In The Teeth Of The Evidence, by Dorothy L. Sayers

>> Friday, May 28, 2004

In The Teeth Of The Evidence is a collection of short stories by Dorothy L. Sayers. It contains 3 types of story:

First, 2 Lord Peter Wimsey stories. Pretty unremarkable, both of them. The second one, Absolutely Elsewhere, which shows Lord Peter destroying what looks like a cast-iron alibi, is ingenious, but that's it.

After those, come the Montague Egg stories, 5 of them. Also mostly unremarkable, with the added problem that in a couple, the solution rested on a minute knowledge of abtruse subjects, like the inner working of grandfather clocks. Maybe at the time of writing it was common-ish knowledge, but now...

Anyway, I thought the best of these 5 was Bitter Almonds (about Montague investigating the death of a client who died after drinking one of his (Monty's) spirits), that in that one, too, the solution was unguessable. I also quite enjoyed The Professor's Manuscript. The clues there that suggest all is not as it seems are clearer.

And then comes the good part of the book, 10 short stories, none of them detective stories, and these were something else. I quite enjoyed these.

---> The Milk-Bottles was a cute story about newspaper journalists making much ado about the mystery of a house in the tenements where the milk bottles started to accumulate at the door and an awful smell started emanating from within. Nice!

---> Then Dilemma, a story I loved, which recounted an evening at the pub discussing "ethical problems" such as... "if you had the choice between rescuing from a fire a diseased tramp and the Codex Sinaiticus, which would you save?" I loved the conclusion!

---> An Arrow O'er the House was entertaining, with an author trying to attract a publisher's notice by starting a marketing campaing... sending the publisher ominous anonymous notes. I thought it was going to go in a very obvious direction, but there was a nice twist in the end.

---> Scrawns was pretty good and creepy. I liked the atmosphere in the house where the young protagonist arrives to take a parlourmaid job.

---> Nebuchadnezzar was one of my favourites. It narrates an evening playing a game called Nebuchadnezzar, a version of charades and the effect it has on a young man whose wife has recently died. This was excellent, especially the way it showed the increasingly weird state of mind of the man from whose POV this its' narrated.

The only thing I wish is that I knew more about those bible stories used to act out the charades. I'm shockingly ignorant in that aspect.

---> The Inspiration of Mr. Budd is a fun story. Mr. Budd is a hairdresser whose shop is doing badly. He needs capital, and when he recognizes a client as a wanted murderer, he sees a chance to get the reward. The only problem is, Mr. Budd has no chance against a big, strong man like this guy. His solution had me laughing, wonderful man!

---> I didn't much like Blood Sacrifice. It's about a playwright whose play was bought by a famous actor-manager and adapted in a way the writer feels is nauseatingly sentimental, and is ruining his reputation as a "serious" playwright. Alas, the play is having a great success, so he can't do anything. Unless, of course, something should happen to the actor-manager...

---> Suspicion was pretty good, if depressing. Mr. Mummery has recently hired a new cook, and has, also recently, started to have gastrointestinal trouble. It just so happens that a poisoner, a middle aged woman, is at large and presumed in the neighbourhood... Mr. Mummery puts two and two together and starts feeling uneasy.

---> The Leopard Lady wasn't too good. It's about a guy who's having money trouble, and could do with the money his nephew and ward has inherited. What if someone offered him to remove him with no risk? I found this just depressing.

---> Finally, The Cyprian Cat. I didn't completely "get" this one. This is told in the first person, as the narrator tells his defense attorney what happened, why he shot a cat making noise and is now to be tried for murdering his friend's wife.

With no clunkers and quite a few little gems, this anthology deserves a B+.


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