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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Whimsey)

The Nine Tailors - Dorothy L. Sayers

This was one of the few remaining Whimsey books I had left to read; not being English by birth, and ignorant of the art behind bell ringing, I'd naturally thought this was a mystery about tailors; you know, those that produce clothing.  I was set straight a few of years ago, and became determined to read it, because a mystery about bell ringing sounded a LOT more interesting.

 

Nine Tailors was both what I did and didn't expect.  From what I'd picked up about bell ringing by osmosis, I knew it was going to be one of the more esoteric mysteries, so I was going to have to depend a lot on context, or spend a lot of time googling.  But I didn't expect the almost thriller-ish pacing towards the end, especially as the rest of the book was almost languid in it's exploration of the murder of the stranger in the tower.

 

In a genre where Cabot Cover Syndrome abounds, with a dozen murders in a small town/village occurring within months is the norm, it's refreshing to pick up a golden age mystery where – time passes –.  Indeed, it's 6 months or so before the readers are given a partial solution, and it's almost a year to the day before the true nature of the killing is understood.  

 

If the esoteric nature of the plot aren't a barrier for the mystery lover, there's an outstanding mystery to be had.  Several classic elements are here: coded messages, riddles, cold crimes, treasure, and intrigue in graveyards.  It's not strictly a perfect mystery - the cold crime in question starts out with three men clearly involved, but later in the book that third man is discarded; this totally left me confused later in the book, forcing me to go back and re-read earlier sections to get back on track.

 

Ultimately, I figured out both identity and cause of death well before Whimsey, but it didn't affect my enjoyment of the story - indeed, Sayers, in all her mastery, created a fair play mystery where I, as a reader, was actively trying to figure it out, and I had the clues I needed to do it.  But even more than this, Sayers created a story where I was invested in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul; I needed to know about the fate of the village and villagers more than I needed to know whether or not I was right.  When Whimsey figured out how the man died, and I learned whether I was right or not, it was, as I believe Sayers intended, rather anticlimactic and merely a footnote in light of the events that came before.

 

I didn't go with a higher rating because I think I'm going to need to re-read this one in order to appreciate the work as a whole.   There's a feeling that there's a complexity to the writing and story telling that I missed the first time around; I was too focused on the trees to fully appreciate the majesty of the forest.  But even so, it's a book I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone who appreciates fine writing and an excellent mystery.