Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L Sayers

>> Thursday, November 06, 2003

Clouds of Witness is the second book in Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series.

Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt--until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket, and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be--a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt ... a grieving fiancee with suitcase in hand ... and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.
I liked this one better than the first book, Whose Body?. The mystery was better, and it didn't have all politically incorrect stuff that I didn't like about that one.

Clouds of Witness is fascinating as a historical, showing a time when aristocracy still had some importance, but it was quickly fading. The 1920s are (unfortunately) not a really well-explored period in the books I tend to read, so I found many interesting tidbits here, like the way the trials were conducted (some of this I had seen in Agatha Christie books), or the "revolutionary" scene in London.

Lord Peter is very likeable here. He feels more mature, less light-hearted and blithe about what's going on (thought I did like that aspect of his personality elsewhere). This is logical, of course, given that he's fighting for his brother's life.

As for the mystery itself, it was very well done, even if the end result is a little frustrating. I enjoyed the final trial scene, though some of it was a little reiterative, like the long summing-up by the defence of what exactly happened. Most of that we'd already covered a couple of times already, so it only slowed down the book.

I found it strange that the suspense about the Duke's fate is resolved so early. About halfway through the book, Parker and Lord Peter have an alibi for the him. They'd rather not use it unless it's absolutely necessary, so they'll do their best to find the real culprit instead, but the end result is that there's no much doubt that the Duke will be acquitted, one way or another.This takes away much of the urgency of the book, and I would have thought this was something the author would have wanted to keep.

The characterization of the rest of the cast was very good. I enjoyed getting to know Lord Peter's family better, and a couple of the guests at Riddlesdale were priceless! Oh, and something I liked here was how the "other woman" wasn't demonized, but portrayed positively and actively rewarded in the end.

A little interesting detail was how Sayers mostly sees no need to translate the little snippets ( sometimes important snippets!) in French. The assumption seems to be that of course a reader of her books will know at least some rudimentary French! Luckily, I do speak the language, but I thought it was funny.

Now I have a problem, since I'm missing the next couple of books in the series and I don't know when they are getting here. Should I skip them or wait?

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