Reading: Dorothy L Sayers

Reading: Dorothy L Sayers

I grew up reading Agatha Christie and watching all the different versions of her stories made to film, but although I’d heard of Dorothy L Sayers, I’m afraid I didn’t get around to reading her books until a beta reader of my book, The Butcher, the Baker, the Candlestick Taker, remarked that my writing style was quite similar to Sayers.

I took this as a great compliment, though I’d never read her, and asked which book I should read first. Whose Body?, the very first novel with Lord Peter Wimsey, was recommended and then Gaudy Night. I followed my reader’s recommendations and quickly fell in love with Sayers’s style and detective. After reading Gaudy Night I realized I was missing the first half of the love story, so I went back and read Strong Poison and then jumped ahead to Busman’s Honeymoon. (All this to say: the only books in the series that you really should read in chronological order are Strong Poison, the introduction of Harriet Vane, then Gaudy Night, then Busman’s Honeymoon.)

I particularly enjoy Lord Peter’s constant use of quotations, which he often remarks are the “curse of a classical education” but reminded me greatly of P.G. Wodehouse’s style, whom I admire and adore greatly.

Pick up any of her books with Lord Peter and you’ll see she really does have a quote for every circumstance!

I also—well, “like” is not the right word—but appreciate Lord Peter’s great flaw: his PTSD from the war. I actually cried at the end of Busman’s Honeymoon, which focuses a great deal at the end of the book on the effects of the mystery on the detective. Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s love interest, is a mystery author, and she remarks at the end of Busman’s Honeymoon on how in books one always ends with the great reveal by the detective before exiting stage right, leaving the dirty work of arresting the criminal and filing all the paperwork to the policeman. But in real life, there’s quite a bit more that must happen, including the trial and eventual hanging of the murderer. The effect this has on Lord Peter is something I’d honestly never considered when reading mysteries, but it is something I intend to analyze through my own stories.

Indeed, I think it is to Sayers’s credit that she is often remarking through her characters on the writing of crime fiction itself, and it should be noted that the fictional mystery author Ariadne Oliver—Christie’s comic representation of herself in her stories—first appeared in Cards on the Table in 1936, while Strong Poison, Harriet Vane’s introduction, was published six years earlier in 1930.

If you’ve never read Sayers’s work, I strongly recommend her. She is quite an intelligent lady and is not to be pushed aside for Christie when her stories are every bit, if not more, engaging than Poirot and Miss Marple.

My absolute favorite quote by Wimsey, as I too am an admirer of efficiency!

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