Hangman’s Holiday by Dorothy L. Sayers: B-

hangmansBook description:
Amusing and absolutely appalling things happen on the way to the gallows when murder meets Lord Peter Wimsey and the delightful working-class sleuth Montague Egg. This sumptuous feast of criminal doings and undoings includes a vintage double identity and a horrid incident of feline assassination that will tease the minds of cat lovers everywhere. Not to be missed are “The Incredible Elopement of Peter Wimsey” (with a lovely American woman-turned-zombie) and eight more puzzlers penned in inimitable style by the mistress of murder.

I’m really not much of a fan of short stories in any case, but was significantly underwhelmed by most of the tales in this collection. The first four stories feature Lord Peter Wimsey, and feature either silly quasi-supernatural plots (“The Image in the Mirror” and “The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey”) or near-identical scenarios of a crime occuring while Peter is attending festivities with a small group of suspects (“The Queen’s Square” and “The Necklace of Pearls”). None is very good.

The next six stories feature salesman-turned-sleuth, Montague Egg, who seems to have a knack for turning up just after someone has died or sharing a pub with a wanted man. He has an eye for detail honed during his occupational duties—Mr. Egg is a big one for refining his skills and continually quotes rhyming maxims from The Salesman’s Handbook, like “the goodwill of the maid is nine-tenths of the trade”—and assists police in discovering the relevant facts of the case. I liked these stories a bit better than those starring Lord Peter, particularly “Maher-Shalal-Hashbaz,” which I thought I might dislike on account of being a sensitive cat lover, though they have a strange tendency to end after the culprit is identified but not yet confronted with his/her crimes.

The best stories of the lot are actually the last two, which star no sleuth at all. In “The Man Who Knew How,” our protagonist, Pender, meets a fellow on the train who claims to know the perfect, untraceable murder method that makes victims appear to’ve died in their baths. Pender keeps running into the same fellow in the vicinity of where such deaths have occurred and takes it upon himself to become an avenger. In “The Fountain Plays,” a refined gentleman with a secret does the unthinkable to protect it. Both end in unexpected ways and seem to be rather more clever than their predecessors. I’m not sure whether they were written later, or whether each received a little more polish on account of acting as a stand-alone piece, but I definitely liked them the best.

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  1. Have you read any Christie short stories? I can’t remember how much of a Christie fan you are, actually. I’d be interested to see how you think they compare. (I think Christie’s are better — but she wrote a lot of short stories, so had a great deal of practice.)

    • No I haven’t, yet. I do still intend to read all of Christie’s works in as close to chronological order as I can manage, but I only got a few books in.

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