on 17 July 2010
No word of a lie; this really is one of my all time favourite novels. I think that Dorothy Sayers was head and shoulders above all the other Queens of the Golden Age of Crime and even now only P D James and Ruth Rendell come close. This is one of her best novels; not just a detective story but a touching portrait of rural England between the wars and a way of life that must have been all but vanishing even then. Ms Sayers never writes a wasted word; her descriptions of Fenchurch St Paul and the inhabitants are entrancing. Particularly Mr Venables, the rector; kind, absent minded, so enthusiastic about his church and his bells. Ah, yes, the bells. The bells are almost characters in their own right and have a very intriguing role to play. The plot carries you along, an old scandal, a missing emerald necklace and a suitably grisly corpse in the churchyard. I re-read this regularly and - horrors! - if I was only allowed ten books for my desert island this would be one of them.
on 15 March 2011
This, the ninth of Sayers's eleven full length Wimsey novels, is the one that lifts her above the category of twentieth-century female detective novelist, and places her among the literary greats.
It is a thoroughly satisfying mystery - sophisticated, complex, intellectually challenging. Everything in the plot is there for a reason; and the final explanation is ingenious and unexpected.
It is Sayers, so there is more than just a plot. The characters have a depth and realism far beyond the caricatures of Agatha Christie. They have individuality and weaknesses and baggage and unexpected strength in the face of adversity. They are, in short, people.
Wimsey himself appears more relaxed in this than in most of the other books. A far cry from the self-conscious man-about-town of 'Whose Body?' or the nervy war veteran of 'The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club', this is the Wimsey hinted at in 'Five Red Herrings': the born and bred countryman, at ease with himself, almost classless at times, an incomer who at once instinctively understands and is accepted by this tiny community.
The community itself is minutely and deftly drawn too - partly through its supporting characters, partly through Sayers's own narrative voice, stronger and more distinctive in this book than in the others, and often taking on the cadence and the overtones of a local character to remarkable effect.
And then there are the most powerful and enduring characters of all: the bells of Fenchurch St Paul and the place itself. `The Nine Tailors' is to the Fens what `The Return of the Native' is to the heathlands of Dorset. It is a work of art, a tone-poem, a sonorous evocation of place and time, a symphony of words and images that endure in the mind long after the last page is turned. (For more on the power of language in `The Nine Tailors', I refer you to my recent essay on The Art of Reading at [...])
Much attention is given in literary circles to the `great American novel'; little, if any, is given to the novel that depicts England. Yet `The Nine Tailors', for all that it is set in an obscure and bleak corner of the countryside, is as intimate and accurate a portrait of inter-war rural Englishness as anything ever written - and an enduring one at that.
One must then turn, with the utmost reluctance and distaste, to the current sub-standard paperback edition of this masterpiece (978-0-450-00100-0). It appears to have been typeset and proof-read by persons with little knowledge of, and less interest in, either the English language or the basic rules of punctuation. It is further encumbered with an arch and self-congratulatory introduction by Elizabeth George, which adds little to one's appreciation of the work, and which - to add insult to injury - is inserted between Sayers's own foreword and the first chapter, thus breaking the rhythm of the author's original text. (No doubt the same vandalism has been committed in the latest impression of Gaudy Night, where any interruption between the Foreword and Chapter 1 would be even more obtrusive. Fortunately I still have my 1988 paperback of that work.)
A minor point, but a further niggle in light of these graver shortcomings, is the faintly 1970s typography employed for the section headings.
In summary, this edition gives the unfortunate impression of having been brought to press by an editor who neither recognised nor valued the calibre and significance of the book. I have now placed my 2011 paperback in the recycling bin and ordered a second-hand hardback. On the grounds of the punctuation errors alone, I would urge anyone who wishes to read what Miss Sayers actually wrote, to eschew the current paperback edition in favour of any other second-hand copy available.
Lord Peter and Bunter drive into a ditch in the Fens. They are rescued by the vicar of Fenchurch St. Pauls, whereupon we meet Peter's previously unsuspected bell-ringing skills. This pastoral idyll is disturbed, however, by the discovery of a faceless, handless corpse in the churchyard. With almost no means of identification, even Lord Peter is pushed to discover the identity of the corpse and its murderer, but the ending to this is both a witty twist on whodunnit convention, and a genuinely moving paean to English village life.
The Peter Wimsey revealed by this quaint setting and the proximity of the clergy is a pleasant antidote to the aristocratic fool and hopeless lover we so often see. Out of the city, his charm is less forced, his wit less studied, his intellect at once more obvious and less overt. No Harriet Vane either (hurrah), just the inimitable Mr Bunter, a lot of books and a murder. What more could anyone want?
on 24 November 2010
I have read " The Nine Tailors" several times in pocket edition, and like it so much that I wanted a hardcover edition. This edition is of very good quality, with a nice dust jacket as well. Generally, I am very fond of Dorothy Sayers, and I think this is one of her best. Her description of bell- ringing, which was an unknown field to me, is an added pleasure, as an integrated part of the story, of course, but for its literary qualities as well.
The story spans wide in time and space, and leads us from a pre- world-war one world to the disillusioned 1920-ies.
Dorothy Sayers books are never just simple whodunnits, the characters are interesting, the "couleur locale" also. They are like a chocolate box with many layers,and I never tire of Peter Wimseys rather complicated personality or his manservant Bunters infinite resourcefulness.
I highly recommend this book
on 12 December 2014
What can I say except that this has been called the finest detective story ever written and agree with that statement.
I first read this novel in the very early 50's and then ,because of the impression it made on me,went on to devour all the Peter Wimsey books.To me Sayers is far and above the finest writer of the so-called Golden Age of detective novels..Her books are both erudite and compelling,the range of her characters and plots amazing and her writing a joy to read.
If you've never read this novel please do so now and find out what great detective/mystery writing is.
on 21 March 2015
I’ve had The Nine Tailors on the shelf for quite a long time. I’ve opened it on a couple of occasions, but was never really sure I was in the mood for an English rural cozy from the golden age of crime fiction. Having now read the book I’m fairly confident that if I had carried on reading in the past my mood would have quickly changed. Sayers’ book rightly deserves plaudits for being a classic crime fiction tale, ticking all the key boxes - intriguing and clever plot, a thorny puzzle, excellent contextualisation, nice characterisation and interaction between characters, a strong sense of place, and literary prose. Essentially the tale is a whodunnit set in a small English village in the fens, centred on a Church and its bells, and the legacy of a robbery some twenty years previously. The plotting is intricate and well executed with minimal use of plot devices, and while the tale strays a little from social realism at times it nevertheless hangs together coherently and is rounded off with an ingenious but plausible denouement. Sayers clearly draws on her own knowledge as a daughter of a chaplain to provide context and also demonstrates a keen understanding of campanology and fen drainage. Whilst some might find some of the detail tiresome, I thought it was fascinating. Wimsey is an engaging detective and Sayers populates the story with a number of other well-drawn characters. Where she excels, in my view, is in the character interactions, with an especially good ear for dialogue. The result is some well penned and vivid scenes. Overall, a very satisfying and entertaining read from one of the best known crime fiction authors of the first half of the twentieth century.
Peter Wimsey - on the way to spend New Year with friends - finds himself stranded deep in the Fens in a snow storm. The vicar of the nearby village - Fenchurch St Paul - offers him a bed for the night while his car is repaired and Wimsey finds himself part of a bell ringing marathon. When a body is found in a newly dug grave it seems natural for Wimsey to be consulted especially as no one can identify the corpse and the police are baffled.
The background is atmospheric and authentic with the Fens in all their beauty and majesty really brought to life in a way few other writers of fiction have achieved. The church bells and change ringing play a large part in this story and add to the slightly supernatural atmosphere which pervades this excellent novel. The mystery is tightly plotted and the characters believable and three dimensional.
Whether or not this is Sayers' best book is very much a matter of individual preference. For me it runs `Gaudy Night' a close second.
on 21 April 2008
One of Sayers' best. Most of the action takes place in the Norfolk fens. Flat, very flat, and when the "board" gets to tinkering with the drainage system, under several feet of water. Lord Peter Wimsey runs off the road in a blizzard and is rescued by a passing vicar. Only snag -- he has to step in and help ring in the New Year. So when an extra corpse is found in the churchyard, naturally Lord Peter is called in to investigate. The tale involves stolen emeralds, a friendly London jewel thief and two local brothers. Not to mention a mysterious cypher message found in the bell tower. It's not till the floods are out that Lord Peter climbs up the bell tower and guesses the secret of the mystery man's death. Let the bells give tongue! (The Nine Tailors are the nine "tellers" rung on the death of a parishioner. I think that motto should read: Nine tailors make a man; Christ's death at end in Adam yet began.)
on 17 March 2013
I have read thousands upon thousands of Crime Fiction Books and Dorothy L Sayers will remain my absolute favourite author of all time. With a brilliant cast of characters, absolutely cunning plots incorporating history and time. I just love love love them all.
Nine Tailors is tale of stolen jewels, faceless corpses and bell-ringing set in the atmospheric fens of Sayers's childhood, is the best of all the Wimsey stories.
I cant quite put my finger on what makes her stories so incredible. I read them 20 years ago and have recently re-read them all, and reading them with my mature head instead of my teenage head was a big eye opener. I loved them even more! and appreciated Peter Wimseys strength of character and his demons which are his war memories and his devotion to the two ladies in his life, his mother and Harriet. I just Love DLS and I truly wish she wrote more.
on 26 December 2013
This mystery is a neat one, padded out and fleshed by a wonderful insight into England between the Wars, and the C of E, and the Fens....who'd have thought it would all be so interesting!
Miss Sayers has used her own background knowledge to weave an intriguing story around her aristocratic sleuth. Even if you don't approve of the concept of aristocracy, or the class system, it does add a certain glamour to the character of Lord Peter Wimsey. Rich, a war hero, and very clever, he is very likeable. His character, and those of his man, his mother and his friends are beautifully developed in the series. It is such a pleasure to read good English and encounter intellectual challenges.
Lord Peter is welcomed and treated hospitably after an accident to his car. The story takes place mainly in Fen country, beginning with our hero assisting with a