Classic Mystery: Dorothy L. Sayers

Do you want to join the legions of mystery readers who delight in Lord Peter Wimsey — amateur detective, aristocrat, musician, and sophisticated man-about-town? Look no further than the Mystery collection at Heights Library. These classic novels by Dorothy L. Sayers are set in England in the 1920s and 1930s. There is as much pleasure to be had in the excellent writing, terrific character development, and period details as in the solving of the crime.

The first book in the series, Whose Body? , introduces readers to the brilliant Lord Peter, who is distracted from attending a rare book auction by a call to a bizarre murder scene. The police have been summoned to the apartment of a Mr. Phipps, who has found a dead body, clad only in a pair of pince-nez eyeglasses (and there’s period detail for you!), in his bathtub. Coincidentally, a famous London financier has disappeared overnight, but his is not the corpse in the tub. It’s up to Lord Peter to connect the two crimes and solve the mystery. This first in the series also introduces Bunter, Lord Peter’s manservant; Detective-Inspector Parker, Lord Peter’s contact in the police force: and the Dowager Duchess, Lord Peter’s mother and one of my favorite characters in fiction.

If you want to dive into the middle of the series to see Lord Peter when he’s really hit his stride as an amateur detective, you should read Murder Must Advertise, which works well as a standalone and is also an intriguing look at the workplace in 1930s London. Lord Peter is called in to pose as an employee at Pym’s Publicity, where a young man has recently fallen to his death down a spiral iron staircase. There are some suspicious circumstances both around Mr. Dean’s fall and his activity while working as a copywriter in the firm. This book is tremendously successful in its portrayal of minor characters, both in the people who work at Pym’s and in the criminal element which emerges as Lord Peter investigates Victor Dean’s mysterious death.

If you’re partial to romance with your classic detective stories, the later books in the series include Miss Harriet Vane, an Oxford University graduate and writer of detective fiction. Harriet first appears in Strong Poison, when she is on trial for the murder of her former lover, novelist Phillip Boyes.  She has an unfortunate habit of going out and purchasing lethal poisons as research for her crime novels, which serves to bring suspicion against her. Lord Peter decides he is going to prove her innocence by finding out how the murder was really committed. This involves a lot of planting of spies and many complex lines of investigation. It’s an intriguing story that highlights the beginning of a delightfully unconventional love affair.

I cannot tell a lie; I adore Lord Peter and admire Harriet Vane. Try a Dorothy L. Sayers novel and see what decades of mystery fans have been talking about!

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