I confess. Today I’m cheating. I wanted to post a recipe or review today, but biochemistry hasn’t left me much time for reading and dinner today was a cheese sandwich. What am I supposed to say, “insert cheese, sliced tomato, and a couple lengths of the green part of a green onion between two pieces of bread and bite it”? Not much of a recipe there, although the bread and cheese were both homemade and the onion and tomato are from my CSA box. So, since there is STILL more biochem, I decided to take the easy way and just post a book “talk” I wrote up a few years ago for something else. Forgive me– but if you haven’t read Sayers before, I take back my apology. If you like to read, you’re in for a treat.
Introducing… Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers. Sayers was a British professor of literature during the early half of the 20th century and wrote several mystery stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, an amateur detective with a keen sense of humor and a knack for always finding the truth however well it is disguised. Lord Peter’s mysteries always live up to his name by being whimsical and attractive. The plots he investigates are not excessively complicated, but they require a clear mind and an ability to appreciate important pieces of evidence. He is a nobleman with sufficient means to pursue his chosen vocation of bringing criminals to justice without needing to charge for his services. As a result, he frequently turns up in odd places or impersonating odd people.
Murder Must Advertise is a stand-alone mystery that will provide a wonderful read for long-time fans of mystery and beginners alike. The setting is 1920’s London, and the story begins on a perfectly normal morning at Pym’s Publicity with the office staff chatting and placing bets on horses whenever the boss’s back is turned. The peace of the morning is only disturbed by the arrival of a new copy-writer, Mr. Bredon, to replace the previous worker who had died the previous week by falling down the stairs. But it soon becomes apparent that Death Bredon may not only be concerned with advertising margarine to the unsuspecting public. Certainly, he shows a great deal of interest in the apparently accidental death of the man he replaced. As it gradually becomes clear that the death may in fact be murder, strange links to other criminal activities begin to appear. The dead man’s negative reputation and links to what more straight-laced workers scornfully refer to as “Bright Young People” who do drugs and indulge in reckless parties makes the situation even murkier, but the motive for the original murder remains unclear. As the Chief Inspector remarks when the case is described to him, the “death…might have been caused by anybody with any imaginable motive.”
Fortunately, Lord Peter is on the scene to investigate, acting out two separate personalities to gain the greatest possible amount of information from various sources- one result of which is the arrest of his more dashing persona for the very murder he is investigating. But eventual he is able to sort through murder, adultery, drug-dealing, and blackmail with his usual style and humor to find the truth. As he moves between the mundane advertising agency and the whirlwind parties of the rich and drug-inclined to discover the reason for the murder, readers are introduced with impressive intimacy to a range of detailed historical settings. The witty descriptions of office politics are easy to relate to, while the dazzling parties described in other parts give us a window into a lost era. Sayers’ excellent understanding of human nature makes all of her characters realistic and amusing, not least of all Lord Peter himself. The book combines mystery, humor, a realistic historical setting and an incomparable sleuth as well as as much as you could ever hope to know about early advertising. Murder Must Advertise is a classic that should not be missed.
N.B. If, as I fully expect, you become completely hooked on Sayers’ Wimsey stores after reading this one, you should know that although there are some chronological cues, most of them can be read in any order. The very definite exception are the four books in which he meets, solves crimes for, and eventually marries a certain young lady. As there is significant relationship development, they should be read in the following order: Strong Poison, Have His Carcass, Gaudy Night, and finally Busman’s Honeymoon. If you want to be even more of a stickler and keep his sister’s romance in order also, read Clouds of Witness before Strong Poison.