Friday, October 11, 2019

Sayers and crime

Today CrimeReads gives us "Dorothy L. Sayers: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics," an excellent introduction to the novels (and more), from which:
In the Golden Age of British detective fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, four women were universally considered the four Queens—Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy L. Sayers (don’t forget the middle initial, please, she was most adamant about that). She earned that title largely on the strength of eleven extraordinary novels published between 1923 and 1937, featuring the iconic character of Lord Peter Wimsey and, in four of them, the inestimable Harriet Vane, as well as dozens of short stories and one stand-alone novel. ....

Entertaining, erudite, lucid, filled with ingenious puzzles and even more ingenious solutions, written with grace, elegance, flair, wit, and an acute attention to character and psychological development, these novels combined the best qualities of the detective story with a novelist’s attention to the mores and manners of the day.

She was obsessed with Fair Play—all the clues should be laid in front of the reader, all the deductions should be ones the readers could make, if only they were able. No writer should lie: “Any fool can tell a lie, and any fool can believe it; but the right method is to tell the truth in such a way that the intelligent reader is seduced into telling the lie for himself.” ....

Sayers believed the characters had to be real, the settings had to be real, and the crimes had to be real. George Orwell once chided her for “an extremely morbid interest in corpses,” but for Sayers, the violence of murder was not something that should be papered over, and she could be graphic in her depiction of corpses, autopsies, and exhumations. Murder had real-life consequences, not only for the victims, but for all who knew the victims, and those who investigated the victims’ deaths. As Sayers wrote, “Violence really hurts.” It wasn’t all a jolly game. ....

This can be seen in the shadings and evolution of her main character, Lord Peter Wimsey. Wimsey, 32 years old when we first meet him, is rich, well-educated, athletic, expert in many things, and as the second son of a Duke, has no family estate to look after—that’s the responsibility of his “beef-witted” older brother, Gerald—so he doesn’t actually have much in his life that he has to do. When first met, he seems somewhat fatuous and silly—the very caricature of a foolish dilettante aristocrat—and indeed there have been some readers who have never tried the Sayers books out of just such an impression.

They would be mistaken. ....

She cared about the characters and the prose and every one of her readers just having a good time. .... (much more)
Dorothy L. Sayers: A Crime Reader's Guide to the Classics | CrimeReads

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