on 14 August 2003
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.
on 24 December 2010
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.
Clouds of Witness is the second Lord Peter Wimsey novel, published in 1926. The particular fun of this book is that it introduces the rest of the family in all their honourable, stubborn, eccentric, delightful glory - Gerald, Duke of Denver, Lady Mary, their sister, and the wonderful Dowager Duchess, their mother, with her charming, nonsensical, deeply wise sayings. Dorothy Sayers is witty and incisive and we are invited to chuckle, sympathise with and be exasperated by these characters. The story places Wimsey in his home territory and social setting, where we understand him in a new way.
Lord Peter is as dashing and sexy as ever, in his urbane and cultured way, ever capable of new exploits. Bunter, the faithful and patient manservant, does much of the donkey-work, particularly when it comes to chatting up the female household staff. Evidently, he has his own brand of devastating charm.
Peter goes on holiday to Corsica. Returning to Paris, he learns that Captain Cathcart, his sister's fiancé, has been shot dead. Gerald, Duke of Denver, has been arrested for the murder. Cathcart was killed by a bullet from Denver's revolver, apparently outside the family shooting lodge. Denver says he was out for a walk when it happened and admits that he had quarrelled with Cathcart that night. Mary found Gerald kneeling over Cathcart's body.
Inspector Charles Parker is assigned to the case. He and Wimsey, who are good friends, find clues, including a lucky charm, near the crime scene. They also realise that Gerald and Mary are hiding something and Mary is pretending to be ill, avoiding talking to anyone.
Peter unearths hidden facts, but they lead nowhere - various secret lovers, a planned elopement, a murderous farmer. It seems that the family is seething with secrets. Peter makes the very new and dangerous flight across the Atlantic, finally to discover and reveal the truth. But will he be in time to save Gerald?
Sayers was getting into her stride in her second novel and, although they got even better as the series developed, this one is fun, entertaining and intelligent.
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.
The general feeling is unusually taut even for a mystery, since Peter is trying to help his stuffy brother. But Sayers also sprinkles in some comedic moments to lessen the tension, such as when Peter dines with a flaky, chic socialist who thinks it's thrilling when the police raid them. The dialogue is also enjoyably quirky, especially when Peter is doing the talking ("I should be crucified upside down for anemia of the brain!").
The cast is made up of all sorts -- weaselly socialists, flaky socialites, the stuffy Gerald and his equally stiff wife, and the rambling yet clever Dowager. And Peter is the center of all this, a detective who acts like Bertie Wooster and thinks like Hercule Poirot -- he has loads of brains and reasoning ability, but you'd never guess it by how he acts.
"Clouds of Witness" is a clever, twisty murder mystery with a likably eccentric hero, and one of Dorothy Sayers' best mystery novels. Definitely a good, solid read with a colourful cast.
on 28 September 2010
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.
Originally published in 1926, `Clouds of Witness' was the second book to feature Dorothy L Sayer's creation, the Gentleman detective Lord Peter Wimsey. This excellent radio dramatisation, first broadcast in 1974, is an excellent rendering of that fine book.
The story starts in Paris, where Lord Peter first hears the news that his Brother Gerald has been arrested for the murder of their sister's fiancé, one Denis Cathcart. Wimsey and his the indispensible Bunter rush back to England to try to help the Duke of Denver, whether he wants help or not... for some reason Gerald will not help himself by giving a true account of his movements that night, and Mary also seems to have secrets of her own.
Wimsey and Bunter, assisted by the ever reliable Inspector Parker start an investigation that uncovers several family secrets, reveals the truth behind the character of the murdered man and puts Wimsey in mortal peril at least twice before the final dramatic conclusion. It's a well structured and plotted tale, with some great characters. Sayers manages to poke a little fun at the aristocracy while still treating them with respect. And I think that is the key to my enjoyment of the story, for all the serious detective work going on at the surface, there is an undercurrent of humour through the tale that bubbles to the surface every now and then and makes it feel more rounded. The leading triumvirate of Wimsey, Bunter and Parker are now established characters, and it makes a nice change to read a detective book in which the amateur sleuth has a measure of respect for the official policeman. The three work together to solve the mystery, and though it is Wimsey who makes the final connection it is clear he could not do it without the help of the others. Time is taken to make sure all the characters are fleshed out and seem like real people, not just the caricatures that Sayers' contemporaries such as Christie used.
The radio adaptation, originally broadcast in 8 episodes but here merged into one three hour adventure, stars the definitive Wimsey Ian Carmichael. Peter Jones and Gabriel Woolf provide essential back up as Bunter and Parker respectively. These three work together really well to bring out the elements of the book - the sense of danger, the humour, the excitement. Patricia Routledge as Wimsey's mother also makes a fine contribution. It's a highly listenable production that doesn't stray from the book. My only criticism is that in order to `set the scene' in rural Yorkshire, some of the ancillary characters have rather OTT `eee bah gum' accents, and even sing `Ilkley Moor Bar Tat' in the back ground. Just in case you'd forgotten that it is set in Yorkshire. It's a little over the top in that respect, but nonetheless an enjoyable listen. Sound production and clarity is excellent for a recording that is now 40 years old, it sounded as though it was recorded yesterday. It is spread across three discs, in a double jewel case. Liner notes are actually quite extensive and interesting, and a lot better than the BBC's usual record in this department.
5 stars for an excellent dramamtisation of an excellent book.
This delightful mystery is the second featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. When his brother, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murder then it is Lord Peter's job to clear his name. The Duke is found standing over the body of his sister's fiancé, who he has recently argued with about claims that the victim, Captain Denis Cathcart, was a card sharp. However, when questioned, he refuses to give a reasonable account of why he was wandering around outside, in the middle of the night. Why is he being so secretive and what is their sister, Mary, hiding?
This is a wonderful, Golden Age mystery, with Lord Peter Wimsey and Charles Parker truly collaborating. There are some great, atmospheric scenes, most notably when Wimsey and Bunter are lost on the moors. The scenes in the House of Lords, where the Duke of Denver is tried, are also very interesting. Much of the fun in these books is in Wimsey himself and his light-hearted banter and eccentric behaviour. He is one of the greatest fictional amateur detectives and this is one of his best cases.
This is the second novel featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. This time murder comes unpleasantly close to home when Lord Peter's brother - the Duke of Denver - is accused of the murder of his sister's fiancé. Riddlesdale Lodge is the scene for the death of Captain Cathcart and no one seems to be telling the truth about what they were doing at the time of the man's death. Lord Peter begins to think that his brother will go to the gallows rather than reveal what he was doing at the time.
The investigation will lead Wimsey into personal danger before he finally ferrets out the truth of what really happened on the fateful night which looks like destroying his family. I enjoyed this book and thought the plot was very well done. I didn't work out what really happened until all was revealed by the combined efforts of Wimsey and Chief Inspector Charles Parker of Scotland Yard, an old friend of Wimsey's.
I like the way the family interact - Gerald, the Duke, not very bright but trying to do what is expected from him in his role in society; Lady Mary - hiding something from a mistaken idea that to reveal it will put everyone in danger; the Dowager Duchess - shrewd and observant in spite of her flighty persona and Helen - wife to Gerald and bent on keeping up appearances in all the wrong ways.
I can recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Golden Age crime stories and even though it is part of a series it can be read a standalone novel.
Dorothy L. Sayers writes many non-fiction books however among her best is the Lord Peter Wimsey series. I came to this series sort of though the back door. My first taste was the BBC productions with Petherbridge as Lord Peter that can now be found on DVD. So I read all of Dorothy's books containing the relationship of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Now it is time to go through the whole series.
Lord Peter returns from Corsica. To find his older brother the Duke of Denver practically accused of murder. What is worse is his brother is not talking. So it is up to Peter to find out what happened and clear his brother.
In the process he puts his foot in it and practically gets all his relatives and friends accused. As with all Sayers' stories nothing is simple there are overlapping plots and foolish deeds, as if Peter can not figure them out. On the side we learn a little about English society and ballistics.
on 10 April 2013
Well up to Sayers' usual standard. Her plot is well planned as always.
The only negative is that, having read the later Wimsey stories when he has developed more gravitas, it is irritating to read this earlier story in which he behaves so much more like a Hooray Henry. His behaviour in the court room scene near the end is ludicrous and stretches the credibility of the character.