Dorothy L. Sayers: The hen in the Wodehouse
When you think of amateur sleuths, and the Golden Age of crime fiction, it's easy to think about the discovery of a body in the theatre, dowager Duchesses losing their diamonds or a country house murder. Whether being bundled upon by aristocratic (and eccentric) Bertie Wooster, being supported and usually saved by his loyal valet Jeeves, who were the lovable characters from P.G. Wodehouse. However, Bertie is rivalled by the charming, likeable and generous Lord Peter Wimsey; the creation of crime writer Dorothy L. Sayers.
Sayers set her series of mystery novels and short stories featuring English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey between the First and Second World Wars; which remain popular to this day. What we love is that Sayers once commented that Lord Peter was actually a mixture of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster, so there isn't too much to worry about when it comes to P.G. Wodehouse.
Whose Body was the first Lord Peter Wimsey book and ended with Gaudy Night; in total he featured in 11 novels and two sets of short stories. Sayers had a handful of critics that found Wimsey to be too perfect and her plots too fond of British stereotypes, but we disagree. The stories of Wimsey are at their best when they are at their most English. Her books are imaginative, erudite and romantic, not gritty and realistic like some of the more modern day crime novels.
When you delve into her novels, you will always find that it is her description of natures that really pulls you into the story, "the rain streamed down remorselessly over the laurel leaves, stiff and shiny as mackintoshes."
Sayers assumes that her readers have questing minds, so that we are able to be part of the reckless driving of her characters, the tension of courtrooms and the eeriness of omens on country roads. What we found is that in all of the Wimsey stories, Sayers is lifted by something that Wodehouse has in spades, a sense of joyfulness in her prose. Only Wimsey would nickname somebody 'Gherkins' and delay his appearance until we're well into the story, seemingly wandering in on a whim.
What we love about her mysteries is that they are so wide-ranging in their subject matter, including vintage wines and the rules of poker. While we enjoy the more modern crime fiction like that of Inspector Morse, it dwells in degradation and pain, which is something that does not fit with the world created by Sayers, or her crime counterpart in Wodehouse. She acknowledges the tragedy with which we become enthralled, her stories have grander schemes in mind, which are to entertain and enlighten her readers with suspense, subtlety and overall a sense of humour.
It's easy to make friends with Wimsey and in some ways, he is an easier 'chum' to follow in his mystery solving in some ways than Wodehouse's Wooster. While they both hail from the aristocracy, Wimsey is more together, he is witty and charismatic, but without being the clown; yet both rely on their trusted valets. However, the fact that Sayers based her sleuth on Wooster, means that it could be seen as the improved version.
We hope that you chose to bring a little Wimsey into your life, as we think he's a great companion for a rainy day, on a sun lounger, or on your bedside table. You don't have to be a murder mystery geek to enjoy these books, so happy sleuthing.
To find out more about another of our great British crime writers, you can visit the Dorothy L. Sayers society website.