Yes, yes, this is a wee bit late, and I do apologize for that. Life has been crazy, and blogging has to take second place to school, family, and working. One day late isn’t too horrible, though, is it?
As I said this Monday, I’m really excited for today’s Fireside Fridays. I’m going to provide a brief list of what I read in April and then discuss in more depth an amazing new author I discovered.
What I Read this Month:
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ~ Mark Twain (the first Twain book I’ve actually enjoyed)
- All the Light We Cannot See ~ Anthony Doerr (writing that literally took my breath away)
- House of Mirth ~ Edith Wharton (insightful, fascinating, and slightly depressing)
- The Great Gatsby ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald (a reread during which I got so much more out of it than the first time—what a masterpiece)
- selections from Mein Kampf ~ Adolf Hitler (very interesting to get inside his mind and learn his history; the margin is scribbled with my fiery responses to many of his statements, and I wish he’d back up more of his claims)
What I Really Want to Talk about Today:
Actually, the list above is a bit of a lie, because I read several other books in April, all by a fantastic author that has quickly become one of my favorites. Are you ready?
Dorothy L. Sayers. English mystery writer, member of the Inklings (yes, the group that included Tolkien and Lewis), playwright, essayist, and poet, Christian, graduate of Oxford. Considered her best work to be her translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, but best known for her crime series featuring the detective Lord Peter Wimsey, which is what I’ll be focusing on.
Why do I like her? I’m not exactly the mystery person type—I’ve enjoyed some Agatha Christie, couldn’t get into Sherlock Holmes, and was terrified of Nancy Drew as a girl. Well, not Nancy herself, just her stories. In any case, I wasn’t really sure that I’d like her books, but since she came so highly recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust, I figured I’d give her a try. And boy, am I glad I did.
If I had to come up with one reason for why I’ve enjoyed her mysteries so much, it would be this: The crime plot is incredible, of course, but her mysteries are so much more than mysteries. Her novels are not just mysteries with people and places and themes added to fatten them up; they are tales of people and places and themes that happen to have a fascinating mystery woven in. The crime plots are just as—or more—complex as Agatha Christie’s, but Sayers adds so much more description, character development, and meaning to her books. They are richer, deeper.
Another one of my reasons for liking her is the unique places and themes she deals with. Whether it’s a painting and fishing town in Scotland, an advertising office, a church in England’s fens, Oxford, or an English beach, Sayers’ novels each occur in a different setting that heavily influences the plot. I loved learning about all these places and was impressed by how ingeneously she used the quirks of each setting to enhance the events. I shouldn’t have been surprised, either, that Sayers, an Oxford graduate and lifelong academic, knew so much stuff. I have learned so much about bell-ringing (did you know how complicated and mathematical it is?), arsenic, the Bolshevik Revolution and Russian royalty, different painting styles, what it’s like to work in an advertising business … the list is endless.
A huge part of my delight in Sayers comes from her dialogue. Each character, even the most minor ones that only appear in one scene, has their own distinct style of speech, and while dialect can be frustrating, Sayers uses it to enhance the story and bring it to life all the more. She writes some of the most realistic dialogue I’ve ever read, and best of all, it often makes me laugh.
And Wimsey. Lord Peter Wimsey. He’s an amateur detective who solves mysteries simply because it amuses him. Casual, cheery, energetic, bon vivant, the sort who says things like “cheerio,” and proclaims, “Wherever trouble turns up, there am I at the bottom of it” (Murder Must Advertise). He is extremely clever and possesses an extraordinary knowledge about a wide range of affairs. While he is impressive in numerous areas, from his craftiness, wittiness, and agility, he isn’t perfect—for instance, in Nine Tailors, it takes a simple country parson to solve a puzzle that he can’t. However, this just adds to his attractiveness. And oh, does he make me laugh. Actually, now that I think about it, he really reminds of Bard Eanrin from Tales of Goldstone Woods. That’s definitely a good thing.
So, before I waste the rest of your time raving about Dorothy Sayers, let me list which books of hers I’ve read and explain why I liked each (Note: this is the order I read them in, though it’s necessarily the “correct” order.)
- Five Red Herrings ~ An artist has been murdered, and there are six other artists that would have reason to kill him. It is up to Lord Peter Wimsey to figure out who it is. While in Agatha Christie books, I try to keep a list of who I think could have done it, this book was so complicated, I gave up that idea. However, it all made perfect sense in the end, and I loved the unique setting of the painting-fishing community in Scotland. It also featured one of the most creative ways that I’ve seen to solve the mystery.
- Strong Poison ~ A detective writer is accused of murdering her lover, and Wimsey determines to prove her innocent, although there is no evidence of that being the case. This plot just seemed so impossible—how was he ever going to prove that she wasn’t guilty? It’s a wonderful showcase of Sayers’ genius. Plus, it was fun to see Wimsey in love. 😉
- Nine Tailors ~ Valuable emeralds are stolen in Fenchurch St. Paul, famous for its church’s fine bells, and several years later, when Wimsey is stranded there in a storm, a dead body is discovered in the graveyard. Who is he, who is the murderer, and where are those emeralds? It wasn’t my favorite in terms of what they were trying to discover—I just didn’t really care about the emeralds or who the man was. However, I loved meeting the (usually) wholesome inhabitants of the smalle town and learning about bell-ringing.
- Have His Carcase ~ Harriet Vane hears a scream on the beach and finds a dead body on a rock in the water, with blood pooling around it. After snapping photos of the evidence, she sets off to solve the mystery of the death, with some help with Lord Peter Wimsey, of course. I loved seeing Harriet and Peter work together, with their different detective styles and matching wit. It also featured one of my favorite problems—murder or suicide?—and the conclusion was fascinating, especially for someone like me who is intrigued by genetics.
- Clouds of Witness ~ Lord Peter’s brother is accused of murdering his guest, and Lord Peter takes up the baffling case to prove his brother’s innocence. I love how it dealt with families, and I admire Lord Peter for being loyal to his, though some of them aren’t the most wonderful people ever. I really enjoyed the conclusion to the whole thing—Wimsey’s genius never fails to amaze—and besides, there was a great romance.
So, there you go! Have you ever heard or read anything by Dorothy Sayers? And what did you read last month? I’d love to know!