27 July, 2007

The Nine Tailors

I recently bought a copy of this book at a used bookstore, partly because I collect Dorothy Sayers (and Agatha Christie) books compulsively, and partly because it was a remarkably nice edition. Having bought it, I felt it necessary to read the book. I started yesterday and have already finished it. Never once have I regretted momentarily dropping David McCullough's (excellent) biography of John Adams. This book is without a doubt one of the most brilliant mystery novels I've ever read. Not the most mystifying; one may guess at a rough outline of the solution about halfway through. But is certainly leaves enough questions about details - how, why, when, etc - nearly unsolvable until the last chapters. Nothing about the mystery struck me as less than satisfying, at any rate, even if it wasn't a pure "who-dun-it" right up until the final moment.

I'd also mention that the characterization here, and in the Peter Wimsey novels in general, makes it a worthwhile read even for those who aren't fans of the mystery genre. While only the rare mystery writer (in my limited experience) analyzes characters in the minute way a Dostoevsky or Tolstoy does, the characterization here is much more sophisticated than most. Entertaining and nigh-flawless, but also rather deeper than one finds in the pure "who-dun-it". Let me add that I was further convinced by this book that Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the most interesting sleuths in the genre.

The aspect of the book which I most enjoyed was the setting. Sayers conveys the small East Anglia town convincingly without reverting to any of the clichés that have grown up around English small town life. The plot centers around the Anglican church of the village, particularly around the bell tower of that church. The way bell-ringing in old churches works plays a crucial and surprisingly fascinating role in the story; the subject is so well presented that one may finish the novel feeling inclined to find a non-fiction book about the same.

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