Dorothy L. Sayers Unnatural Death….and a talk to come

Dorothy L. Sayers created one of the most popular detectives in the 1920s and 1930s, Lord Peter Wimsey. A man that could have been dismissed as a fashionable twit, he instead opts to become an amateur detective, of the very best type. He does make leaps of deduction which stretch belief on occasions, but essentially there is a lot of dashing about in fast (for the day) cars, fascinating characters and interesting locations. The methods of murder are various and thoughtful; the plots are definitely well worked out. There is also a lot of social comment and historical information to be found in these novels, and anyone with and interest in the period would be well rewarded by reading how some of the people lived.

Of course, for many the novels get more interesting (and arguably better balanced) when the character of Harriet Vane is introduced in Strong Poison.  Certainly I find them more enjoyable when Peter has someone else, as bright and intelligent as he is, to argue with through the cases. There has been a lot of discussion that Harriet is in fact Dorothy herself, and I’m not sure that’s any bad thing. Gaudy Night  does take some reading, but I think it has to be approached as different from the murder mysteries which proceed it.

Unnatural Death (1927)   is a lesser known novel of Lord Peter’s adventures; at least I do not believe it was filmed for television, with either Ian Carmichel or Edward Petherbridge, in the 70s or 80s. It features a lot of charging round the countryside and more than one murder, arguably. Peter does a little work in disguise, and there is some protest from Parker as the senior policeman in the case as he   gets dumped with the more boring bits. There is a lot of coincidence to contend with, as well as some unlikely motivation for some events, but essentially it is an interesting read of its type. It does hinge on a legal argument which I found intriguing, but it is a bit obscure. There is an argument for a family tree here, as well as some wincing over attitudes to race and gender. It is a good read, and for Peter Wimsey completists  essential to the development of Peter’s character.

I enjoyed the television versions on video, and the good news now is that you can get them all on dvd. Really enjoyable period pieces, as of course even the recordings are last century…

Image result for ian carmichael

The talk? later in June I’m giving a talk on the spirituality of Dorothy L. Sayers, which is proving an interesting challenge. She wrote some very interesting Christian plays and essays, which are a little more challenging than even the most obscure murder. My friend Michel Hampel is doing a lecture on Sayers at St Paul’s Cathedral over the next few days, so it may be worth investigating. Of course, she wrote a lot of the advertising for Guinness Toucan…


And the two men who brought Lord Peter to life…..


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