Saturday, January 25, 2020

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (1927)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. - Hebrews 12:1

About the author:  See this Wikipedia article.

Major characters:

  • Inspector Charles Parker
  • Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Gerald Wimsey, the Duke of Denver
  • Lady Mary Wimsey, their sister, engaged to...
  • Captain Denis Cathcart, the victim
  • Miss Lydia Cathcart, Denis' aunt
  • James Fleming, Cathcart's manservant
  • Mervyn Bunter, Lord Peter's butler
  • George Goyles
  • Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot
  • Col. & Mrs. Marchbanks
  • Mr. & Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson
  • The Dowager Duchess of Denver, Lord Peter's mother
  • Farmer Grimethorpe, who will loose the dogs on you if you look at his wife


Synopsis: Lord Peter Wimsey is on holiday along with faithful butler, the Archie Goodwin-like Mervyn Bunter. They suddenly see news in the paper that his brother, Gerald Wimsey, the Duke of Denver, has been arrested on suspicion of murder. It seems he was found crouching over the dead body of Captain Denis Cathcart - who was engaged to Lady Mary Wimsey (Peter and Gerald's sister). Even worse, they had been seen in an argument earlier in the evening. No, wait, it gets even more worse - Gerald's gun is found beside the body. An expensive jeweled cat pin is found nearby.

There is a ray of hope - footprints are found leading away from the crime scene, to marks where a motorcycle/sidecar combo has departed. Lord Peter manages to track down the maker of the footprints in an underground socialist pub, and winds up with a bullet in his shoulder for his efforts. Then he and Bunter follow clues across a soupy moor - at night - in the fog - and fall into a pit of quicksand. They are rescued, and brought to a nearby hut of Farmer Grimethorpe, who has previously loosed the dogs on Wimsey. It seems Grimethorpe is intensly jealous of anyone who looks at, or speaks to, his stunning wife.

Gerald comes up to trial with all the pomp required of a peer trial. Things quickly start going downhill in the courtroom, for as every lawyer learns on day one of law school: Never ask a witness a question if you do not already know how they will answer!

Review: A very enjoyable and humorous Wimsey. Much ado is spent sorting out different versions of who-did-what-when in the house. The quick fact finding trip to Paris is fun. The adventure of falling into the bog on moor is very Sherlock Holmes-ish, and the rescue to the Grimethorpe farm turns the key in finding out what really happened. The buildup to the elaborate trial is fun with all its associated pageantry, and the trial itself falls apart quickly in Erle Stanley Gardner fashion as hapless lawyers attempt, unsuccessfully, to control unruly witnesses who blurt out all sorts of damaging details. The dangling loose end of the tragic Grimethorpe couple is resolved nicely at the very end. Unfortunately, the Dowager Duchess only makes one brief appearance in the story. 

Note: A floor plan of the house is provided for the reader to follow along, and the Gun Room is mislabelled as "Gin Room", which I admit would be a lot more fun.

Please also see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

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