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Clouds of witness (Benn's three & sixpenny library) Unknown Binding – 1926

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 287 pages
  • Publisher: Ernest Benn (1926)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0008CN11U
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor on 14 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback
In some respects Dorothy Sayers is a problematic author, and early in her career she struggled with what can only be called a tendency toward incessant clutter: a wordy style, an often awkwardly expressed fascination with the mechanics of timetables, and constant reference to erudite academia that frequently verged on the downright obscure. But with CLOUDS OF WITNESS she found a very neat balance--and the result is not only the first clear sounding of Sayers' literary voice, it is also simply the best of her early works.
In this particular story, death unexpectedly arrives in the very bosom of the Wimsey family: the Duke has taken a rural manor for the hunting season, and when his sister's fiance is found shot to death in the small hours of the morning he is himself accused. Curiously, he declines to offer any sort of alibi--but fortunately there is a sleuth in the family: Lord Peter Wimsey, who arrives post-haste to sort the matter out.
While the novel's conclusion may frustrate many readers, this is a fast, fun read with engaging characters and an emerging and very sophisticated literary style--the style on which Sayers would ultimately establish such later and landmark works as MURDER MUST ADVERTISE, GAUDY NIGHT, and BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON. Established fans will likely enjoy it more than first-timers, but if you've not yet encountered Sayers don't let that stop you: it's an elegant work. Recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Woolgatherer on 24 Dec. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the story of an amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, who sets out to prove the innocence of his elder brother, who has been charged with the murder of a Captain Cathcart, who happens to be the fiancé of their sister, Lady Mary.

The novel is a story set amongst the English upper-classes at a time when, if Dorothy Sayers is to believed, cheating at cards was thought to be worse than murder (and murder and adultery were equally serious transgressions) and where a Lord would rather face the gallows than sully the honour of a woman or bring scandal upon the family name. I suspect that the portrayal of that society was a caricature, even in 1926, when the book was originally published.

All of this lends a slight unreality to the proceedings, and Peter Wimsey is not a detective of the same calibre as, say, Sherlock Homes; for example his discovery of a vital clue (a letter stuffed into a rattling window) is serendipitous. Some of the characters are straight out of central casting, Wimsey's man Bunter is the equivalent of Jeeves, and the Dowager Duchess is a marginally more forbearing version of Lady Bracknell from the Importance of Being Earnest.

All of that said, this is an enjoyable read. The story moves at a good pace, there is action and comedy (the Dowager Duchess is particularly good value), and Sayers' use of dialogue to bring out character and move along the plot is skilled. There are some serious moments also (after all a death has occurred) and World War I, which was not long over, casts a show over the characters. If you are looking for a classic whodunit along the lines of, say, Agatha Christie, I would give this a miss. However, if you enjoy well written, tongue in cheek detective stories that give an insight into a very different social milieu (albeit that insight may be through a distorting lens that says more about how that society was perceived than about how it actually was) this is well worth a visit.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 13 Feb. 2007
Format: Paperback
The worst nightmare for a detective is having a solid case... against a member of your own family. Dorothy Sayers imagined such a story for Lord Peter Wimsey in her second mystery novel, "Clouds of Witness," a solid, twisting whodunnit full of lies, affairs and deception

Peter is on vacation when he finds out that his brother, The Duke of Denver (informally "Gerald"), is on trial for murder -- he had a blowup with his sister Mary's fiancee, Denis Cathcart, upon learning that Cathcart was a former cardsharper. The next morning, Cathcart was found shot through the heart by Gerald's gun, with Gerald bending over the body. The Duke stubbornly refuses to explain why he was out in the rain at three in the morning.

Peter is determined to solve the case, and quickly finds plenty of clues and odd little details, including the fact that Mary keeps lying -- and changing her lies. There are too many clues, and not enough logical motives. Now to save his brother, Peter must unravel plenty of lies and red herrings, and discover who wanted to do away with Denis Cathcart -- and why.

"Clouds of Witness" is an excellent whodunnit, with lots of quirky characters and a very twisty murder mystery -- in fact, it's not even clear whether it's even a murder. And Sayers seemed to be more at ease in this mystery, since it unfolds in a more gradual manner, as if she were more sure of herself than in "Whose Body."

If there's a flaw, it's that her writing can be slightly uneven -- we get lots of descriptions of Mary, but I still have no idea what Bunter looks like. But Sayers can craft a spectacular plot, with lots of red herrings and odd twists, especially since most of the people involved are telling lies, usually about romantic affairs.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By K. Moss on 28 Sept. 2010
Format: Paperback
I used to read the Lord Peter Wimsey novels when I was a boy. Now, thirty plus years later I've come back to one I was unfamiliar with.

The other reviewers provide a useful synopsis of the book, so I won't bother with a repeat exercise. Suffice it to say that this one is a delight. The dialogues are quirky and at times a little melodramatic, the story unfolds in a reassuringly unformulaic manner, and Wimsey maneuvers his way through his investigation with typical eccentricity. And throughout, Sayers' observations about society are full of wit - her descriptions of the procedures within the House of Lords are just a joy.

A few of the characters could do with a little more fleshing out - Bunter is 'there', but not a particularly defined presence. One is never quite sure of the character of Wimsey's brother - but then he is off-stage for a great part of the narrative. It's hardly a fast-paced storyline, but then it seems to be written for those of us who like to chew over our literature slowly, and relish the ingredients.

A throwback to an age when language, thought and character were prized, reminding us of how much we have lost from our culture.
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