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Cambridgeshire - The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers

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CAMBRIDGESHIRE
 
The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
 
Synopsis:
The best of the golden age crime writers, praised by all the top modern writers in the field including P. D. James and Ruth Rendell, Dorothy L. Sayers created the immortal Lord Peter Wimsey. The 11th book featuring Lord Peter, set in a country church, is often named as the best detective story ever written. 
 
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.
 
 
Other Cambridgeshire books:
 
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
Waterland by Graham Swift
Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe

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The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers ******

(previously posted on my book blog and intended to have been posted here sooner!)

I've long thought that I've previously read this. Certainly I was vaguely familiar with the ending (although not sufficiently so to spoil any enjoyment from rereading) but, having decided to tackle it as part of the English County Challenge, I realised that I've either read it so long ago that I've forgotten the vast bulk of it, or I haven't read it before at all.

Whatever, I was immensely and pleasantly surprised at what a superb read it turned out to be. I've always classed the Wimsey books as 'yet another' mid-century detective series, reinforced by memories of an excellent but still fairly lightweight TV series with Ian Carmichael. In the event, it turned out far better than that, with a depth and texture far exceeding so many other examples of the same genre. Yes, there is a slight vapidity to the character of Wimsey, but there is so much going on in terms of characterisation, setting and the level of detail (in this case, the bellringing), as well as plot beyond the actual crime, that the book rises way above the normal whodunnit level. In particular, the denouement was so much more powerful than anything I expected, the climax of a plot that had long bubbled up under the main thread. For some reason, I've long held off getting stuck into the Wimsey novels (in spite of OH's enthusiasm for them!), but that is obviously overdue a change. I should listen to my wife more often!!

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hadn't ever heard of this book before it was chosen for the English Counties Challenge, but have since discovered it is also on the 1001 books list. 

 

I was a little confused by the fact a detective series I hadn't heard of was considered a worthy contender for these lists, but now I see why. From the challenge point of view I thought it gave an excellent description of the area and the villages it was set in - particularly during some memorable flooding scenes which I thoroughly enjoyed for the descriptive writing as much as plot. 

 

And while this may be a 'detective story', there is so much depth to it, with several layers to the plot and denouement. In actual fact, Lord Peter Wimsey is probably the least developed character of the main cast. However, this is the 11th book in the series I believe and this is the first one I have read, so it may be different if I had approached them in the correct order! 

 

There is so much detail for the bellringing that I actually got a little bored of it, given I have no knowledge of the subject at all it got a little overwhelming, but it is easy to see how Sayers brings so much more to the table than a mere detective story. There are so many layers to this and so much to admire. 

 

I love Christie and Sherlock, but I feel I may have to go back and read the Wimsey series now! Another win for the English Counties Challenge. 

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Great reviews, Willoyd and Alexi. Dorothy L Sayers is very high on my list of 'must read' authors but I don't yet own any of her books. A goal for 2016, perhaps. :)

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I’m going to say it before anything else … this is the style of crime writing I avoid, and if it hadn’t been on the challenge, I would never have read it.

 

The story itself is one of the Lord Peter Wimsey series of crime novels, but having not read any of the others in the series, I can’t tell if this is a typical book or not.  What I will say is that reading as a standalone book, the story is a perfectly good murder mystery, but that the character of Wimsey seems quite slight and I rarely felt that he was actually doing much detecting.  In fact, he doesn’t seem that bothered by solving the crime at all at times, which I found a bit odd.

 

Despite the fact that I found there was not enough of Wimsey himself, I did love some of the other characters, especially the rector and his wife, and it did feel like a good breadth of characters built around the village community.  There is a part of the plot towards the end (that I won’t spoil) that brings lots of people together, and that along with some of the descriptions of life in the area did bring that part of Cambridgeshire to life, so in that respect, it does fit well into the counties challenge.

 

The opening few chapters I found a bit hard going, especially the detailed description of bell ringing and the history of the bells themselves.  I realise that this is intrinsic to the story, but it did feel a bit dry at times and I only kept going because it was a challenge book, but once the actual mystery of the dead body gets going, it was reasonably interesting.

 

By the end, I have to admit, there was nothing in this book that would encourage me to read more of this series, or even more of this type of crime novel, but that really is a personal preference and not a fault of the writing.  If you are a fan of this genre, I’m sure you’d enjoy it far more than me!  
 

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I've just posted my review, and then had a read of Willoyd and Alex's reviews and realised that we have a lot in common!  All of us find Wimsey a bit lacking, and Alex and I both found the detail of the bellringing a tad boring, but you both are more favourable overall ... it's just my aversion to this type of crime novel that leaves me a bit cold. :D

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I have never read any Dorothy L Sayers books before.  This one is the 11th Lord Peter Wimsey mystery – the story centres around bell-ringing.  Back in the day (circa 1984 to 1988) I did a spot of campanology myself, although I certainly never got to the standards in the book! I think I could still ring a bell up and back down after all this time, but as for Bob Doubles… but anyway, I digress! :giggle:

Wimsey has a minor car accident in bad weather and, with his ‘man’, stays in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul with local vicar and his wife on New Year’s Eve whilst waiting for his car to be repaired. People in the village are dropping like flies due to influenza so Wimsey, who is a bell ringer, gets roped in (pun intended!) to ring a nine hour peel on New Year’s Eve. In the tower he hears a tale of a burglary some years earlier where some emeralds were stolen and two local men were implicated in theft. The case is long unsolved as no evidence was found and neither were the stolen gems… but as the ‘flu claims more victims a body is discovered in an unlikely place and Wimsey finds himself back in the village trying to solve the crime - which is tied up with the bell ringing…

I enjoyed this book which is obviously rather dated to today’s reader, but is still a good yarn. Clearly the investigation would be much easier these days with the internet and the ease of international communication, but of course Wimsey didn’t have such luxuries. The investigation takes Wimsey to France (he says he’ll go himself to save the Police Force some money – that did make me chuckle! :giggle2: Imagine that happening now!). I loved the way the mystery unfolded… and the conclusion was something I definitely didn’t see coming. In terms of the challenge it really gave a feel for Cambridgeshire.

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Glad you enjoyed it, Janet.  I can imagine it must have been interesting to read about the campanology if it's something you've had experience of. :D  I agree with you in that it does give a feel for Cambridgeshire, so was a good fit for our challenge. :yes:

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