In the Teeth of the Evidence
Laurel has reminded me of Dorothy L Sayers’ “In the Teeth of the Evidence,” which, if I had thought of it, would have made a perfect post-dental reward yesterday. I delight in Sayers and reread her often. Her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, is the very wealthy younger brother of the Duke of Denver. He collects incunabula and dabbles in detective work with the assistance of his attentive valet, Bunter, who was Lord Peter’s batman in the war. Wimsey suffers from shell shock (aka battle fatigue or post-traumatic stress disorder) and Bunter nurses him though his difficult times and dusts for fingerprints, develops photographs, and performs other CSI duties as assigned.
In STRONG POISON Lord Peter falls in love with a newspaper photo of Harriet Vane, accused of murdering her lover. She is a modern woman, one of the first graduates of the new women’s college at Oxford (obviously modeled on Somerville) and reluctant to marry Lord Peter, who after saving her from the gallows pursues her through the next few novels. When Edward Petherbridge whips off his fedora at the end of the film version of GAUDY NIGHT and kisses Harriet Walter every woman watching is breathless.
Sayers was a serious scholar whose translation of Dante is still read and whose Christian apologetics are still in print. But it is for these classic English mysteries that we love her.
I discovered Sayers on a hot summer afternoon in North Carolina. I was waiting for a friend in the common room at Duke when I spotted on the bookshelf next to me the irresistible title, THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB. I was, I think, on chapter 3 when my friend appeared, and by then I was profoundly in love with Lord Peter.
I am known in the Dorthy L Sayers Society as The Bellona Club.
If anyone reading this has not found his way to the Lord Peter Wimsey series, do not delay. Begin reading now. Start with WHOSE BODY? and CLOUDS OF WITNESS. STRONG POISON, FIVE RED HERRINGS, GAUDY NIGHT, and BUSMAN’S HONEYMOON are best read in that order. Here is the list of titles.
WHOSE BODY? (1923)
CLOUDS OF WITNESS (1926)
UNNATURAL DEATH (1927)
LORD PETER VIEWS THE BODY (1928) Short stories
THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB (1928)
THE DOCUMENTS IN THE CASE (1930)
STRONG POISON (1930)
FIVE RED HERRINGS (1931)
HANGMAN’S HOLIDAY (1933) Short stories
MURDER MUST ADVERTISE (1933)
THE NINE TAILORS (1934) The tailors are bells. This is a treatise on change ringing.
GAUDY NIGHT (1935) Alumni weekend at Cambridge.
BUSMAN’S HONEYMOON (1937)
IN THE TEETH OF THE EVIDENCE (1939) Short stories
And then we have two controversial books. Left unfinished when Sayers died, they have been completed by Jill Paton Walsh. Some readers are pleased with the result and think Walsh has done a bang up job. Others are dismissive. I figure any Sayers is better than none.
THRONES, DOMINATIONS (1998)
A PRESUMPTION OF DEATH (2002)