Daily Archives: April 29, 2014

Review of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers


When I was younger, I was completely besotted by Lord Peter Wimsey. I burned through all the books and then reread them –  always a rare event for me. There are far too many good books out there in the world to waste time revisiting ones I’ve already sampled. Besides – what if the next time around, I find that the whole experience is less exciting or enjoyable? Then I’ve ruined both reading episodes… But when Himself reread this book as a treat after a particularly gruelling spell at work – I scooped it up afterwards and tucked in, convinced that Sayers is a writer of such quality, I wouldn’t regret revisiting this desperate adventure.

Can Lord Peter Wimsey prove that Harriet Vane is not guilty of murder – or find the real poisoner in time to save her from the strong poisongallows? Impossible, it seems. The Crown’s case is watertight. The police are adamant that the right person is on trial. The judge’s summing up is also clear. Harriet Vane is guilty of killing her lover. And Harriet Vane shall hang. But the jury disagrees…

And THAT is how a book blurb should read, people! We have a clear idea of exactly what the first set of problems besetting Lord Peter will be in punchy, concise language, so the reader can decide whether they like the book, or not without having at least the first half of the main plot points blurted out on the back cover.

The quality doesn’t end there. This is a joy to read. I loved the drama and Lord Peter’s reaction. I loved all the characters peopling the story and the final section, purportedly by Peter’s uncle, is just outstanding. The prose stands up very well, because Sayers doesn’t see fit to layer her book in swathes of heavy description using every multi-syllabic word she can cram onto the page. Like all great writers, she has an inborn instinct about what needs to be said and the best way to say it. Of course, this was written in the days when anyone found guilty of murder was hanged, so there is real tension in this story, as Lord Peter battles to clear Harriet’s name. It is – literally – a matter of life and death.

What I’d forgotten from my first reading, was just how much humour is also woven into the tale. I giggled aloud at some of Lord Peter’s drier comments – and the séance scene is not only gripping, but regularly tips into outright farce. As for the scenes between Lord Peter and Harriet – they crackle with intensity and this granny – who regularly rolls her eyes at the noisy snogging sessions in films – still found her heart beating faster at Lord Peter’s passionate championing of Harriet.

It is a gem of a book. Truly. As is the whole series. And if you haven’t read them, and you have ever enjoyed a crime novel, then track down Lord Peter Wimsey’s adventures. You’ll thank me if you do.