This is one of the first few Wimsey novels I read, very shortly after Strong Poison, and while there were bits I liked I’m afraid I found it long, tedious, and confusing. Consequently, I was surprised and pleased to find the book completely entertaining on this go round.
Harriet Vane is out on a walking tour of the coast, trying to forget Lord Peter, whom she does not want to marry, when she comes across a beach in the middle of which is a large rock. She notes that “A solitary rock is always attractive. All right-minded people feel an overwhelming desire to scale and sit upon it.”, and proceeds to do so…only to find that it’s already occupied—by a corpse, a bearded man whose throat has been cut. The evidence is such that he must have been killed only moments before, but there is no one else in sight, and the beach is pristine. Who is he? Who killed him? And why?
She goes to the police as quickly as she can, which is not very; she’s in the middle of nowhere. And shortly thereafter Lord Peter shows up, and the two them alternate between investigating the murder and advancing their mutual story arc.
It became clear to me as I was reading this last week that the reason I’d found it tedious before is that last time I was in the grip of Sleuthly Romance Derangement Syndrome (SRDS), which is to say that I cared more for finding out what was going to happen to Lord Peter and Harriet’s romance (narrative causality dictating that they would get married eventually) than I did for the mystery at hand; and this is always fatal to enjoying a mystery novel. The sleuth’s story arc is there, and lends interest, but it’s icing, not cake, and if you’re reading through the cake as quickly as you can to get to the icing it’s not surprising if it doesn’t taste very good.
This time (remembering how the Wimsey/Vane arc plays out, and that no resolution was to be looked for in this book) I was able to focus on the mystery, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. As so often before the mystery turns on a single fact, a fact that takes the whole tapestry of incident and turns it over to reveal the finished picture. And, as in at least one of the previous Wimsey books, it’s something that was new then and probably couldn’t be done now.
But anyway, I quite enjoyed it; and for those who also have a tendency to SRDS, just relax. Enjoy the book.