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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely enjoyable
Given Harriet Vane's importance in the later Wimsey books, I was surprised to see her have such a small role in Strong Poison, although this is actually perfectly natural given that she's stuck in prison. She appears in only a couple of chapters and yet Sayers is skilful both at drawing her as a strong character in her own right - unconventional, witty, intelligent, very...
Published on 20 Jun 2007 by I Read, Therefore I Blog

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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder most literary
"Strong Poison" is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, the first of four that feature his relationship with Harriet Vane, so if you are new to Sayers, this is a good one with which to start. Sayers was one of the authors of mystery's "Golden Age", following the pioneers - Poe, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle - and preceding the hardboiled school of Hammett and Chandler. She was...
Published on 9 Mar 2003 by Peter Reeve


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely enjoyable, 20 Jun 2007
This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
Given Harriet Vane's importance in the later Wimsey books, I was surprised to see her have such a small role in Strong Poison, although this is actually perfectly natural given that she's stuck in prison. She appears in only a couple of chapters and yet Sayers is skilful both at drawing her as a strong character in her own right - unconventional, witty, intelligent, very matter-of-fact and with her own moral code - and also at showing exactly why it is that Wimsey has fallen in love with her at first sight.

Wimsey himself was a revelation. I hadn't appreciated how much of a sense of humour he had and in fact, he spends a lot of time mocking himself, what he looks like and his own character - famously describing himself as having a "funny face". He's obviously intelligent, urbane, rich, powerful and famous and yet at no point does he ever come across as unlikeable or arrogant. There's also something quite romantic about the way in which he's convinced that he will eventually marry Vane, even though she has already rejected his proposal and he has rejected her counterproposal of just living in sin. The book ends with the two going their separate ways, but you just know that they'll end up together one day.

A second revelation was how small a part Wimsey actually plays in the actual detecting. There's no doubt that he's the intuition directing the operation, but when it comes to actually ferreting out information, Sayers uses characters such as his loyal batman Bunter, Miss Climpson (who runs the Cattery) and Miss Murchison (a member of the Cattery sent under cover). I found this fascinating - not least because modern crime novelists will often restrict their POVs to one or two (those usually being the main characters). I found that this approach really opened up the novel and kept it entertaining and I also enjoyed the fact that Sayers uses the jduge's summing up at the start of the book to convey the salient backstory and then an epistlery style to flesh out more background details as the book goes along.

The story itself is fascinating - firstly because of the way Sayers keeps the tension going between 3 possibilities - (a) Vane killed her lover; (b) her lover committed suicide because of her rejection of him, and (c) someone else killed him. Obviously, it couldn't have been Vane, and Sayers has a lot of fun keeping you on the path of (b), only gradually dripping in the information that leads you to suspect it could have been (c). It's an approach that's skilfully handled and keeps you guessing because once she's shown you who must have done it, she adds another element of suspense as you try to work out how it was done (and I'm not going to spoil that for you because it's the best part).

Much of the slang and dialogue in the book will seem very dated to modern readers, but I think that it adds to the charm and authenticity of the story.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love at First Sight in the Dock, 9 Jan 2004
By 
Gary F. Taylor "GFT" (Biloxi, MS USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
In public life, Dorothy L. Sayers was a scholar, writer, and woman of impeccable morals. In private life, however, she had a torrid love affair and bore a child out of wedlock. In her literature, Sayers expressed the schism between these aspects of her personality via the character of Harriet Vane, who makes her first appearance in the Lord Peter series in STRONG POISON as a fallen woman on trial for her life.
Published in 1930, the novel opens with Harriet Vane in the dock, listening as the judge presiding over trial sums up against her. She is a writer of mildly popular mysteries who has had a liaison with Philip Boyes, a rather pretentious author better know to critics than to the public. Their acrimonious separation is quickly followed by Boyes' death from arsenic--and it seems that Harriet, and Harriet only, had both motive and opportunity.
But the judge reckons without juror Miss Climpson, employee of the celebrated Lord Peter Wimsey, who derails what would seem an open and shut case--and gives Lord Peter the opportunity to unravel the crime. And, not incidentally, to fall in love with the accused. With an infamous actress of the Victorian age lurking in the background and a sizable inheritance on the line, Wimsey rushes to sort out the mystery and save the woman he loves before the case can be retried.
STRONG POISON is not really among Sayer's greatest novels, which combine a unique literary style, memorable characters, and complex plots to remarkable effect. The opening description of the trial, with its detailed account of the judge's comments, feels excessive; the solution to the crime is tricksy and relies heavily on coincidence; and Harriet Vane stands out less effectively than such supporting characters as Miss Climpson. Nonetheless, it has its charms, most particularly in Sayers' witty and highly literate style and the continued evolution of the characters she had previously created.
Most particularly, STRONG POISON sets the stage for two novels in which Harriet Vane will become one of the most memorable characters in the golden age of the English mystery: GAUDY NIGHT and BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, both of which are regarded as high-water marks in the genre. Sayers wrote several memorable novels in which Harriet Vane does not appear at all, most notably the famous MURDER MUST ADVERTISE, but her development of the character is a remarkable process to behold, and fans will enjoy watching the process. Enjoyable, but recommended more to established Sayers readers than first time visitors.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars detective story perfection, 15 July 2009
By 
Mr. R. M. Humphry "omnivorous" (stockport, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
This is my first review and I am writing it as I recently suggested it as next month's choice for a barristers' chambers bookclub. I therefore want to get my justification in first! The decision was that we try a detective story for a change. Sayers was generally thought to be of greater literary worth than most of "The Golden Age", certainly than Christie. The first suggestion was "The Nine Tailors" which is generally thought to be one of the greatest novels of the genre. I had to disagree as, although I loved these books when I first read them, I have found Peter Wimsey to be increasingly irritating and hardly more so than in "T9T". "Strong Poison" has an excellent plot (more why- and how- rather than who-dunnit), a superb opening device (the telling of the "murder" by the judge in his summing-up), the race against time before the re-trial, two wonderful sleuth characters in Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison and refreshingly little of Peter Wimsey and what there is is less irritating than usual. It is also tightly written without the sprawl of the following "Have His Carcase" and "Gaudy Night". In short, one of the best of its kind.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ... except the girl's innocent, 7 Jun 2009
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
A lot of women want to poison their ex-boyfriends. Only a few actually do it.

But the suspicion is enough to land a woman in the dock in "Strong Poison," the first of a string of mysteries about eccentric detective Lord Peter Wimsey and his romantic interest, crime writer/murder suspect Harriet Vane. While Peter's feelings for Harriet spring up rather suddenly, this seemingly airtight mystery is a solid race against time to discover the poisoner, with few clues about who may have done the deed -- and a lot of clues about who didn't.

Lord Peter Wimsey becomes interested in the trial of Harriet Vane, a mystery writer who lived with her boyfriend until he proposed marriage (it had all been a test). Six months later, after a brief visit, her ex dropped dead of arsenic -- and all the evidence points straight at Harriet. But Peter is sure that Harriet didn't do the crime -- and he's fallen in love -- and so becomes determined to break this watertight case against her.

And so he turns his attention to suicide, since there was plenty of motive for that. But the most promising lead turns out to be the dead man's cousin, a successful lawyer whose motives and opportunity remain unknown -- as the court tells us, the only food that the deceased ate was also eaten by the suspect. But the brilliant Wimsey knows he can find the answer, before Harriet's retrial.

"Strong Poison" probably had a special signficance for Dorothy Sayers. First, it introduced her alter-ego, Harriet. Secondly, some of the events that happened to Harriet -- living with a boyfriend, the "test" -- really happened in real life, although presumably Sayers didn't come under suspicion of having murdered her ex.

The murder itself is very intriguing, if very slow-moving and roundabout. The case against Harriet is practically foolproof, so it's intriguing to see Wimsey carefully pulling the chinks out of it, and exposing another motive for the dead man's death. But they include some funny (if too brief) moments, like Peter having tea with a hilarious lesbian couple ("Philip Boyes was always determined to be a victim, and it was very irritating of him to succeed in the end"), or the fake seance.

Not to mention some great dialogue ("Why not slap the manly thorax and say, `Peter, my dear old mangel-wurzel, I have decided to dig myself into the old family trench and be a brother to you'?"), including Sayers' needling at double standards for women ("You're bearing in mind, aren't you, that I've had a lover?" "Oh, yes. So have I, if it comes to that. In fact, several. It's the sort of thing that might happen to anybody. I can produce quite good testimonials").

Sayers does stumble by having Wimsey instantly fall for her avatar, to the point where he asks her seriously to marry him at their first meeting. But the two characters mesh well -- he's witty, brainy and very unorthodox, while she's a "fallen woman" with brains and a prickly, clever personality. And there's a slew of lovable side characters -- steadfast and clever Miss Climpson, the ever-faithful Bunter, the increasingly lovesick Parker, and the lovably bickering couple Eiluned and Sylvia.

"Strong Poison" proceeds rather slowly, but Sayers does a solid job of dissecting a seemingly foolproof case -- and introduces her less than Mary-Suish avatar at the same time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lord Peter has finer moments, 14 April 2007
By 
S. Bailey "will work for books" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic detective, and his mother are attending the trial of Harriet Vane for the murder of her lover. Wimsey falls in love with Vane at first sight, and determines to prove her innocence. With much assistance from the admirable Miss Climpson, he uncovers a nasty little plot. Whether he gets the girl or not remains to be seen.

Though generally I am a fan of Dorothy L Sayers, I have to make the blasphemous statement that I find the relationship between Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey terminally annoying. From Peter's instant proposal of marriage to the events at the end of Gaudy Night, the whole business is less like a relationship (whether amorous or purely platonic) than like an intellectual virgin's imagining of what a relationship might be like.

Unsurprisingly, then, I found parts of this book annoying beyond telling. Fortunately Ms Vane is in custody for much of the time, and so I am left to enjoy what does turn out to be rather a good chase. I adore Miss Climpson; like an urban guerilla version of Miss Marple, she's a complete charicature of what an unmarried woman of her class would have been, but done so sympathetically, she's glorious. And also the light relief and the saving grace for this book.

Essential in the Wimsey canon for being the first meeting with Harriet, this is nonetheless not the book to start with.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder most literary, 9 Mar 2003
By 
Peter Reeve (Thousand Oaks, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
"Strong Poison" is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, the first of four that feature his relationship with Harriet Vane, so if you are new to Sayers, this is a good one with which to start. Sayers was one of the authors of mystery's "Golden Age", following the pioneers - Poe, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle - and preceding the hardboiled school of Hammett and Chandler. She was thus a contemporary of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen.
Her style is perhaps the most literary and polished of any mystery writer. (For further evidence of her skills, read her superb translation of "The Song of Roland"). She handles dialogue and human interaction extremely well and convincingly portrays a wide range of character types. Also notable is the occasional flash of ironic, rather dark, humour. I have to say however, that her penchant for bizarre names can be rather off-putting. We meet two jounalists called Salcombe Hardy and Waffles Newton, a lawyer called Sir Impey Biggs and an actress called - would you believe? - Cremorna Garden.
The plot is not as strong as the poison; it is too linear, with no twists and turns, although the central idea is quite good. It is more interesting as a literary portrait of 1930 English society than as a crime puzzle. But a good read, nonetheless.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First in the Harriet Vane series, 9 Jun 2005
By 
bernie "xyzzy" (Arlington, Texas) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
Personally I have always been an Agatha the Christie fan. My first encounter with Dorothy L. Sayers was the Mobile Mystery Theater series showing on PBS.
Naturally the TV media cannot fill in all the details that you would pick up from reading the book. So I read the book. This added more depth to the story, but now I appreciate Dorothy L. Sayers more than Agatha Christie. But Dorothy not only fleshes her characters out better but her side trips into philosophy and psychology make the story that much more interesting. And just when you say what is the relevance to this conversation it is wrapped up in the final solution.
We are in luck as they still make the unabridged tape of "Strong Poison" The reader Is Ian Carmichael the first TV Lord Peter Wimsey. It makes a good compliment to the book.
This is the first of a fourth book series. The story is complete and can be used as a stand-alone story.
The notorious Harriet Vane is on trial for poisoning her previous live in lover. Naturally Lord Peter Wimsey falling in love with her, is determined that she is innocent and will prove this. To save her repartition he must fined the real culprit (if there is one), because if Harriet gets off on a technicality, she will always be under suspicion.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong Poison, 11 May 2014
By 
Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is the book which introduces Harriet Vane into Peter Wimsey's life and heart. He goes to watch her trial and is convinced she is innocent of poisoning her lover. Fortunately Miss Climpson - a strong minded spinster of a certain age and a business associate of Peter Wimsey's - is on the jury and is sure Harriet is innocent. This is in the days before a majority verdict was acceptable. The jury's inability to make a decision forces a retrial and gives Wimsey time to set to work to try and prove that someone else committed the crime.

Even though I have read this book several times over many years I still notice things I hadn't noticed before every time I read it. The book is well written the characters are interesting and believable and the plot is complex and fascinating. There are enough alternative suspects to keep the reader guessing and the solution is intriguing.

Once you have read this book you need to read 'Have His Carcase' which is the next book featuring Harriet Vane followed by 'Gaudy Night' in order to watch the development of Harriet and Peter's relationship.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars romantic mystery, 7 July 2009
By 
J. Mason - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)
Other people have written much more thorough reviews than this one about this novel, but I enjoyed this story so much that I wanted to praise it. It is the first Sayers I have read and having read quite a bit of detective fiction I do think it is very special and stands out. I think this is due, not only to a very clever mystery but also the excellent characterisation of Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. Such believable and real characters. I am a fan of Agatha Christie's work and these two writers are often compared but their styles are very different. This is easily as good as the best of Christie, and I think the very authentic romantic element of the plot would appeal to those who don't normally read mysteries.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First in the Harriet Vane series, 4 July 2007
By 
bernie "xyzzy" (Arlington, Texas) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Personally I have always been an Agatha the Christie fan. My first encounter with Dorothy L. Sayers was the Mobile Mystery Theater series showing on PBS.

Naturally the TV media cannot fill in all the details that you would pick up from reading the book. So I read the book. This added more depth to the story, but now I appreciate Dorothy L. Sayers more than Agatha Christie. But Dorothy not only fleshes her characters out better but her side trips into philosophy and psychology make the story that much more interesting. And just when you say what is the relevance to this conversation it is wrapped up in the final solution.

We are in luck as they still make the CD of "Strong Poison" The reader Is Ian Carmichael the first TV Lord Peter Wimsey. It makes a good compliment to the book.

This is the first of a fourth book series. The story is complete and can be used as a stand-alone story.

The notorious Harriet Vane is on trial for poisoning her previous live in lover. Naturally Lord Peter Wimsey falling in love with her, is determined that she is innocent and will prove this. To save her repartition he must fined the real culprit (if there is one), because if Harriet gets off on a technicality, she will always be under suspicion.
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Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery)
Strong Poison (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) by Dorothy L Sayers (Paperback - 31 Oct 1968)
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