The 1920s and 30s were a golden age for detective fiction. Many popular writers from the era have passed into obscurity, but one in particular is still loved and praised by writers, critics and aficionados of the genre: Dorothy L. Sayers. She wrote ingenious whodunits that were also satisfying and intelligent novels. Her prose is elegant and expressive; her settings, whether a Scottish fishing community or the clubs and drawing-rooms of Mayfair, are vividly realised, and her characters are flesh-and-blood human beings – most memorably her hero, Lord Peter Wimsey. Debonair and fabulously rich, yet suffering from shell shock from his time in the First World War and tortured by his conscience, Wimsey is one of the most charismatic fictional detectives ever created.
‘A respectable Battersea architect has discovered a dead man in his bath.’ ‘Indeed, my lord? That’s very gratifying.’
The corpse in question is entirely naked apart from a gold pince-nez. Why? Whose body is it? And who could have put it in the bathroom of the eminently respectable Mr Thipps? Lord Peter Wimsey eases himself into the case (much to the irritation of the put-upon Inspector Sugg), but in uncovering an intricate, daring crime of long-past jealousies, he brings up his own buried trauma from the war. Sayers’s first novel reveals the emphasis she places on the responsibility of her detective and the moral dilemma at the heart of his investigations. Has an amateur any right to interfere?
‘Choose somebody old and ill, in circumstances where the benefit to yourself isn’t too apparent, and use a sensible method that looks like natural death or accident, and don’t repeat your effects too often, and you’re safe.’
Inspector Parker insists that the death of an old lady, which Wimsey is investigating, was due to natural causes. But when one of old Mrs Dawson’s servants is also found dead, even Parker admits there is something unnatural about it. The post-mortems reveal nothing – no poison, no signs of violence and no obvious cause of death. From the very start Wimsey is convinced he knows who the murderer is – but what was the motive and, more importantly, how on earth were the murders done? This book introduces the redoubtable Miss Climpson, a devout yet gossipy spinster, who becomes one of Wimsey’s most useful assistants.
‘Ten to one he’ll be some bloke I know and like much better than Campbell. Still, it doesn’t do to murder people, however offensive they may be.’
In the close-knit community of Galloway, the landscape painter Sandy Campbell is so unpopular that when he tumbles down the side of the burn and drowns, no one mourns his passing. Wimsey, there on a fishing holiday, takes one look at the picture Campbell was painting and announces that this was no accident but a murder. Six artists soon emerge as Campbell’s enemies: but five are red herrings…
Lady Peter Wimsey propped herself cautiously on one elbow and contemplated her sleeping lord. With the mocking eyes hidden and the confident mouth relaxed, his big, bony nose and tumbled hair gave him a gawky, fledgling look, like a schoolboy.
After a long and tortuous courtship, Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey are married. To escape the newspaper ‘hell hounds’ and accompanied by Wimsey’s faithful manservant Bunter, the couple drive off for a secret honeymoon in a beautiful Tudor house which Wimsey has bought for his bride as a present. She had coveted it as a child, but now the house holds an ugly secret. Uncovering the truth will prove no easy intellectual puzzle or quest for justice. Referring to Busman’s Honeymoon, Sayers herself commented: ‘It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story.’ Her overriding interest in character, however, turns this notion on its head. Here, the crime presents a violent intrusion into the Wimseys’ lives that will test their marriage when it has barely begun.
Illustrated by Natacha Ledwidge and introduced by P. D. James
Natacha Ledwidge, who illustrated the previous Folio Society Dorothy L. Sayers Crime Collection, has created numerous new drawings and tailpieces for this set, perfectly capturing the period and humour of Sayers’s books. In her new introduction, published in Whose Body?, P. D. James describes with a fellow writer’s insight the wit, humour and intelligence of Sayers’s writing, and admires her passion for detail, style and characterisation, explaining why aficionados welcome each new edition of her books: ‘She wrote beautifully, with a simple elegance of style, a respect for language and a love of the written word, which will ensure that the novels have their place not only in the canon of the detective story, but as an enduring part of English popular literature.’
Review by CarltonC on 19th May 2013
"Unnatural Death - I enjoyed rereading this early Wimsey amateur detective story, first read 20-odd years ago. It is a straightforward story, in that you know who "did it" early on, but the joy of the ..." [read more]
Review by kershaw on 7th Sep 2012
"A must for any fans of Lord Peter Wimsey. In Five Red Herrings and Busman's Honeymoon, we see the fully-developed character, and in the other two, he's at an earlier stage of development. Natacha Ledw..." [read more]
Review by pedro7 on 2nd May 2012
"I got the previous Foilo set of Dorothy L.Sayers books a couple of years ago and loved them but i cant say the same for this set.Whilst the books are well bound and the illustrations are just as good ..." [read more]