemed to get that much credit. Not only does this allow the story to be told from different angles, but it shows that Wimsey knows how to create a strong team. He and Chief Inspector Parker are good friends, and it amused me how their conversation could turn from brotherly banter to business at the drop of a hat.
“Oh, no!” retorted Wimsey, bitterly. “I’m not expected to be serious. A buffoon, that’s what I am. I now know exactly what Jack Point feels like. I used to think the Yeoman sentimental tosh, but it is all too true. Would you like to see me dance in motley?” “I’m sorry,” said Parker, taking his cue rather from the tone than the words. “If it’s like that, I’m d—– sorry, old man. But what can I do?” “Now you’re talking. Look here- the most likely thing is that this unsavoury blighter Boyes committed suicide. The unspeakable defence haven’t been able to trace any arsenic to his possession- but then they probably couldn’t trace a herd of black cattle over a snow-bound field in broad noonday with a microscope. I want you people to take it up.”
The story was less sensational than Christie’s The Big Four, but that was a good thing. I already knew, or at least assumed, that the prisoner was innocent, and I had a fair guess at who was the true criminal. But Sayers kept the story interesting. I was kept engaged by charming characters, precarious situations, and the ever classic red herrings. There is an added tension to the ticking time bomb, as Wimsey is smitten by the condemned. It was a bit sudden for my taste, but it added a personal high stake, which is always a nice touch. There was no need for big explosions. I will admit, however, that at times the methods used to gather more proof were a little unscrupulous. Nevertheless, at the end the case is closed- sweet victory I might be as so bold to call it, in reference to the murderer’s unique undoing. And yet not everything is tied up at the end. The characters are still in action, hinting at more good stories to come. I’ll be sure to sleuth them out!
“It’s my hobby. Not proposing to people, I mean, but investigating things. Well, cheer-frightfully-ho and all that. I’ll call again, if I may.”