In the Teeth of the Evidence and Other Mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers: B

From the back cover:
A fleeing killer’s green mustache. A corpse clutching a note with misplaced vowels. A telephone with the unmistakable ring of death. A hopeful heir’s dreams of fortune done in when nature beats him to the punch. A playwright’s unwatered-down honor that is thicker than blood.

In each case, the murder baffles the local authorities. For his Lordship and the spirited salesman-sleuth Montague Egg, a corpse is an intriguing invitation to unravel the postmortem puzzles of fascinating falsehoods, mysterious motives, and diabolical demises.

In the Teeth of the Evidence and Other Mysteries is a collection of short stories, not all of them technically mysteries. Two feature Lord Peter Wimsey, five star Montague Egg, and the other eleven tell of wanted criminals, murderous relations, unpleasant smells, and more!

The two Lord Peter stories, “In the Teeth of the Evidence” and “Absolutely Elsewhere,” are not very exciting. They’re better than some of the Wimsey stories in previous collections, but coming off a novel like Busman’s Honeymoon in which Peter’s character is explored in greater depth than ever before, they seem incredibly lacking by comparison. It’s like we’re seeing a mere shadow of the person we’ve come to know, and anyone could have taken his place without altering the story one bit.

Montague Egg’s stories are somewhat more entertaining, although they share the common trait of ending abruptly. The focus here is on Egg’s cleverness, and once the clues have been interpreted to work out the method of the crime or the culprit, the stories tend to just stop. I suppose it isn’t really necessary to show the criminal being apprehended, and perhaps this would grow repetitive after a while, but the suddenness of the conclusions is jarring all the same.

The best and worst of the collection can be found in the stories with no detective character. Standouts include “The Milk-Bottles,” in which a week’s worth of milk bottles accumulating on a doorstep leads to suspicions of a terrible crime, and “Dilemma,” in which various tough decisions of the “which one would you save?” variety are debated. This last isn’t even a mystery at all, but just a really good story with a nice ending.

Several of the stories have amusing endings, in fact, though just as many have predictable ones, and a few seem absolutely determined never to end. One of the most tiresome for me was “Nebuchadnezzar,” which features a party attendee who becomes convinced that a group playing charades is about to reveal the fact that he murdered his wife. I think we spend too much time in his head as he freaks out, and it becomes annoying. Similarly, parts of “The Inspiration of Mr. Budd,” about a hairdresser who realizes that his customer is a wanted criminal, are irritating as the protagonist dithers about what to do, though this one redeems itself in the end.

While nowhere near as good or satisfying as a Wimsey novel, and barely offering anything about that noble sleuth, In the Teeth of the Evidence is still notable for containing some very good short stories by Sayers. I’m glad I read it.

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