Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers

As a child, I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on (too bad I didn't know about inter-library loan then!), but for various reasons, I haven't looked very far for good mysteries as an adult. I'm not interested in scary thrillers or gory tales of horror, much less in stories riddled with sexual innuendos or more. But now I have found Lord Peter Wimsey, and I am enthralled!

I usually like to start at the beginning of a series and read through to the end, but because of book club selections I met Lord Peter Wimsey in Strong Poison which is also where Sayers introduces Harriet Vane. I'm not too concerned about mixing up chronology, for in this case it simply means that I have many more novels to enjoy! I'm afraid they could be addicting.

Sayers is a remarkable writer, as these snippets will reveal:

"There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood." (p. 1 - first line of Chapter 1)

"Such a Victorian attitude, too, for a man with advanced ideas. He for God only, she for God in him, and so on. Well, I'm glad you feel like that about it."
"Are you? It's not going to be exactly helpful in the present crisis."
"No; I was looking beyond that. What I mean to say is, when all this is over, I want to marry you, if you can put up with me and all that." (44 - What a pick-up line!!!)

"What a clear mind you have," said Miss Climpson.
"When I die you will find 'Efficiency' written on my heart." (53)

"The next day dawned bright and fair, and Wimsey felt a certain exhilaration as he purred down to Tweedling Parva. 'Mrs. Merdle' the car...was sparking merrily on all twelve cylinders, and there was a touch of frost in the air. These things conduce to high spirits." (59)

"If anybody ever marries you, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle," said Harriet, severely.
"A humiliating reason, but better than no reason at all." (128)

"Oh, come," said Wimsey, "you can't think that, Helen. Damn it, she writes detective stories and in detective stories virtue is always triumphant. They're the purest literature we have." (132 - don't just love Sayers self-implicating wit, there?)

And finally, such nice structure, the final chapter opens with, "There were golden chrysanthemums on the judge's bench; they looked like burning banners." (259)

Some books simply would not translate well to the screen. I don't think A Prayer for Owen Meany would (and the author John Irving agreed with that, though it was attempted in the film Simon Birch, which I haven't seen), but Strong Poison practically begs to be acted - the wit, the humor, the settings and descriptions, not mention Lord Wimsey's proposals to Harriet Vane - it would be perfect. So I was delighted to find that the BBC did do a adaptation in the late 80's that comes in a 3 volume DVD set:
Now I'll just have to finish the books that much faster so that I can watch the series!

If you've read Lord Wimsey (or even if you haven't) please comment and leave your suggestions for other good, clean mystery novels.


M said...

The movies aren't great so don't get your hopes up. Mostly I thought the actors didn't fit my conceptions of Lord Peter and Harriet. But of course the movie is rarely as good as the book. :-)

I have lots of opinions on and recommendations for mysteries (I've been reading them [especially British mysteries] since Jr High) but if I'm not careful I'll write paragraphs and paragraphs ... so ask me on Sunday!


Calon Lan said...

I actually enjoyed the movies. No, Peter didn't look like I had pictured him, but the actor really embraced the role, and I felt that the screenplays showed real respect for the stories.

As for clean mysteries, I'd look into Ellis Peters (the Brother Cadfael stories) and P.D. James. The latter are a bit...intense...at times, but the writing is exceptional. As for the former, once you get past the idea of a 12th-century monk/herbalist solving mysteries, they're truly extraordinary. And Derek Jacobi did some great work in the movie versions.

Page Turner said...

Mariel, I'll definitely pick your brain about your favorite mystery writers. I'll just have to be careful, since reading is so addicting. I wouldn't want to neglect the children, you know!

Calon Lan, thanks for the recommendations. A 12-century monk/herbalist sounds intriguing, especially if there's any theology thrown into the mix. Medieval theology is one of my favorites to study.

I guess I'll have to watch the BBC series to make my own judgment! ( :