Thursday, October 17, 2019

Strong Poison

Strong Poison / Dorothy L. Sayers
London, NEL Books, 1977. c1930
224 p.

Strong Poison is the book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series in which Harriet Vane is introduced, and as such is one of my favourite parts of the overall story arc.

It's also an entertaining read on its own. Harriet is a writer and is researching poisons for a novel. Unfortunately for her, her ex dies of poison shortly after leaving her home in a failed attempt to reconcile in some manner. She is the obvious suspect and is arrested and tried for murder.

However, Lord Peter sees her case in the papers and immediately decides she's innocent, and aside from that he also decides she is the one woman for him. From her mug shot in the paper. If only we were all so femme fatale!

He attends the trial, alongside his mother, the wonderful Dowager Duchess, who can see what is happening to her favourite son, and can only support him however she can. Lord Peter listens to the case and then tries to prove Harriet's innocence in the limited time between the trial and the date of a retrial - needed since the jury could not agree (thanks to the presence of Peter's own Miss Climpson on the jury -- and Miss Climpson and the ladies of the Cattery play a larger role as the book continues).

The romance between Peter and Harriet begins; he introduces himself and announces he wishes to marry her, she declines politely and they continue on. The pattern of Peter proposing off the cuff and Harriet not taking him seriously begins here and continues until the end of Gaudy Night (my favourite of the series, and probably most people's favourite too. My earlier thoughts on it are here)

And there is a little more romance going on among the tense search for evidence to prove Harriet's innocence -- Wimsey's sister Mary and his police friend Inspector Parker form an alliance here too. 

There is drama, sexual tension, social commentary about the situation of single women, critique of the legal system, and lots of clever writing going on. It evokes its era -- late 20s, beginning of the 30s -- very strongly and crosses classes continually. Harriet is in prison for the whole book, and there is representation of the prison system and the way even a false arrest could then overshadow someone forever, socially speaking. Especially if that someone is considered a fast-living 'modern' woman. 

You know that Harriet's going to survive, because of course most readers know what's ahead. And yet it is hard to see how Lord Peter and Bunter are going to manage this time; the evidence is scarce on the ground. They really have to use all their tricks and all their connections here.

A really enjoyable and satisfying read, definitely one to read before Gaudy Night to get the full effects of the storyline. 

This book is also a review for the 1930 Club, hosted
by Simon at Stuck in a Book & Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings

13 comments:

  1. It's wonderful, isn't it? I love Sayers, and thanks so much for joining in with the 1930 Club! :D

    kaggsysbookishramblings

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  2. I've got a copy of one of her books in this paperback series, too. It always makes me giggle.

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    1. I found almost the entire series - just missing two titles - in this edition at the thrift store and snapped them up. The covers are so lurid! ;)

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  3. I always mean to join in the various years; this time I actually did it! So much fun to see all the reviews.

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  4. A book I enjoy too, and happen to be rereading it at the moment.

    About her declining his proposal...not so polite, or even a decline. More of a roll of her eyes and "Oh, are you another of them? That makes 47."

    Yes, 46 previous proposals have reached her in her cell. She's disappointed in him, and he's kicking himself for not having realised she'd be drawing such unwelcome attention.

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    1. I like this whole series, and the rocky path to Peter & Harriet's relationship. Quite satisfying really!

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  5. Thanks for joining in with the club! This was the first of the two Sayers novels I've read, and I do remember enjoying it. Maybe one day I'll get over my loathing for Peter Wimsey enough to try another!

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    1. Loathing?? LOL - I adore Peter. And have now read them all.

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  6. Gaudy Night is my favorite Sayers too, but this one is a close second. Will need to dig out my copy and reread soon.

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  7. I loved rereading this for the 1930 club! And one of my favourite things about it is Peter's meddling in Mary and Charles' relationship. What a good and useful brother to have in those circumstances!

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    1. He is an awfully useful brother in the face of their barriers to romance isn't he? :)

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