Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy Sayers

In Whose Body?, Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother the Duke of Denver wishes that Lord Peter would give over his hobby of sleuthing; and Lord Peter promises him that he might have cause to be grateful for it. This promise pays off immediately in Lord Peter’s second outing, Clouds of Witness. Lord Peter returns from an extended vacation in Corsica to discover that his brother the Duke is on trial for the murder of the fiancé of his and Lord Peter’s sister Lady Mary. The Duke’s family and friends were gathered for the holidays at a hunting lodge in Riddlesdale, when the Duke discovered some unsavory things about said fiancé and told him to leave the house. Some hours later, Lady Mary found the Duke at the door of the Conservatory with the fiancé dead at his feet.

Sounds rather like a game of Clue; and really, it’s not an inappropriate comparison, as it is exactly this sort of Golden Age “country house” mystery that Clue is spoofing. There are red herrings galore; and much whimsy by Lord Peter; and Sayers takes the country house mystery in some interesting and unexpected directions. Seems that Lady Mary had a love affair with a young gentleman of the anarcho-Marxist variety, and that there is more to this country house than there might seem.

I continue to enjoy Lord Peter’s voice; and I’m intrigued by the manner in which each book is consciously a product of its day. I’ve read many country house mysteries, many of them set in a similar time period…but written decades after that period. They exist in a kind of Platonic realm of English Country Houses. Sayers linked her novels to issues of the day without being preachy. Neat trick, that.

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