From the back cover:
The body was on the pointed rocks alongside the stream. The artist might have fallen from the cliff where he was painting, but there are too many suspicious elements—particularly the medical evidence that proves he’d been dead nearly half a day, though eyewitnesses had seen him alive a scant hour earlier. And then there are the six prime suspects—all of them artists, all of whom wished him dead. Five are red herrings, but one has created a masterpiece of murder that baffles everyone, including Lord Peter Wimsey.
At first, I was telling people that The Five Red Herrings ought to be marketed as a sleep aid, because I had dozed off while reading it no fewer than five times. By the end, though, I ended up liking it a good bit.
One thing in its favor was merciful lack of wills! Each of the suspects had their own motive based on something the victim had done to tick them off, which was a lovely change. Another thing I liked was that everyone had their own imperfect alibi, which enabled the local police force (far more involved in the case than is usual for a Wimsey mystery) to each put forth their own theory, using the established facts but implicating someone different each time.
Wimsey seemed to know who the culprit was all along, and early on instructed one of the locals to conduct a search of the crime scene for a particular item. I didn’t get what he was after at first, though later thought I had. I was incorrect, but somehow ended up suspecting the correct person for the wrong reasons. Still, I enjoyed that the guilt of each of the others seemed plausible, and that Sayers somehow made it easy to keep all the varying bits of evidence straight.
The overall feel of the novel was a little more precise and clinical than usual, relying largely on train schedules and hypothetical time tables of how the crime was perpetrated. There was no trace of the romantic angst Wimsey suffered in the last novel. Additionally, Bunter and Parker, usually fairly active in Wimsey’s cases, appeared only briefly, and even Lord Peter was absent for long stretches of time as the locals pursued their own investigation. Some of these fellows were pretty indistinguishable, I’m afraid.
Although this wasn’t a characteristic Wimsey novel, I still enjoyed it. I believe Harriet Vane is due to reappear in the next one, so I expect a return of the angst, but she and Lord Peter also seem to be detecting in tandem, which sounds very appealing. Could this finally be the start of the really great ones?