Top mysteries challenge review: Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers

This is the first volume in the four book story arc within the Lord Peter Wimsey series that describes his developing relationship with Harriet Vane, from first meeting to honeymoon. Two of the books are on the top mysteries list, but I will be reading them in order of publication to get the story as it should be read.

Year of publication: 1930
Series and no.: Lord Peter Wimsey, no. 6
Genre: Mystery
Type of mystery: Murder
Type of investigator: Semi-pro
Setting & time: (mostly) London, England, 1930

Mystery author Harriet Vane stands accused of murder, but Lord Peter, who has fallen in love with her at first sight, does not believe she is guilty. When a hung jury results in a mistrial (meaning the case will have to be tried again), he sees a chance to investigate the case more thoroughly, and does so, revealing a fiendishly clever and well-planned murder plot.



One of the drawbacks of doing research before you read a book is that it can take away some of the thrill of reading it. In this case I started reading with the knowledge that Harriet Vane was innocent, which is pretty obvious as she ends up marrying Wimsey in a later book. But it couldn’t be helped – these books are just too well known for the fact to slip by any mystery fan who doesn’t wear blinkers. I can only imagine what it must have been like to read the book when it was first published, because back then no-one but the author would have known for certain that she was innocent. But enough about that, on to the review.

This whodunit has the narrowest list of suspects I have come across in a mystery, so narrow that the whodunit element can’t be sustained all the way through and around the halfway mark it turns into a whydunit, and then into a howdunit. The mystery is very cleverly done, and this is a beautifully done puzzle plot. Lord Peter is slightly less foppishly annoying in this book than in some of the previous ones, which is good, and there is a wonderfully comic interlude with his employee and sometime spy, the resourceful Miss Climpson, pretending to be a medium in order to acquire some important papers. The writing, as usual, is very readable, and fortunately less peppered with French and Latin words and phrases than some of the previous books.

Rating: A complicated mystery that has a good reason for being reckoned a classic of the genre. 4 stars.

Books left in challenge: 96.

Place on the list(s): 67/36

Awards and nominations: None I know of.


Dorte H said…
I like this book a lot, and considering when it was written, I think her plots were excellent.

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