Two more Peter Wimseys, both a quick fix, especially good if you’re in a book slump.
Despite this shamefully attitude, The Unpleasantness became my favorite of the series so far. I liked the plot, the elaborate crime and twists, but above all I liked the portrait of post-war England, in particular the experiences of the soldiers who returned. Together with the first decade of the 20th century, my favorite historical period is the Interwar. The Innocence and the end of it.
The Unpleasantness was not only written but it’s set in 1928, ten years after the end of WWI. When the curtain opens it’s Armistice Day and the Bellona Club, an old-fashioned establishment for military officers, is celebrating it with pomp. As usual, ninety-year-old General Fentiman is reading in his favorite chair since morning… or has he? It turns out he’s actually been dead for many hours without anyone noticing. Exactly how many hours is an uncertain but extremely important detail, since it determines who inherits a large fortune.
The impact of the Great War, which is never absent from the Sayers’ I’ve read so far, is especially noticeable here. It might have had something to do with Sayers’ own recent marriage to a veteran. I don’t know if she was supporting him financially, but the bitter scene where Wimsey witnesses firsthand the pressures that shell-shock puts on a marriage, looked pretty realistic…
And here’s a great book quote:
Books…are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ’em, then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.
No woman was good enough for Peter Wimsey… apart from Dorothy Sayers herself, fictionally incarnated into Harriet Vane. Someone out there should write a Psychology thesis about this. It’s fascinating!
It’s 1930 and crime novelist Harriet Vane is accused of poisoning her ex-lover, Philip Boyes. Philip’s anti-bourgeois morals making anti-marriage as well, so Harriet agrees to simply live with him. When some time afterwards he proposes, Harriet decides (very wisely) that their domestic arrangements – for which she was willing to face censure from society – had just been Boyes’ test to see if she was good enough for him. They fight and go their separate ways, but shortly afterwards Boyes is killed by a strong dose of arsenic.
As a mystery, Strong Poison is not Sayers best, but who cares? We get the chance to see rational Wimsey fall in love at first sight and clumsily try to persuade Harriet or his merits as a potential husband. The first conversation they had, in prison, made me go “You what?… wait a sec… excuse me?… jeeez”. It has to be one of the most awkwardly sweet proposals in the history of literature.
I’m usually a bit cynical about love at first sight, but here Wimsey gets extra brownie points for the reasons why he fell in love with Harriet. Just by looking at her, reading her books and knowing her recent history, he felt he found the perfect partner. He’s looking for someone who can intellectually stimulate him and Harriet is clearly intelligent, unconventional and (the cherry at the top of the cake), she also likes mysteries!
It was also in this book more than the others that I clearly noticed the similarities between Wimsey and Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond. It was actually this connection that made me read this series in the first place. This passage in particular brought Francis Lymond back with a vengeance:
He played the Concerto through, and then, after a few seconds’ pause, went on to one of the ‘Forty-eight’. He played well, and gave a curious impression of controlled power, which, in a man so slight and so fantastical in manner, was unexpected and even a little disquieting.
That is the description of one sexy man!