Sunday, December 21, 2014

Strong Poison

- But, by the way, you're bearing in mind, aren't you, that I've had a lover?
- Oh, yes.  So have I, if it comes to that.  In fact, several. It's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody.  I can produce quite good testimonials.

There's something faintly ridiculous about Lord Peter Wimsey.  He's a bright, active gentleman who hides that behind the mask of a foolish, idle aristocrat.  Of course his first proposal to Harriet Vane wouldn't be the typical dinner-and-roses affair.  Instead, it's the postscript to Lord Peter's promise to find Harriet innocent of murder.  Someone killed her former lover, Peter Boyes, with arsenic a few weeks after Harriet bought some while researching her most recent mystery novel.  Except for the coffee Harriet had served him, nothing he'd eaten in the prior 12 hours had been eaten by him alone (and only the omelette he shared with his cousin, Norman Urquart had been eaten by only one person).  A stroke of luck (and, to be honest, coincidence) saved Harriet from the scaffold - Miss Katherine Alexandra Climpson, proprietor of Lord Peter's investigative secretarial service was on the jury and just didn't think Harriet Vane killed Phillip Boyes.  The hung jury gave Lord Peter a month to investigate.

If Harriet didn't kill Boyes, then who did?  Lord Peter, through one of those potential testimonial-givers, meets Harriet's and Boyes's bohemian crowd who agree that the psychology of the case is wrong - but don't know who else could have killed Boyes.  Upon meeting Boyes's father, he learns of a possible motive - a scandalous great-aunt may have left him money, and Norman Urquart, an attorney, handled the estate.  With the help of Miss Climpson (who impersonates a medium to spy on an impressionable nurse) and an experienced secretary placed by Miss Climpson in Urquart's office, Lord Peter finds the motive and deduces the (now scientifically discredited) means.  While she relies a bit too much on coincidence, Sayers wrote, as usual, a tightly plotted and highly amusing mystery.  Once again, re-reading allowed me to really appreciate the humor in Miss Climpson's highly emphasized letter to her boss, and I can just imagine the apparently fluffy-brained spinster enjoying her evenings as One Who Speaks to the Dead.

No comments:

Post a Comment