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Discover the fascinating world of Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers!
About Dorothy L. Sayers
I must first plead guilty to being a huge fan, before offering my reviews on the ‘Lord Peter Wimsey’ series by Dorothy L. Sayers. There are many mystery series I enjoy, but in my humble opinion, the Lord Peter stories are beyond compare. They are quite simply some of the best mysteries ever written!
The daughter of an English clergyman, Dorothy Sayers was born at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford in 1893, and grew up in the rather pleasant rural parish of Bluntisham-cum-Earith in Huntingdonshire. In 1912 she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, and later became one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. She worked for a time in advertising, lectured and wrote poetry, wrote several popular works on the Christian faith, and considered her translation of Dante to be her greatest acheivement. As part of ‘The Socrates Club’ at Oxford, she was close friends with C. S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, while as a founding member of The Detection Club, she associated with most of the great authors of the Golden Age of British mystery fiction.
Her first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, ‘Whose Body?, was released in 1921, and proved to be immensely popular. This is where the story of Lord Peter begins, complete with his love of rare books, his struggle with shell shocked nerves, and his ambiguous feelings about the consequences of amateur sleuthing. It also introduces the Wimsey clan, his friend Inspector Parker, and the ever dependable Bunter.
Sayers’ writing has been criticized as both too shallow and as popular work dressed up in literary pretensions. Her main character, Lord Peter Wimsey, has been described as far too perfect, while Harriet Vane is often viewed as a stand-in for Sayers herself. Dorothy Sayers died suddenly of a heart condition in 1957, never having returned to writing her Wimsey novels after WWII.
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Lord Peter Wimsey Novels
A body wearing only a prince-nez has turned up in the bath of an architect working on a church project for the Dowager Duchess of Denver. At the same time, Sir Rueben Levy goes missing, causing a bit of a flutter in Peruvian oil shares. The body in the bath is not Sir Rueben, but Lord Peter is convinced that the two cases are connected. The trail finally leads Peter, and his friend Inspector Parker, to a local teaching hospital and a doctor with a rather warped sense of humour.
Lord Peter is returning from a holiday in Corsica when he receives a desperate message that his sister Mary’s fiancé, Dennis Cathcart has been shot to death at the Wimsey shooting lodge in Yorkshire – and his brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver, has been arrested and charged with the murder. Peter and Inspector Parker investigate the case and find evidence that another person was at the lodge that night, but they must first discover the secrets held by Mary and Gerald. In the end, it is not until the Duke is on trial before the House of Lords, and things are looking pretty grim, that Peter finally unravels the final clues and saves his brother from the noose.
A conversation between Wimsey and Inspector Parker about undiscovered murders, is overheard by a doctor who has his own story. A cancer patient he was treating died unexpectedly, but when he aired his doubts, the village was outraged and he was finally forced to abandon his practice. Wimsey decides to investigate and sends Miss Climpson to gather the local gossip. The patient’s great-niece had nursed her and was the intended heiress, but the old lady refused to secure her inheritance by altering her will, as required by a pending change to the law. This meant that the niece had both means and motive, but did she have the opportunity?
General Fentiman is nearing the end of his life, as is his estranged sister Lady Dormer. The general is called to a deathbed reconciliation, where Lady Dormer reveals the details of her will. If she dies first, he inherits a fortune, which his grandsons desperately need, but if he dies first, the money goes to Ann Dorland, a young artist related to Lady Dormer’s late husband. Lady Dormer dies at 10:37 AM on the 11th of November, Armistice Day, while the General is found dead in his armchair at the Bellona Club that same afternoon, raising doubt about who inherits and causing his shell shocked grandson to have a severe breakdown. Mr. Murbles brings Peter into this legal quagmire, with all parties agreeing on his unbiased investigation. One of the better Lord Peter mysteries with lots of forensic clues.
Lord Peter first meets Harriet Vane, a mystery author, and immediately falls in love. Unfortunately, she is on trial for her life, charged with murdering her former lover, Philip Boyles, and the case looks very solid. Lord Peter is determined to prove her innocence, then convince her to accept his proposal of marriage. Boyles’ death had been caused by arsenic poisoning, and other than a shared meal with his cousin, where every item was tasted by at least two people, Harriet was the only one with the opportunity to poison her ex-lover. Harriet’s trial results in a hung jury, largely thanks to Miss Climpson’s presence on the jury, but her retrial is set to begin when Peter finally uncovers the trick and forces the real murderer to confess.
Lord Peter is fishing in Galloway, Scotland, when Sandy Campbell, a talented painter and nasty drunkard, is found dead in a stream with a half-finished painting sitting on the bank. Whimsey uncovers evidence that makes it quite impossible for Campbell to have done the painting, which suggests it must be a case of murder. In one of Sayers’ most complex plots, only six other local artists could have possibly faked the painting, which means that one of them is a murderer and five are red herrings. It is a great puzzle story, told from Lord Peter’s perspective, that draws the reader deep into the process of deduction. It is probably my favourite Sayers’ novel, in a close race with ’Have His Carcase’ and “Busman’s Honeymoon’. Definitely a five star murder!
Harriet Vane is on a hiking holiday near Wilvercombe, shortly after her acquittal, when she discovers the body of a man, with his throat slit and the blood still wet, lying on an isolated rock along the shore. No footprints mar the sand, except those of Harriet and the victim. She takes a few photos and preserves some evidence before going for help, but the carcase is washed away long before the authorities arrive. Still resenting her indebtedness to Wimsey, she is reluctant to bring him into the case, but when the press alert Lord Peter, they finally join forces to investigate the case. The dead man is Paul Alexis, a resort town dance partner, who is engaged to a foolish old widow, much to the displeasure of her son. The motive is not an issue, but the means and opportunity seem quite impossible in this variation of a locked room puzzle!
Lord Peter goes undercover as an advertising copywriter at Pym’s Publicity to investigate the death of Victor Dean, a copywriter who fell down a spiral iron staircase, leaving behind a half-finished letter hinting at a serious office scandal. Wimsey plays several roles; by day he discovers a talent for the advertising business, while at night he dresses up as a masked harlequin, to gain the attention of Dian de Momerie, and her partner, Major Milligan, who are linked to a cocaine trafficking network. It is another complex Sayers’ plot, that delves deep into the criminal underworld and the dangers of blackmail, without falling victim to overt sensationalism.
Lord Peter is stranded in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul on New Year’s Eve after a car incident on the wintery roads. He is conscripted to help ring a nine-hour peal of bells, after one of the ringers goes down with influenza. This places Peter on hand when Lady Thorpe, wife of the local squire, Sir Henry, dies the next morning. This death also provides the locals with good reason to relate the tale of a jewel theft at the Thorpe manor, committed by a former butler and his accomplice, both convicted without revealing the location of the jewels. There the story ends until Easter, when Sir Henry dies and his wife’s grave is opened for his burial. An extra body is found, beyond easy identification, but thought to belong to a tramp labourer who vanished just after the New Year. Lord Peter faces a long investigation as he slowly unravels another of Sayer’s extraordinary plots.
Harriet has returned to Somerville College, Oxford, to research Sheridan Le Fanu and attend her ‘Gaudy Night’ reunion, but the college appears to be haunted by a malicious prankster, who includes poison pen epistles, obscene graffiti, nasty effigies, and the destruction of valuable book proofs in their repertoire. Harriet agrees to take on the investigation, but as the incidents gradually grow more sinister, she is eventually forced to ask for Lord Peter’s assistance. It seems someone inside the all women’s college has a serious grudge, but on the bright side, this investigation finally begins to open up new possibilities for Harriet and Peter.
Lord Peter and Harriet Vane are finally married in Oxford and plan to spend their honeymoon at Talboys, an old farmhouse from Harriet’s past, that Peter has bought her as a wedding present. The honeymoon is supposed to be a time of relaxation and learning the ways of each other, free of writing about or detecting crime. However, it soon turns into a locked room murder investigation when the former owner of the house is found murdered at the bottom of the cellar steps. The house had been locked from the inside and had not been made ready, as agreed, for the arrival of the bride and groom. Peter and Harriet’s awkward relationship is once again put to the test, but this time they truly find each other as they work together towards a quite surprising solution.
Lord Peter Wimsey Short Story Collections
“The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers”: An artist’s jealous nature leads to an investigation of his mistress’ disappearance.
“The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question”: A grammatical mistake in French unmasks a clever criminal.
“The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will”: The disposal of a dead man’s fortune depends on his penchant for cross-word puzzles.
“The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag”: A high-speed chase and a lost bag converge with a gruesome discovery.
“The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker”: A lady pleads for Lord Peter’s help in retrieving a valuable necklace, and more importantly, a portrait with an indiscreet inscription.
“The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention”: Lord Peter, visiting friends in the country, sees a ghostly carriage, hears rumors of an odd will, and deduces that foul play is afoot.
“The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran”: Lord Peter deduces the whereabouts of a cleverly hidden murder weapon.
“The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste”: Lord Peter’s famous palate is the deciding factor in acquiring wartime intelligence.
“The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head”: Viscount St. George appears as a boy as Lord Peter uses clues from a rare book to find a treasure.
“The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach”: Involving several Scotsmen, a digestive organ, and a handful of diamonds.
“The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face”: Which ends with Wimsey letting a murderer go free, at least partially because he is a good painter.
“The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba”: Lord Peter infiltrates a den of ruthless thieves; notable for unusual technology.
Lord Peter Wimsey stories:
“The Image in the Mirror”
“The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey”
“The Queen’s Square”
“The Necklace of Pearls”
Montague Egg stories:
“The Poisoned Dow ’08”
“Sleuths on the Scent”
“Murder in the Morning”
“One Too Many”
“Murder at Pentecost”
“The Man Who Knew How”
“The Fountain Plays”
Lord Peter Wimsey stories:
“In the Teeth of the Evidence”
Montague Egg stories:
“A Shot at Goal”
“The Professor’s Manuscript”
“An Arrow O’er the House”
“The Inspiration of Mr. Budd”
“The Leopard Lady”
“The Cyprian Cat”
“The Haunted Policeman”
Jill Paton Walsh ‘Lord Peter’ Novels
‘Thrones, Dominations’ is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novel, begun by Sayers, but soon abandoned. It was in fragments and notes at her death, but was later completed by Jill Paton Walsh and published in 1998. In the novel, the now happily married Lord and Lady Wimsey investigate the death of the wife of Laurence Harwell, a wealthy theatrical “angel”. Like, the Wimsey’s, the couple had appeared to still be very much in love after several years of marriage. The Wimsey’s see themselves reflected in this couple and feel compelled to investigate.
‘A Presumption of Death’ is the second ‘Lord Peter’ novel by Jill Paton Walsh. It is loosely based on The Wimsey Papers, a series of fictional letters Sayers wrote as a commentary on wartime England. Harriet has evacuated her family to Talboys, taking her two children, and three children of Lady Mary, as well as Peter’s old housekeeper, Mrs. Trapp. Peter and Bunter are away on a wartime mission when, a practice air raid leaves a young woman murdered in the local village. Superintendent Kirk recruits Harriet to solve the case, due to both wartime personnel shortages and Harriet’s investigative talent, but it is not until Peter returns to intelligence work at home, that the mystery is finally solved.
‘The Attenbury Emeralds’ recounts the original case that started Lord Peter’s amateur sleuthing career in a 1921 story of the ‘Attenbury Emeralds’, which is referred to in other Lord Peter stories. In 1951, murder is still being done by those who want to acquire these emeralds. At the same time, Peter is forced to take up the title of the Duke of Denver, following Gerald’s death from a heart attack during a fire at Duke’s Denver, which has badly damaged the old house. More of a Wimsey update than a real Sayers murder mystery!
‘The Late Scholar’ is a 2014 novel that features the new Duke of Denver, and his wife Harriet, set in a small Oxford college called St. Severin’s in the 1950s. St Severin’s is in the middle of a grand dispute over a valuable manuscript. Some want to sell the treasure to finance the purchase of land which may prove to be a good investment. Peter must make the hard decision, but this becomes extremely difficult, after the two sides become embroiled in deadly controversy. Several of the fellows unexpectedly die, and the warden disappears, all further complicated by the fact that these murders seem to copy some of Peter’s old cases, all of which Harriet has worked into the plots of her mystery novels.
The Wimsey Papers, published between November 1939 and January 1940 in ‘The Spectator’, are a series of mock letters by members of the Wimsey family. They were used by Sayers as a commentary on life in England during the early days of the war. The Wimsey Papers have been published in book form, but are extremely difficult to find.
The Documents in the Case is a 1930 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace. It is the only one of Sayers’ twelve major crime novels not to feature Lord Peter Wimsey, her most famous detective character. The novel is told primarily in the form of letters between the characters, which form the ‘documents’ of the title and also serve as a collection of evidence used by the victim’s son as part of his campaign to find justice for his father.
The Travelling Rug (2005) is a previously unpublished short detective story, probably written during the 1930’s. It was apparently planned as the first of a series to be called ‘The Situations of Judkins’. featuring a house-maid, Jane Eurydice Judkins. This book contains a printed version of the story, as well as a photographic reproduction of the manuscript held in Wheaton College Library.
One volume of several collected editions of Sayers letters. The candid personal letters in this volume are selected to emphasize the development of Sayers’ fiction writing.
Early Works by The Detection Club
The Detection Club
Two collaborative novels with each chapter by a different members of the Detection Club. Initially serialized in ‘The Listener’.
The Floating Admiral (1932)
Twelve chapters each written by a different author! Collaborative effort with various detectives. Sayers explains how Anthony Berkeley’s sleuth would tackle the “Death at Hursley Lodge’ problem!
The Anatomy Of Murder (1936)
An analysis of real life murders by various members of the detection club. Sayers’ contribution is ‘The Murder of Julia Wallace’
Also “More Anatomy of Murder“
Six Against The Yard (1936)
The perfect crime in a short story by members of the Detection Club – followed by a critical analysis, courtesy of Superintendent Cornish of Scotland Yard. Sayers’ contribution is – ‘Blood Sacrifice’.
Detection Medley (1939)
A collection of short stories by members of the Detection Club. Sayer’s contributions are ‘Striding Folly’ and ‘The Haunted Policeman’.
‘No Flowers by Request’ is another collaborative effort by The Detection Club. It is usually published with ‘Crime on The Coast’ which was not actually a detection club work. Sayers was involved in both of these works, as well as ‘Double Death‘, another collaborative work not directly sponsored by the Detection Club.
Lord Peter: The Complete Collection
The complete collection of Lord Peter Wimsey short stories.
Dorothy L. Sayers: The Complete Stories
All of Dorothy L. Sayers’ short fiction.
Clouds of Witness
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
The Five Red Herrings
Have His Carcass
Murder Must Advertise
The Nine Tailors
Lord Peter Views The Body
In The Teeth Of The Evidence
Plays, Movies and TV Adaptations
(A Lord Peter Screenplay)
From Wikipedia ‘The Silent Passenger”:
This was the first film outing for novelist Dorothy L. Sayers’ fictional amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. The Silent Passenger was an original story written by Sayers specifically for the screen but unfortunately her amateur sleuth turn out as a somewhat eccentric imbecile who solved murders in spite of himself.
To own all the Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries on DVD
buy these two great collections:
The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: The Complete Collection
This is the Ian Carmichael Lord Peter Wimsey serials that ran between 1972 and 1975. Including, Clouds of Witness, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Five Red Herrings, Murder Must Advertise and The Nine Tailors.
The Complete Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery Collection
The Edward Petherbridge episodes made in 1987, with three of the four Wimsey/Vane novels. Strong Poison, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night. Unfortunately the series could not be finished as the BBC was unable to acquire the rights for Busman’s Holiday.
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Discover the fascinating world of Lord Peter Wimsey by Dorothy Sayers!
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