Title: Strong Poison
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Lord Peter is an English aristocrat, circa 1930, who solves mysteries basically because he's good at it and has nothing better to do. He strikes me as a cross between Holmes and Bertie Wooster of the P.G. Wodehouse novels. In fact, this book references both of those other works. Fortunately, he is more grounded than Sherlock and far more useful than Bertie.
Strong Poison begins in a courtroom. Harriet Vane, a successful mystery novelist, stands accused of murdering her lover. Nearly everyone is convinced of her guilt but Peter is sure she didn't do it. When a hung jury suspends the trial, Peter pledges his services to the accused. To make things more interesting, he's in love with her, though as the story opens, he hasn't actually met her yet.
As far as the mystery itself goes, I figured most of it out fairly early. The story's appeal, though, is more in the characters than the plot. Peter's delightfully zany, if brilliant. Harriet is understated, yet charming - a perfect complement. Bunter is Jeeves to Wimsey's Wooster. Police inspector Parker is the practical everyman, also in love with Peter's sister.
The most clever part of this series, though, is the "cattery." Peter maintains a typing service - I suppose an early version of a temp agency - employing women to use as his own stable of spies. If nothing else, I think it was a brilliant way for a woman of Sayers's era to involve more female characters in the dirty work of the narrative. Miss Climpson, who runs the cattery on Peter's behalf, is an engaging personality in her own right and plays a particularly important role in putting the pieces together for the current case.
I'm definitely up for more of this series. I am inclined to go back to the beginning. Strong Poison was, in fact, the sixth of the series published by Sayers, though the first to introduce Harriet Vane. Now I want to know the established principals better, especially Peter, so it's back to the origin story. Our shelves are bursting with mystery novels so it's a genre that could keep me occupied for years to come.
For my half of the swap, I gave my wife my Coffeehouse book from last month: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (reflection here).
Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month. This month's link list is below. I'll keep it open until the end of the day. I'll post July's tomorrow. Meetings are the last Friday of each month. Next gathering is July 28th.