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04 December 2016

Book Review - Busman's Honeymoon

Busman's Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsey, #13)Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I started my current Sayers odyssey with Lord Peter, a collection of short stories that ends with a story that has Lord Peter and Harriet ensconced at Talboys with their children, I didn't find reading this book before I read the Vane trilogy (Strong Poison / Have His Carcase / Gaudy Night to be too egregious. Maybe when I finally get to the trilogy, I should read it backwards.

It's not even a mystery, really. In an acknowledgement forward, Sayers herself calls it a sentimental comedy. "It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story. But to the characters involved, the detective-interest might well seem an irritating intrusion upon their love story. If there is but a ha'porth of detection to an intolerable deal of saccharine, let the occasion be the excuse."

And so the body isn't found until one-third of the pages have been read.

Sayers occupies herself instead with the problem of how Peter and Harriet and Bunter are going to be now that their lives, and their roles, have changed. Now that Peter is a husband and Harriet has a husband ("a repressive word, that, when you came to think of it, compounded with a grumble and a thump") and Bunter has a m'lady.

The three are as unpredictable as ever (one character tries to "...assess the financial relationship between Peter's title, his ancient and shabby blazer, his manservant and his wife's non-committal tweeds...") and plopping them down the English countryside to deal with a cast of colorful characters is fun reading.

It's supposed to be a honeymoon, but the house isn't ready, there's no food and, oops, there's a dead body in the cellar. The stock characters that seem to always populate English villages circulate through Talboys' tackily-furnished sitting room, telling their stories, imposing their will, and, periodically, crying ("Harriet, who was as a rule good at handkerchiefs, discovered to her annoyance that on this particular morning she had provided herself only with an elegant square of linen, suitable for receiving such rare and joyful drops as might be expected on one's honeymoon.")

Sayers is, as I've come to expect, up to her usual tricks, quoting, often without citation, Shakespeare, Donne, Keats, and more. There are also long passages written in French. One wonders what else one is missing because one doesn't know that one is missing it.

But one keeps reading. And I am certain I understand more now than I did 20 years ago. Just think of how much more I'll see an appreciate in another 20 years!

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Book Review - Murder Must Advertise

Murder Must Advertise (Lord Peter Wimsey, #10)Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the mid-1990s, I went through a Sayers phase. Bought several of her books in paperback after my university professor uncle gifted me with one as we wandered through a bookstore together in Ann Arbor.

When I signed up for Goodreads in the mid-2000s, I rated this with five stars, based on my memory of reading it 10 years prior.

Now in 2016, I'm re-reading my way though Sayers because I live in a place with no English-language bookstores or libraries; the books I have are the ones I packed in my suitcase. There are weight limits on suitcases, of course, so only trade paperbacks made the cut, like these now aged editions of Sayers.

I don't have the whole Sayers series. Every time I went to the used book store, I'd scan the shelves, hoping to pick up copies of the titles I was missing. But I like the look of these editions--the design and the art-deco elegance--so much more than other editions I've seen, editions that make Sayers look like Danielle Steele or Grisham. I have spent half a lifetime rejecting "inferior" editions of Sayers.

That might be one of the things I'd use a time-machine to go back and tell myself not to do. These grey editions, though attractive from a cover perspective, have more typos than I would wish and are made with substandard paper, cardstock, and binding glue. Several of them have disintegrated in my hands as I read them.

But I digress.

So far, in my jaunt through Sayers, I've read Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Five Red Herrings. I must admit, as I was reading Five Red Herrings, I started to wonder why I became so enthralled with Sayers in the first place.

So when I picked this one up and saw my 25 year old five-star review, I was prepared to laugh at my naive self.

But I didn't. I still love this book. The five stars stay. The Sayers Abides.

And, again, like most of the mysteries I love by Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, the mystery is less important to me than the world created within the framework of the mystery. They are novels that use a puzzle to drive them, rather than a romance or a war or a family conflict.

Lord Peter, the aristocratic dilettante, is undercover at a 1930s advertising agency filled with clever fast-talkers that one can see fitting in to the His Girl Friday newsroom. Of course, Lord Peter turns out to be a fine copywriter and even launches a legendary ad campaign in his moments at the agency. He also gets to show off his cricket skills in an extended cricket match scene which, in the end, has nothing to do with anything.

At first, Lord Peter finds the whole advertising game distasteful. "I think this is an awfully immoral job of ours. I do, really. Think how we spoil the digestions of the public," he says to another copywriter.

"Ah, yes," the copywriter answers. "But think how earnestly we strive to put them right again. We undermine 'em with one hand and build 'em up with the other. The vitamins we destroy in the canning, we restore in Revito, the roughage we remove from Peabody's Piper Parritch we make up into a package and market as Bunbury's Breakfast Bran; the stomachs we ruin with Pompaye, we re-line with Peplets to aid digestion. And by forcing the damnfool public to pay twice over--once to have its food emasculated and once to have the vitality put back again, we keep the wheels of commerce turning and give employment to thousands--including you and me."

There's even this ode to the IKEA philosophy before IKEA was a twinkle in Ingvar Kamprad's eye.

"They've carried the unit system to the pitch of a fine art. You can sit on a Darling chair, built up in shilling and sixpenny sections and pegged with patent pegs at sixpence a hundred. If Uncle George breaks the leg, you buy a new leg and peg it in. If you guy more clothes than will go into your Darling chest of drawers, you unpeg the top, purchase a new drawer for half a crown, peg it on and replace the top."

There are laugh-out-loud moments, like when Parker admonishes Peter with, "Never mind the generalizations. They always lead to bad reasoning."

Or when Lord Peter engages a n'er-do-well errand boy to be his junior detective;
"'Wild 'orses,' declared Ginger, finally and completely losing his grasp of the aitches with which a careful nation had endowed him at the expense of the tax-payer, 'wild 'orses wouldn't get a word out o' me when I've give me word to 'old me tongue.'"

But more than anything, Murder Must Advertise reminded me that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or get worse.

"No doubt it was because agreement on any point was so rare in a quarrelsome world, that the fantastical announcements asserted it so strongly and so absurdly. Actually, there was no agreement, either on trivialities like tea or on greater issues. In this place, where from morning till night a staff of over a hundred people hymned the praises of thrift, virtue, harmony, eupepsia, and domestic contentment, the spiritual atmosphere was clamorous with financial storm, intrigue, dissension, indigestion and marital infidelity."

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