Thursday, August 04, 2005

Lord Peter Wimsey

My favorite fictional sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, is the literary creation of Dorothy L. Sayers. Lord Peter is an aristocrat who needed a diversion after fighting in the Great War so he took up detecting. He is fabulously wealthy, wise, and witty. In each book in the series, he solves "impossible to solve" mysteries with the help of a terrific cast of supporting characters including the perfect "gentleman’s gentleman," Mervyn Bunter (who is probably related to Jeeves), the working-class police inspector and reader of evangelical commentaries, Charles Parker, and of course, the surprising love interest–Miss Harriet Vane.

Dorothy L. Sayers was a total genius. She was a contemporary at Oxford and friend of C.S. Lewis (of Chronicles of Narnia fame) and J.R.R. Tolkien (of Lord of the Rings fame). She had a wonderful knack for dialogue (I love to read these books out loud to my wife on "couch dates."), details (her mastery of her background research is unbelievable), and drama (I return again and again to these books for the stories). And best of all, embedded in each story is a latent argument for a Christian worldview. I was first exposed to these books at the Bethlehem Conference for Pastors! Sin, death, redemption, truth, love, romance, mankind and many more Christian themes are all dealt with in a biblical way in the Lord Peter canon. There is lots to chew on in these pages.

Whenever anyone asks how to get started reading Lord Peter, this is what I tell them:

1. Whose Body? The first book and the place to start. It’s a ripping good story but not yet up to Sayers’ eventual excellence.

2. Clouds of Witness. Here we meet most of Peter’s family. It’s a fun story and a good mystery. Lots of drama.

3. Unnatural Death. The original British title was "The Dawson Pedigree." I enjoy it every time I read it, even though the mystery is completely and totally improbable.

4.  The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.  The "unpleasantness" is quite a way to refer to a death!  A very satisfying murder[?] mystery.

5. Strong Poison. One of the absolute best. Harriet Vane is introduced–and in what a shocking way! This is a satisfying read no matter how many times over. I had belly-laughs reading it out loud to Heather when we read it the first time.

6. The Five Red Herrings. This is the only book that is fairly difficult to read out loud because of a number of Scottish accents. It’s an excellent mystery, but a little shy on the character development and lacking the humor of the others.

7. Have His Carcase. This is the best of the mysteries and contains a rip-roaring love story sub-plot to boot. You’re almost to the last page before it all falls together, even though all the clues are there from the start. I enjoy it more each time.

8. Murder Must Advertise. I think this is my all-around favorite. Read it to see why.

9. The Nine Tailors. This is probably her most famous book. It’s a little on the darker side and the humor is intentionally understated. A very good read.

10. Gaudy Night. This is really a Harriet Vane mystery with Lord Peter as a chief supporting character. Very, very different than the rest of the canon. It’s more about Oxford and the female mind than about a murder mystery–and yet the mystery element is there and drives the plot. Heather and I are reading it again right now and are loving the "romance" part of the story.

11. Busman’s Honeymoon. In one book, the perfect ending to a perfect career.

12. Lord Peter. This is the complete collection of Lord Peter Wimsey short stories. For fun, I recommend that you read it last and fit in the stories into the time-line of the novels as you read it. Save the last for last: Tallboys featuring Mr. Puffet’s Peaches. Some of the stories are brilliant and some are just a silly attempt at a story.

Also, if you fall in love with Dorothy L. Sayers, I also recommend:

1. Hangman’s Holiday. Short stories about Montague Egg, a wine salesman detective (also in that volume are some Lord Peter shorts that are also in Lord Peter).

2. The Documents in the Case. This is a depressing murder mystery told with co-author Robert Eustace that unfolds through a series of letters and documents that are in a detective’s case file.

Lots more about Dorothy L. Sayers can be found at the Dorothy Sayers Society Website. If you get really really hooked, you can even join a Yahoo group dedicated to discussing the Lord Peter mysteries (1,087 members at this point!).

Happy reading!


Where'd you get the great portrait of Lord Peter?

Have you read Thrones, Dominations or Presumption of Death? I almost gave up on Thrones, Dominations because I couldn't handle my grief over the fact that it wasn't Sayers writing it, but I'm so glad I stuck it out because Walsh did a great job and Presumption of Death was great too.


Thanks for visiting us here at Hot Orthodoxy.

I just "googled" up the Wimsey portrait. It is really a good likeness, isn't it? I think it captures the character.

Yes, I've read both of the Walsh books, too. I didn't think they rose to the level of the Sayer's novels, but for love of the characters they were fun to read.

My wife and I just finished Gaudy Night last night again (for the Nth time). What a delight!


Is this the chronological order, or is this the Matt Mitchell recommended order?

Just dropped in on your site and saw the Peter Wimsey post. Unbelievable, another church planter in the Free Church, who loves Calvin, reading, theology and Dorothy Sayers. We really have to get to know one another brother. Maybe this year at the National Conference.