The eleventh book in Dorothy L Sayers' classic Lord Peter Wimsey series, introduced by writer Jill Paton Walsh - a must-read for fans of Agatha Christie's Poirot and Margery Allingham's Campion Mysteries. When his sexton finds a corpse in the wrong grave, the rector of Fenchurch St Paul asks Lord Peter Wimsey to find out who the dead man was and how he came to be there. The lore of bell-ringing and a brilliantly-evoked village in the remote fens of East Anglia are the unforgettable background to a story of an old unsolved crime and its violent unravelling twenty years later. 'She brought to the detective novel originality, intelligence, energy and wit.' P. D. James
This is a great book, a family favourite, and if only the ending section could be longer. If you have not yet read 'The Nine Tailors' you should, as quickly as possible. It has a suspicious death, mistaken identity, fascinating characters with super backstories, and bell ringing.
So much bell ringing, it is a classic for those who have even the slightest interest in the subject. As a picture of interwar life in the fens of Cambridgeshire, it is a detailed account of flooding and the problems of maintaining usable roads and fields. The characters really work as people, in all their failings and strengths, and the search for justice on several levels occupies many minds.
Sayers' most famous character, Lord Peter Wimsey, is travelling in a snowy winter with his faithful manservant, Bunter. A mechanical failure leaves them searching for shelter, which they find with the Rector of the church in Fenchurch St. Paul.
Despite his wife trying to calm him, the reverend gentleman is concerned with the attempt to ring a peal, which could be derailed by the absence of one of the regular ringers. Wimsey knows ringing and the obsession it can be, so takes a rope and there is much detail about the ringing of the peal. Wimsey also becomes involved in the village community, the traditional ringing of a solo bell for a death, and the loss of Lady Thorpe, whose family has been suffering after the theft of some emeralds some years before this tale. The crime has left other victims as those involved with the missing gems still live in the local area.
When a body is discovered Wimsey and Butler commence investigations, which involve tracking one person to France. It is an involved story, but so well told with many accurate church descriptions that Sayers' specialist knowledge is displayed.
My favourite part of this novel is the section that I wish could be longer, as a flood hits the three Fenchurch villages. Without spoiling the suspense, the rector and wife organise the sanctuary of many people and their livestock in the church and rectory. During the two weeks of isolation the community comes together and Wimsey discovers some facts which solve the mystery.
This novel shows Sayers' writing at the height of her powers, with her favoured Wimsey central to discovering what has really happened, and becoming a trustee for a determined young woman. Each character, however, is really well drawn in this book, even if they are not central to the story, and I get the impression that Sayers really enjoyed writing it. Despite the absence of Harriet, it remains my favourite Sayers novels, and the cold and wet weather setting is a refreshing read for hot weather!