Thursday, March 19, 2015

Review of The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers (1934)

Lord Peter Wimsey is driving across the English fens at night in a snow storm when he loses control of his car and slides into a ditch.  Along with his manservant, Bunter, he abandons his vehicle and sets off towards nearby church bells.  They are greeted by the local rector, who offers to put them whilst his car is rescued, and Wimsey is soon invited to help ring in the new year.  Shortly after a body with a disfigured face is discovered in the wrong grave and Wimsey starts to investigate, uncovering local secrets as he tries to solve who the victim is, why they were murdered, and by whom. 

I’ve had The Nine Tailors on the shelf for quite a long time.  I’ve opened it on a couple of occasions, but was never really sure I was in the mood for an English rural cozy from the golden age of crime fiction.  Having now read the book I’m fairly confident that if I had carried on reading in the past my mood would have quickly changed.  Sayers’ book rightly deserves plaudits for being a classic crime fiction tale, ticking all the key boxes - intriguing and clever plot, a thorny puzzle, excellent contextualisation, nice characterisation and interaction between characters, a strong sense of place, and literary prose.  Essentially the tale is a whodunnit set in a small English village in the fens, centred on a Church and its bells, and the legacy of a robbery some twenty years previously.  The plotting is intricate and well executed with minimal use of plot devices, and while the tale strays a little from social realism at times it nevertheless hangs together coherently and is rounded off with an ingenious but plausible denouement.  Sayers clearly draws on her own knowledge as a daughter of a chaplain to provide context and also demonstrates a keen understanding of campanology and fen drainage.  Whilst some might find some of the detail tiresome, I thought it was fascinating.  Wimsey is an engaging detective and Sayers populates the story with a number of other well-drawn characters.  Where she excels, in my view, is in the character interactions, with an especially good ear for dialogue.  The result is some well penned and vivid scenes.  Overall, a very satisfying and entertaining read from one of the best known crime fiction authors of the first half of the twentieth century.

No comments: