Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey 2) by Dorothy L Sayers

My last Wimsey…

😐 😐

The fiancé of Lady Mary Wimsey is found shot dead outside the Yorkshire shooting lodge her brother, the Duke of Denver, has taken for the season. The subsequent inquest finds that Cathcart’s death was murder, and points the finger firmly in the direction of the Duke. Lady Mary had found the Duke standing over the corpse of Captain Denis Cathcart as she had been on her way out of the house at 3 a.m., for reasons she refuses to specify. Added to this is the indisputable fact that the Duke and Cathcart had had a quarrel earlier in the evening, loud enough to be overheard by the various guests staying in the house. When his faithful batman Bunter shows him the report of the murder in the newspaper, Lord Peter Wimsey, brother of the Duke and Lady Mary, rushes to Yorkshire to save his brother from the gallows.

I’m not a fan of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories, but this is one of the books in my Murder, Mystery, Mayhem challenge to read the novels listed in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. Happily for me, it’s one of the earliest books in the series, the second, before the arrival on the scene of Ms Sayer’s tedious alter-ego, Harriet Vane, and Peter’s interminable courtship of her. Unhappily, the snobbery which infests her books is already present – cultural, intellectual, economic, geographic: you name it, she’s snobbish about it.

Still, at least at this early stage Sayers does concentrate more on the detection than on Lord Peter’s tiresome character, though there’s more than enough of that too. He’s the type of amateur detective to whom the dull police are delighted to hand over their cases, especially this one, since the main desire of the policeman in charge of the case is to languish after the lovely Lady Mary, whose exalted birth means she is far above the reach even of this cultured, well-educated gentlemanly plod.

Challenge details:
Book: 19
Subject Heading: The Great Detectives
Publication Year: 1926

I’m by no means alone in often mentioning the sexism that pervades early detective fiction, but it always stands out particularly for me when the author is female (which, ironically, is quite sexist of me, I suppose). I can’t help feeling that Dorothy L didn’t think much of her fellow women. Here we have a wife so dull she apparently deserves to be cheated on, a couple of mistresses, one out for sex, the other out for money, and a dippy aristocratic type dabbling with those outrageous socialists who threaten the moral fabric of Good Old England, with their uncouthness and revolutionary ideas (like preventing the rich from exploiting the poor). Fortunately, all socialists are, as we know, snivelling cowards, plus their table manners and dress sense are terrible, so she’ll surely be saved from her girly silliness and be “persuaded” to marry a pillar of the establishment and breed up new generations of true blue-blooded Englishmen, just as she should!

Dorothy L Sayers

Oh dear, my reverse snobbery is showing again – I do apologise! What I meant to say is that the book is quite entertaining in some respects, and some parts of it are well written and quite atmospheric, such as when Wimsey and Bunter find themselves lost on the moor in a fog. But the plotting is fundamentally silly and the solution is a major cop-out, and, in case you haven’t spotted it, I do find Lord Peter’s insufferable superiority… well… insufferable. Thankfully this is the only Wimsey novel on Martin Edwards’ list, so I shall be spared reading any more of them, and you will be spared reading any more reviews of them. Win-win!

PS If you’ve never read a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, in fairness I feel I should say my reaction is purely allergic. Many, many people love these books, and you really shouldn’t rely on my opinion of them.

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37 thoughts on “Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey 2) by Dorothy L Sayers

  1. I do love these books, even though I can certainly see where all your criticisms come from – I can’t help it, though, they are some of my favourites. I have mostly found the later ones a bit less snobbish, but Lord Peter’s money and connections definitely act as a deus ex machina at times throughout the series.

    • So many people love them, and I wish I did too, but I could never enjoy them even when I was young and maybe less conscious of all the snobbery. But I’d hate to put new readers off her – it’s definitely just one of those author/reader mismatches that happen from time to time…

  2. I re-read Sayers books for a course some years ago and found that as far as I was concerned they hadn’t stood the test of time. I got on better with this than with some of the later ones. The Five Red Herrings and The Nine Tailors I found practically unreadable.

    • I tried to read another one a few years ago for some Goodreads readalong and abandoned it after about twenty pages. Can’t remember the title but it’s the one that happens in Scotland, and has all the train timetables – ugh! I know loads of people love her but I fear I’ll never understand why…

  3. Having recently finished the first Wimsey (Whose Body?) I am a recent convert eagerly waiting some spare time to read #2. So all I can say to your excellently argued and sensible review is ….. 😛

  4. Sayers isn’t for everyone, FictionFan, no doubt about that. For me, personally, it’s the ‘isms’ that have always kept me from hugely enjoying her work, ‘though I do think I like some of her stories better than you do. I think she’s an example of those authors whose work you either really like or really don’t like – not a lot of neutrality, if I can put it that way.

    • Apart from sexism, she didn’t get much chance to practice other ‘isms’ in this one, but I remember coming across them in others of her books. In this one she kinda dismissed all Yorkshire people as uncouth savages. She really strikes me as someone who’s not really a people-person… 😉 I know other people – sensible people! – love her, but for the life of me I can’t see why…

  5. I don’t mind Wimsey but I also agree with all your criticisms! I’ve read this but I remember absolutely nothing about it… not sure if that is reflective of the novel or my flabby brain…

    • I don’t think this is a particularly memorable one – in fact, I was surprised it was the one Edwards included, since even this Wimsey hater thinks some of the others are far better. But knowing I never have to read another one gives me a feeling of joyous liberation… 😉

  6. Such an entertaining review! 😄 Like other commenters, I’ve read the Wimsey books. Though I enjoyed them, I also understand your criticisms and share many of them as well. This one was not a favorite. I tried rereading Gaudy Night and couldn’t get past my own eye rolling, so I stopped. (When it comes to Latin quoting, I’m not much of a romantic, I guess.)

    • Haha – glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I disliked the series the longer it went on – I thought she became so pretentious and Wimsey annoyed me more and more. I don’t think I ever made it all the way through Gaudy Night – I feel that was the one that finished my attempts to appreciate her… 😂

  7. I’ve had a couple of these to try (on the stairs, you know?) and now I’m afraid! Very, very afraid of them! Brilliant review, FF! One day I’ll get to them and I’ll try to ignore the snobbery and all the other things!

    • Hahaha! Don’t be afraid! You might be one of the ones who love Lord Peter! Though obviously that would mean we couldn’t be friends any more… 😉 Seriously, though, I suspect the snobbishness might not be so obvious to an American, since it’s mostly tied up with the intricacies of our class structure over here – hope you enjoy them!

  8. As one who loves mysteries, I’ve always felt a bit remiss in having not read any Sayers. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel too badly about it after all. 😉 I’ve had The Man Born to Be King on my wish list for ages, but I know that’s a whole different genre.

    I’ll just bite my tongue (or maybe slap my hands from the keyboard) before I launch into a rant on the topic of aristocratic snobbery. 😑

    • I feel her books haven’t aged as well as many others from that time, and I’m afraid the class structure that was accepted then is really off-putting now. I haven’t read The Man Born to be King, nor any of her other non-Wimsey books, in fact, but I do have another one, The Documents in the Case, on my TBR. She can certainly write, so if she manages to stay away from being snobbish about the aristocracy, then hopefully they’ll both be better. Haha – feel free to rant about the aristocracy any time… 😉

  9. Well, I haven’t read any of her works, but I found your review absolutely delightful, FF — how I love it when you rip something to shreds!! Poor Dorothy. I take it you didn’t enjoy this one. Two “meh” faces was a dead give-away. I rather hope to come across something of hers sometime, just so I can see if I agree!

    • Haha – glad you enjoyed it! 😉 I hoped I might like her better now than I did when I was younger, but I’m afraid my allergy came back as soon as Lord Peter appeared. I should have done a patch test first… 😉

  10. This is such an interesting review because I’ve just started Gaudy Night and was expecting (and hoping) to love it and, well – I agree with you! I will read to the end because it’s on a challenge list and it might improve . . .

    • I actually felt she got even more snobbish as the books went on, so by the time she got to Gaudy Night I was finding them almost unreadable. In fact, I’m not sure I even managed to finish it. Haha – but nonetheless I do hope you end up enjoying it… 😉

  11. I have such mixed feeling about Lord Peter Wimsey. Some of the stories are very clever but somehow I’ve never really taken a shine to the character. I do like his artist girlfriend/wife though.

    • I’m afraid I found Harriet really annoying too, though not quite as bad as Lord Peter. It’s a series I wish I enjoyed more since so many people love it, but her snobbery always annoyed me – if I read any more of her books I might have to start a communist revolution… 😉

    • Ha – now I feel guilty! 😉 I think her extreme snobbery means her books haven’t aged as well as many other golden age writers, though – we’re not as willing to be deferential to insufferable toffs as we once were…

  12. I read a couple of books by Dorothy Sayers a couple years ago when I was writing a history paper about her (I use the word “read” loosely here as I was mostly skimming and looking for quotes I could use to support the points I was trying to make). I remember being really turned off by the writing style. Again, maybe it was because I was reading them so quickly but it left a bad taste in my mouth and I’ve never wanted to pick up her books again. She’s an interesting person though.

    • She does seem to be one of those writers who provoke strong reactions, either for or against. Her style always irritates me, and although snobbery exists in a lot of Golden Age fiction, somehow it always seems more extreme in hers. I do have a non-Wimsey book of hers to read for the same challenge, The Documents in the Case, so I’ll see if I get along with her any better in that…

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