Peter Wimsey in Strong Poison Mystery

Sayers is a brilliant thinker and novelist. Her Peter Whimsey mysteries are fraught with the navigations and negotiations that women and men must make to create and sustain a relationship.  Her characters, primary and secondary, are all well drawn and intriguing. She allows her second string to play an important part in solving the mysteries.  The glimpses into upper class (very upper) British life are tantalising -- especially as Lord Peter has begun to realize that his family's way of life and living is soon to be an anachronism. 
Her novels show that she was far ahead of her times in her views of society, education and the relative roles of men and women.

Many issues that were hot-button topics in Sayers' day, such as the changing role of women, are examined, with different characters presenting different viewpoints. She also pokes fun at trends like spiritualism (there is a hilarious séance segment) and the modernist movement. I enjoyed her description of a party hosted by "Bolshevik and musical" people at which the attendees are all modernists who dismiss musical pieces with a melody as hopelessly "bourgeois," favoring instead "pure vibration with no antiquated pattern in it." As one partygoer puts it, "Why cling to the octave? Till you can cast away the octave and its sentimental associations, you walk in the fetters of convention."

Sayers' novels are a treasure trove of information as far as mundane aspects of life in the 1920s and 1930s are concerned, and therefore very useful to a person interested in learning more about the period because these are the very details which historians tend to neglect.

When download or buy this Strong Poison (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries) the opening description of the trial, with its detailed account of the judge's comments, feels excessive; the solution to the crime is tricksy and relies heavily on coincidence; and Harriet Vane stands out less effectively than such supporting characters as Miss Climpson. Nonetheless, it has its charms, most particularly in Sayers' witty and highly literate style and the continued evolution of the characters she had previously created.

This book probably had a special signficance for Dorothy Sayers. First, it introduced her alter-ego, Harriet. Secondly, some of the events that happened to Harriet -- living with a boyfriend, the "test" -- really happened in real life, although presumably Sayers didn't come under suspicion of having murdered her ex.

The murder itself is very intriguing, if very slow-moving and roundabout. The case against Harriet is practically foolproof, so it's intriguing to see Wimsey carefully pulling the chinks out of it, and exposing another motive for the dead man's death. But they include some funny (if too brief) moments, like Peter having tea with a hilarious lesbian couple ("Philip Boyes was always determined to be a victim, and it was very irritating of him to succeed in the end"), or the fake seance.

The reader is immediately drawn into the story through a recounting of the evidence against Harriet Vane; she is on trail for murdering her lover with arsenic. The case against her seems airtight, and it isn't helpful that she was writing a mystery concerning arsenic poisoning, but Wimsey is convinced of her innocence, and is just as convinced of making her his wife. When the jury can come to no verdict, the defense has one month before Vane will be retried. Wimsey takes it upon himself, with a colorful cast of helpers, to make sure he clears Harriet's name and finds out who the real murderer is.

This mystery & thrillers book is entirely satisfying in its own right, with particularly telling passages about spiritualism (an obsession of the time). Sayers' Miss Climpson, another fascinating character, a spinster who aids Wimsey in his detective work and philanthropy, uses spiritualism to elicit the motive for the murder and ultimately the responsible party.