Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Five Red Herrings - Dorothy L. Sayers

    1931; 322 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Murder-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

       In a little artists' enclave in Scotland called Kirkcudbright, someone has murdered a landscape painter named Campbell.  Who would do such a dastardly deed?  Actually, any number of people, since Campbell was an irritating, combative sort.

    Suspicion falls upon six fellow painters in the enclave.  All have equally (im)plausible alibis.  If one of them did it, then that means the others are Five Red Herrings.

What's To Like...
   The setting - the 1930's Scotland - is neat.  The characters are interesting, and even the technical bits about landscape painting are enlightening.

    This was my introduction to the literary sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey.  Like any successful (amateur) detective, he asks lots of questions, sees clues that others miss, and becomes a pest to suspects and policemen alike.  He's sorta like Columbo, and that's kewl.

    Dorothy L. Sayers does a nice job of unfolding the murder investigation.  It's fun to watch how each suspect's alibi starts off being "air tight", then crumbles into "highly suspicious".  The six storylines do become interconnected, making it a complex investigation.

    This is more of a "how-done-it" than a "who-done-it".  The details of the key clue are kept secret from the reader (but not from Wimsey) until close to the end,

Kewlest New Word...
Bathos : an unintended transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace or from the sublime to the trivial; producing a ludicrous effect.

    Waters was an Englishman of good yeoman stock, and, like all Englishmen, was ready enough to admire and praise all foreigners, but, like all Englishmen, he did not like to hear them praise themselves.  To boast loudly in public of one's own country seemed to him indecent - like enlarging on the physical perfections of one's own wife in a smoking room.  (pg. 3)

    "I'll tak' ma aith," said Dalziel to himself, "she kens fine there is some importance tae be attached tae the bicycle, and she disna ken whether tae say her man had it or no.  Whae could ha' tell't her?   It's no that Lord Peter, for he's clever, wi' a' his bletherin' talk.  And it's no Macpherson, he'd never let oot a word.  There's some yin is expectin' yon bicycle tae be found in a queer place, I reckon."  (pg. 89, and an example of the Scottish dialogue in Five Red Herrings.)

"(I)t doesn't do to murder people, however offensive they may be."  (pg. 23)
    The book does drag at times.  Establishing and debunking an alibi takes time.  When there are six alibis involved, it can get a bit tedious.

    The Scottish dialogue (see above excerpt) used by the natives gets old fast; and it is compounded at one point by a lisper, who the author contrives to uthe ath many "eth" wordth ath pothible.  Argh!

    Still, the measure of any mystery novel is the investigating/solving itself, not the peripheral goings-on.  And that's what saves The Five Red Herrings.  It's well-constructed, well-written, and Ms. Sayers keeps you switching from one person to the next as your prime suspect.  It would've been nice to know what the key clue was early on, but I'll settle for trying to work out just how the perpetrator pulled it off.   6 Stars.

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