The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers: B

theninetailorsFrom the back cover:
The nine tellerstrokes from the belfry of an ancient country church toll out the death of an unknown man and call the famous Lord Peter Wimsey to confront and contemplate the good and evil that lurks in all of life and in every human’s actions. Steeped in the atmosphere of a quiet parish in the strange, flat fen country of East Anglia, this is a tale of suspense, character, and mood by an author critics and readers rate as one of the great masters of the mystery novel.

Before I checked The Nine Tailors out of my local library, I was laboring under the misapprehension that it would feature a nonet of suit-making suspects. Imagine my surprise when instead of haberdashery, I got campanology, as the title actually refers to the nine tolls of a church’s largest bell (dubbed Tailor Paul) that announce the death of a male adult in the parish.

When Lord Peter Wimsey is stranded in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul over New Year’s Eve while awaiting repairs to his car, he is drafted by the kindly yet absentminded rector to fill in for a sick man for a nine-hour spate of change ringing to celebrate the new year. Wimsey proceeds on his way the following day, but when a body turns up in the parish some months later, the rector writes to ask whether he would be willing to assist the local investigators. Although the cause of death cannot be determined, it’s obvious that the body didn’t find its way into someone else’s freshly dug grave on its own. Wimsey is intrigued and very quickly works out that the case might have something to do with a jewel theft that occurred 20 years ago.

On the whole, I found The Nine Tailors to be an entertaining read. It doesn’t provide any new character development for Wimsey—he doesn’t seem to show much emotion when Harriet Vane’s not around—but offers a nicely puzzling mystery in a quaint and unusual setting. While I found the identity of the dead man relatively easy to guess, I was genuinely surprised by the ultimate solution. Two things dimmed my enjoyment of the title somewhat. First, each chapter is prefaced by an instructional quote about change ringing and egad, are these passages both boring and confusing! Second, the local official seems to be a bad influence on Lord Peter, because the two of them together spend a great amount of time concocting various scenarios that would make all the clues fit together. I’m sure that’s human nature and all that, but I suppose I subscribe to Sherlock Holmes’ caution against theorizing in advance of the facts.

Gaudy Night is finally next, and I’m feeling pretty giddy about that, though I really hope I don’t find it disappointing after hearing so much good about it. You may expect a review before the year is out!

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  1. So which did you prefer? Murder Must Advertise or 9 Tailors?

    • The Nine Tailors. Murder Must Advertise had all that weird, “Let’s dress up like a clown to confuse the high chick” business. 🙂

    • How about you? 🙂

      • That’s true, I had forgotten about all that stupid Harlequin business that was in MMA. But overall I much preferred that. I’m not sure why but I found 9 Tailors incredibly, mind-numbingly boring. The ratio of introspection and internal angst to actual mystery seemed off.

        • I wonder if what you call introspection is what I call “theorizing in advance of the facts.” There was, indeed, much much mulling. And much talk of bells and fens and sluice gates, etc.

          It’s neat that these later Wimseys can be so different, though. Some of the early ones are kind of similar but these recent ones have been pretty unique.

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