IT’S ABOUT CRIME
by Marvin Lachman


This essay/review first appeared in The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 2, March/April 1987.  It is quite remarkable that Harper has kept Sayers’ detective fiction in print ever since, although different cover art is now used, and the prices are generally double those mentioned below (!).   No changes have been made to update these comments since they were first published.


DOROTHY SAYERS Lord Peter Wimsey

   Harper’s Perennial Library keeps reprinting Dorothy L. Sayers, proving that there will always be an audience for class. In her lifetime Sayers published eleven Lord Peter Wimsey novels and three short story collections which included Wimsey stories. Perennial has now republished nine of the novels and all of the short story collections in uniform paperback editions at $3.95 each. (I suspect that the two remaining novels, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and The Nine Tailors, will also be reprinted shortly.)

   In addition, there is a trade paperback of almost five hundred pages, Lord Peter ($8.95), which contains all of the Wimsey short stories, including three that were never previously published in book collections. That book is enhanced by a James Sandoe introduction, an essay by Carolyn Heilbrun (who writes mysteries as Amanda Cross), and a delicious Wimsey parody, “Greedy Night,” by E.C. Bentley.

DOROTHY SAYERS Lord Peter Wimsey

   Speaking of bonuses, I must again praise the illustration by Marie Michal which appears on all of the covers. They’re some of the best done paperback art I’ve seen in years.

   I’m not sure if there’s anything else about Sayers that hasn’t already been said. I could suggest that her non-series short stories not be overlooked since they are uncommonly good, especially “The Man Who Knew How,” in Hangman’s Holiday, as well as “Suspicion” and “The Leopard Lady,” in In the Teeth of the Evidence.

DOROTHY SAYERS Lord Peter Wimsey

   Those volumes also contain stories about Sayer’s other series detective, wine salesman Montague Egg. Very down to earth with his advice on how salesmen should succeed, his stories are “no-nonsense,” yet imaginative in plotting. I especially enjoyed his information about wine.

   I would also suggest that one not be put off by the foppish quality of Lord Peter. I’m not sure why some detectives between the wars, like Wimsey, Reginald Fortune, and the early Albert Campion, were created as silly asses. The fact is that, if given half a chance, they will prove that they are far from effete.

   Also, their authors, especially Sayers, are people of intelligence, and they write as if they assume the same about their readers. These days, one feels that many writers are appealing mainly to our emotions or our libidos.

Editorial Comment.   I regret that two of the covers shown aren’t nearly as sharp as I’d like them to be. I’ll see if I can’t obtain better images to replace them. To see Marie Michal’s work the way it’s meant to be seen, follow the link in the essay above.