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9733Re: [GAdetection] Re: Sayers

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  • Nicholas Fuller
    May 7, 2005
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      The trouble with Red Herrings, of course, is that it doesn't have any characters - it's one of the very few purely Croftsian works complete with railway timetables and unbreakable alibis that is vaguely entertaining - largely because Sayers is such a good writer and enthusiastic about her material in a way that Crofts never was. (When Crofts is enthusiastic, he descends into bathos - cf, or rather don't, The Cheyne Mystery, which concludes with the "Moral of the Book" in a way reminiscent of Victorian writers at their utmost worst.)

      From being someone who couldn't stick Sayers at any price (probably because I was too young - Innes and Sayers were two writers whose work I found obscure until I tried Lament for a Maker and Murder Must Advertise respectively at the age of sixteen), I've become a great Sayers fan, and like almost all her books except for Clouds of Witness, which is underwhelming. Busman's Honeymoon has a good locked room murder, but is rather soppy (and I prefer my Donne unadulterated). I think her first-class books are:

      Unnatural Death (fast-paced and almost thrillerish; good villainness and a really clever murder method - which has now been disproved?)
      The Documents in the Case (borrows Wilkie Collins's device of telling the story through letters; good characterisation and a really interesing philosophical discussion)
      Have His Carcase (a classic of the genre and the best of the Harriet Vanes - tide and time-tables, very clever bloody murder; only problem is the bits with the code are rather dull to a non-mathematician - I prefer Van Dine or Queen's musings on symbols and literary devices any day)
      Murder Must Advertise (splendid portrayal of an advertising agency and good use of the Bright Young Sinners)
      The Nine Tailors (goes without saying)
      Gaudy Night (if only university were as satisfying!)

      Reading too many books by an author can be very tiring - I nearly went off the detective story altogether after reading several decidedly sub-par humdrums (not that humdrums are bad - writers like the Coles, Connington, Rhode and Wade can produce sterling stuff, particularly the latter - but too many books relying on plot rather than characterisation and in which the solution is obvious from the beginning get very boring very quickly). This, of course, is one of the problems with reading authors in order of appearance - no doubt if I'd varied my detective diet (although I was reading only three a month out of a dozen or so books a month) I would have enjoyed them more. I think that Bailey and Christie (1920), Sayers (1923), Van Dine (1926), Allingham (1928), Mitchell, Punshon and Queen (1929) are the only first-rate writers of the 1920s; the rest are generally good second-raters at best, capable of producing the odd classic here and there but not with the steady batting order of
      the others. (Henry Wade comes very close, mind.) Happily I'm now into the late 1920s, when things begin to get really interesting! The 1930s are, I think, the really classic period of the detective story - the time when there were a lot of prolific authors experimenting with the detective story, not only with the technical details of alibi and method, but with its very structure and genre - above all, the time when the detective story became fun.



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