skygiants: Sokka from Avatar: the Last Airbender peers through an eyeglass (*peers*)
[personal profile] skygiants
As a comfort read project, I've been rereading the Lord Peter Wimsey books for the first time since I was in high school - with the exception of Murder Must Advertise, which I wrote a paper on in college, and The Nine Tailors, which I realized I'd never read after writing my paper on Murder Must Advertise and therefore read shortly afterwards. But I haven't hit either of those yet on my reread; I've currently gotten through Whose Body, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Strong Poison, and I just hauled myself over the finish line of Five Red Herrings today.

It's been an interesting and occasionally unexpected experience. Here are some general impressions:

- as a young person, I was never particularly interested in Bunter -- or at least, I remembered very little about him. On this read, and particularly after Clouds of Witness, I've gained a whole new appreciation for him. Bunter is having the absolute time of his life parodying the role of the perfect butler. It's a bit of a shame that the joke goes right over so many people's heads, but it's all right, because Peter is the most appreciative audience he will ever have.
- I have also gained a whole new appreciation for Parker, and I'm a bit sorrowful that, as I recall, he fades more and more from the novels after he and Mary marry. (I'm especially sorry about that because I am struck with a great curiosity to learn more about Mary, but anyway.) The value of Parker is not only that he is actually a professional police officer and competent at his job, but he does a better job of deflating Peter's air of infallibility by his sheer existence than anybody else. The books where Parker is strongest are also the ones where Peter comes off -- hmm, I guess the way that I want to put this is that he comes off the worst in a way that I like -- because Parker is trundling around doing all the groundwork, and the scenes in Parker's head are reminding us very explicitly that Parker is trundling around doing all the ground work so that Peter can airily make a series of deductions and then wander off to a book auction.
- reverse-wise, a distressing discovery: I have lost a great deal of my affection for the Dowager Duchess of Denver. Oh, she's so charming, and she talks such piffle, and all her piffle is peppered with things like "really such women -- born murderees as somebody says -- quite pig-faced but not of course deserving it and possibly the photographs don't do them justice, poor things" and "they wouldn't have minded so much if he'd pretended to be something else, and I'm sure some Jews are very good people," and so on, et cetera. And, you know, I would be all right with that if the narrative ever acknowledged the fact that talking about lower-class women as pig-faced born murderees is not actually a particularly charming thing to do, but in fact everyone in the book believes she's the most adorable human imaginable, and so we all go along with it.
- I had really forgotten how comparatively little of Harriet we get of Strong Poison! I mean, she's there and she's clearly a person, but not nearly so much of one as she'll become later. Next up for me is Have His Carcase, which I mostly remember as the one that Harriet and Peter are both embarrassed by in Gaudy Night. Looking forward to that!
- there are such a large number of lesbians in these books! How many lesbians did Sayers know?! There's the elderly lesbians in Unnatural Death, plus the evil lesbian about whom Miss Climpson is so judgmental, plus Harriet's lesbian friends in Strong Poison, plus a stray pair of lesbians in Five Red Herrings -- all this, and I haven't yet even hit the women's school yet!
- speaking of Five Red Herrings, thanks to [personal profile] starlady's interesting analysis, I had been under a merry conviction that this time around, I might actually understand and appreciate Five Red Herrings! Or at the very least follow the plot. OH, THE FUTILE AMBITIONS OF YOUTH. I have literally just put down the book and I cannot tell you why most of the red herrings wished to murder the victim, who any of the police officers were, or what actually DID happen to the bicycle and why ANYBODY CARED. That said, I do think it's interesting to look at why Five Red Herrings is so difficult to invest in, in comparison with the other books, and I don't think it's just the endless train-timetables (although, lord, they don't help.) Five Red Herrings is fairly singular in how very little it advances Lord Peter's emotional plot, and how little he actually cares about anyone involved. Compare with Unnatural Death, where both victim and murderer are entirely removed from Peter's social sphere, but Peter's emotions are thoroughly engaged throughout the whole thing, and his sense of responsibility at its height. Five Red Herrings, though -- it's a deeply academic thought experiment to nearly everybody in it; even the ending pulls its punches, as it turns out the murder was an accident and the sense of responsibility is at a minimum all around. And the fact that Sayers is usually so unable to shake that sense of responsibility is, I think, what generally gives the Wimsey books their weight.

Five left, but of those five, three of them -- Murder Must Advertise, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon -- are the ones that I remember best, so it'll be interesting to see if the reread continues to be as much of a voyage of discovery as the early ones have been or if the later books generally match up with the impressions they've already left in my brain.

Date: 2017-03-20 12:00 am (UTC)
misbegotten: Text: She liked mysteries so much she became one (Lit Mysteries)
From: [personal profile] misbegotten
because Peter is the most appreciative audience he will ever have

So, so true!

Date: 2017-03-20 12:08 am (UTC)
misbegotten: A picture of a cannon with the text "cannon compliant" (Writing Cannon Compliant)
From: [personal profile] misbegotten
Darn you, this is now my head canon!

Date: 2017-03-20 12:10 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
omg yes

Date: 2017-03-20 02:17 am (UTC)
pedanther: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pedanther
This sent my train of thought off down a branch line, because that was Batman's butler's original backstory: Alfred Pennyworth was an actor whose father had been butler to Thomas Wayne, and whose dying wish was that his son should take up the family tradition and be butler to Thomas Wayne's son. So Alfred went off to do his best at playing the role of butler in real life - whether Bruce Wayne wanted a butler or not. (Alfred was much more of a comic relief character in the beginning than in his later development.)

These days they tend to give him a more dramatic backstory, like he used to be in the British secret service or the Royal Marines before he decided to retire and take up a theoretically less exciting career. Which reminds me that I've read one really interesting fanfic where he is still in the secret service when he shows up on the doorstep of Wayne Manor - the whole "Alfred Pennyworth, butler" thing being his cover story as part of an operation against one of Gotham's crime bosses - and the decision to chuck in the spy stuff and stick to being the Wayne family's trusted manservant is one that creeps up on him without him noticing.

And then there's Neil Gaiman's story "The Gentleman's Gentleman's Tale", which gives Alfred back his theatrical backstory, and does something with it you could never do in canon. But I'm really getting off the topic now.

Date: 2017-03-20 10:58 am (UTC)
aamcnamara: (Default)
From: [personal profile] aamcnamara
Oh dear, oh yes. Down-on-his-luck actor who's always been fascinated by these new developments in cameras, maybe?

Date: 2017-03-20 12:13 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Oh man, I read everything up to Gaudy Night (and then put GN off, whoops) but Herrings. I could not get more than five pages into Herrings no matter how I tried. It was like there was an invisible force field that kept pushing the pages away from my eyeballs.

Date: 2017-03-20 12:32 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
"You can mop the kitchen floor....OR read this book."

Date: 2017-03-20 12:19 am (UTC)
misbegotten: Nate & Sophie kiss (Leverage Nate & Sophie Kiss)
From: [personal profile] misbegotten
Oh, you must read Gaudy Night for the emotional payoff! If I recall there's a mystery in there too. ::grin::

Date: 2017-03-20 12:32 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I got all wound up for it and then IDK, it was like I got cold feet at the altar. :-/

Date: 2017-03-20 01:00 am (UTC)
whimsyful: (Default)
From: [personal profile] whimsyful
Five Red Herrings is the only Wimsey book I've yet to read (I've even read all the short stories!) I have the book, I just...can't make it past two chapters of it...

Oh you should really read Gaudy Night! It was the very first of the series that I read (I picked up a copy on a whim at a second hand bookstore), and even though I knew nothing about the backstory I fell completely head over heels for it.

Date: 2017-03-20 12:24 am (UTC)
imperfect_tense: (random: love)
From: [personal profile] imperfect_tense
Oh, I love the Lord Peter books so much. My mom introduced them to me when I was a teenager and I pretty much never looked back.

(One Christmas, she got me a book of John Donne poetry and wrote on the inside 'From Peter and Harriet' so - yes.)

Date: 2017-03-20 12:32 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
Aw, how sweet!

Date: 2017-03-20 12:37 am (UTC)
the_rck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
I remember that I read Busman's Honeymoon first because my mother owned it when I was a teenager but didn't own any of the others. It took me years to find the others because I was stuck with the Goodwill store and very rare visits to places with actual bookstores. The local library didn't have any of them, and interlibrary loan was vastly cumbersome at that point in time (as I recall, our local library had a cap on annual ILL requests for financial reasons).

So I read the books in the order that I found them used and lost a good bit of character arc. Strong Poison should not be read after Busman's Honeymoon and Gaudy Night.

Date: 2017-03-21 09:09 pm (UTC)
the_rck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
I have a vague memory of either radio plays or someone on the radio reading the books for both Unnatural Death and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. I know there was a program on the local university station where some guy read books. I caught between half and two thirds of those.

Date: 2017-03-20 01:15 am (UTC)
whimsyful: (Default)
From: [personal profile] whimsyful
Oh man. I've recently purchased a hardcover omnibus version of Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon, and this post is reallyyy making me want to reread it instead of continuing on my epic Dorothy Dunnett read.

There really wasn't that much of Harriet in Strong Poison--not a surprise considering the circumstances, but we never get into her head the way we do in Have His Carcase & the later books. My main memories of Have His Carcase was that it was decent but a bit overlong, and the main memorable bits were Harriet's struggle trying to shoehorn a standard romantic plotline into her novel and the searing row she gets into with Peter.

Date: 2017-03-20 01:40 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
I have never, as far as I know, read the whole series in order, and now I really want to, because IIRC, Have His Carcase is the one where Harriet is first gripped with angst about the boringness of writing mystery novels full of tricks about timetables and no personal stakes, so it seems like it should be read after Five Red Herrings. :D (I did read Five Red Herrings at least once but I recall absolutely nothing about it. Is it the one set in the Lake Country or somewhere? With painters?)
Edited Date: 2017-03-20 01:40 am (UTC)

Date: 2017-03-20 05:37 pm (UTC)
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] larryhammer
Scotland with the painters, yes.

Date: 2017-03-20 01:42 am (UTC)
starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)
From: [personal profile] starlady
Reading them in order is so great, because then T5RH really stands out for its sheer retreat from reality. Although I have to admit, I enjoyed it as one enjoys a Fabergé egg--it's pretty to marvel at. And the descriptions of Scotland are unmatched.

Date: 2017-03-20 02:13 am (UTC)
gramarye1971: close-up Tube map of London, with Baker Street replaced by gramarye1971 (Zone 1)
From: [personal profile] gramarye1971
See, I like train timetables -- probably more than most human beings who aren't actively employed by railways ought to like them -- and the ones in Five Red Herrings simply didn't do it for me. From a train-timetable-fan's perspective, the mystery seemed to have just enough train timetabling to be obfuscating but not enough to actually require the reader to focus on the timetables completely and treat them like a mathematical exercise or a logic puzzle to solve. It's a hard balance to get correct.

(If you want train timetables in a murder mystery done right -- for a given value of right -- the Monty Python sketch It All Happened on the 11:20 from Hainault to Redhill via Horsham and Reigate, calling at Carshalton Beaches, Malmesbury, Tooting Bec, and Croydon West is still the gold standard in my mind. I would absolutely watch a real-life version of that play.)

Date: 2017-03-20 02:46 am (UTC)
melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
From: [personal profile] melannen
That is actually another thing I remember in that book! I went into it expecting to find some good meaty train timetables and was disappointed.

(Has there ever been a mystery novel that hinged around bus timetables? That would be exciting.)

Date: 2017-03-20 05:34 am (UTC)
julian: Picture of Julian Street. (Default)
From: [personal profile] julian
OK, but the bus would be five minutes late and ruin everything.

(Or maybe that's just the MBTA, and everywhere else is better at bus punctuality.)

Date: 2017-03-20 12:11 pm (UTC)
gramarye1971: white teacup of green tea with wooden chopsticks (Tea and Chopsticks)
From: [personal profile] gramarye1971
If you set the mystery in Switzerland or Japan, I think a bus timetable mystery might work. Those are about the only two places I can think of with enough precision in their scheduling (especially in train-to-bus connection) that would make it feasible.

Date: 2017-03-20 04:44 am (UTC)
ceitfianna: (Dean time rambles on)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
Murder Must Advertise and The Nine Tailors and Whose Body are my rereads for Sayers since I really enjoy Parker and Mary. Though actually this reminds me that I want to reread Clouds of Witnesses as I love the Mary and Parker stuff but the whole brother plot while well written is uncomfortable. Also the one with the whole complicated inheritance one is interesting too. Harriet never really worked for me, I don't know why and so I tend to not reread books with her in them as much. Bunter is the best and really enjoying himself. I'd love to talk Sayers with you.

Have you read Ngaio Marsh since there are times she's clearly poking fun at the genre while writing it well?

Date: 2017-03-21 01:40 am (UTC)
ceitfianna: (lost in a library)
From: [personal profile] ceitfianna
I own a gigantic collection of Ngaio Marsh and will happily provide reading suggestions and books. Oh that sucks, I hope you can find it somewhere.

Date: 2017-03-20 04:47 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
I had really forgotten how comparatively little of Harriet we get

I read Gaudy Night first, on my then-supervisor's rec (she was the librarian for History, I an undergrad asst). When I went back for SP and HHC, I couldn't understand at first why anyone liked these books. :P It would've been interesting to see a Harriet book with zero Peter in it; for me, Peter is more interesting when he is not interacting with Harriet. I did love Gaudy Night, even so.

Date: 2017-03-21 04:11 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
a Mary-and-Parker-solve-a-mystery book

Yes, that'd be entirely agreeable. :)

Date: 2017-03-20 05:34 pm (UTC)
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)
From: [personal profile] larryhammer
Five Red Herrings is fairly singular in how very little it advances Lord Peter's emotional plot, and how little he actually cares about anyone involved

Bingo. *ding! ding! ding!*

Date: 2017-03-20 05:40 pm (UTC)
brownbetty: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brownbetty
Just popping in to make 'omg Five Red Herrings!' face at you. I honestly cannot remember if I have succesfully read it or not, although I know I tried. All I remember is the struggle. And railway tables.

Date: 2017-03-21 02:14 am (UTC)
castiron: cartoony sketch of owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] castiron
I went the other way on the Dowager Duchess on my last Sayers reread. I was always puzzled by why readers appreciate her, because she's always going off on random tangents triggered by the conversation, saying cryptic things that make sense later if you really look at them but seem to be piffle in the moment, giving the strong impression of being feather-brained with only the occasional statement suggesting that it's an act....

And on this reread, it suddenly clicked: just like her younger son.

Reading the Dowager as "Peter without the Y chromosome" made me appreciate her a lot more.


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