Sayers, Dorothy L. Strong Poison.

NY: HarperCollins, 1995, 1930.

It’s 1930 and mystery novelist Harriet Vane is on trial for murder. She was in love with another writer, Philip Boyes, and wanted to get married, but he refused to have anything to do with such a bourgeois institution, and so they simply shacked up. After a year or two, however, he decided to marry her after all. Except Harriet, deciding that their domestic arrangements — for which she had been willing to brave the censure of society — had just been an egotistical test on Boyes’s part, to see if she was good enough for him. There was a row, naturally, and shortly afterward Boyes died in some agony of arsenic poisoning.

Harriet, coincidentally, had been working on a new book involving murder by arsenic and she had become something of an expert through her research. Now she’s facing the hangman. That’s the set-up and it’s a pretty good one. Amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey is present throughout the trial (during which the reader learns all the above information), which ends with a hung jury, and he decides — on almost no grounds whatever — that Miss Vane didn’t do it. What’s more, he’s going to marry the lady. And that’s rather a weak point, though it has nothing to do with actually solving the mystery; Lord Peter is a pretty rational and logical fellow and it’s hard to believe he would be capable of falling so completely in love at first sight and at a distance. Much of the plot proceeds, actually, through the single ladies of his “Cattery” (a sexist designation neither Sayers nor Wimsey would get away with today), who act somewhat as his “Baker Street Irregulars,” carrying out investigations for him, engaging in a bit of B&E, and generally giving Sayers room to inject class-conscious humor into the proceedings. And the solution is one which today’s readers will probably see coming since it’s been used many times since, but it may have been original with this book. Not Sayers’s best work but not bad.

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Published in: on 27 February 2011 at 6:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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