Monday, July 29, 2019

Peter Wimsey: Two outside London

I'm skipping out of order with my reviews of the Peter Wimsey series today -- I'm skipping over Book 4, a volume of short stories, and book six is the first Harriet book, which I'll be sharing later with the rest of her tales.

So today I'm going to talk a bit about two in the series that I wasn't as impressed with.

New English Library 1979, c1931

First off is Book 7, Five Red Herrings. This is a classic 'sleuth on vacation' book. Lord Peter and Bunter are up in Scotland on a fishing holiday. They are staying in a small village overrun with artists, including many who love to paint en plein air.

One of the artists is found murdered at the bottom of a hill. Who could have done this? There are five suspects, all to be found in this enclosed village. The premise and the cast of characters are good; the plot and the interminable rushing about and studying train schedules for alibis is.... not good. Who cares when one train gets in and another leaves? Or if they were on time on a particular day, and whether someone had a ticket or not? This alibi business all depends on a stolid bureaucracy. This book was tedious, overdone, and, well, boring!

At least I found it so. I prefer Lord Peter in his natural surroundings of London, or perhaps Oxford at a stretch. The mystery in Five Red Herrings revolves around timetables and artistic details, none of which a reader can guess at. And it goes on for far too long. Near the end, Peter gets the local detective and judge and they re-enact the murder to see how it might have been done. This just goes over the whole business again, in a lengthy and quite silly way.

So, probably my least favourite of all the books (barring perhaps some of the short stories). I won't be rereading this one. If this vacation was meant to be a rest cure for Lord Peter, it didn't deliver; neither was it an entertainment for this reader.

London: Gollancz, c1934.

And now for book 11, The Nine Tailors. This is a favourite of some readers of the series. I've seen it noted that many critics say it's the best of the whole lot.

But I disagree. While not as tedious as Five Red Herrings, this one goes into great detail about English bell ringing, otherwise known as campanology. Yawn! While it did speed the reading along, since I skimmed over most of the interminable discussions of bell ringing details, it did mean there was no chance I could comprehend the clues to the mystery until they were later spelled out directly. Understanding bell ringing notation would have clued in a reader earlier, but no thanks. I found this element far too finicky and snobby, really.

The good parts of this book lie in some of the descriptions; Peter and Bunter are driving in the Fens and get stuck in a winter storm, thus finding themselves in the midst of an unexpected mystery. The evocation of landscape and of the actual experience of hearing the bells was wonderfully done, visually and sensorily. But again, I always prefer Peter in London - his involvement in this village's life and mysteries felt a little too convenient for the author's purpose to be wholly engaging.

There were good bits of this, if you read it for the setting and the characterizations of the vicar, various inhabitants of the village, and the upper class family outside of town. The interactions between many of these were finely drawn and the most interesting part of the story, to me. The mystery itself was not likely, and a bit overdone, to my tastes. But each to their own. My own favourite of the series is not one that others might like at all. But more on that one later...

1 comment:

  1. I have both books, but haven't read them. What I do remember well are the Ian Carmichael versions of them. Wonderful. All these years later, there are parts that are still vivid to me. I actually bought the DVDs so I can watch again.
    Gladys Taber mentions in her books how her friend reads The Nine Tailors every January.


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