Review: The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers

The next of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey mysteries is The Nine Tailors, which I enjoyed thoroughly this time around, and more than the first time I read it. And the most interesting thing about it is that the mystery is the least interesting thing about it.

Lord Peter is traveling through the Fen Country on New Year’s Eve, and has a flat tire in the snow; and once rescued by the vicar of Fenchurch St. Paul finds himself dragooned to spend the night ringing bells. It seems that one of the local bell ringers is ill; and the vicar has his heart set on ringing fifteen thousand, eight hundred and forty Kent Treble Bob Majors, and thus equalling a bell-ringing record set in 1868.

Welcome to the world of English bell ringing, the source of the phrase “ringing the changes”. The point seems to be to ring a peal of bells (in this case, a full peal of eight bells), one bell at a time, so as to go through every possible permutation of the eight bells. There are numerous paths through this set of permutations; I gather that Kent Treble Bob Major is one such pattern. Church bells are given names, and the largest bell in the steeple Fenchurch St. Paul is called “Tailor Paul”; and when a man dies, Tailor Paul is tolled nine times.

Lord Peter leaves with good memories, and is cheerfully drawn back when an unexplained corpse is found some months later. There’s quite the mystery involved with it; but really, the book is a portrait of the people and landscape of the Fen Country. I found it charming, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

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