Thursday, February 13, 2020

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers (1933)

About the author:  See this Wikipedia article.

Major characters:

Staff of Pym's Publicity:
  • Victor Dean, deceased from falling down the stairs
  • Death Bredon, the new copy writer
  • Other copy writers: Mr. Ingleby and Miss Meteyard
  • Copy Chiefs: Mr. Hankin and Mr. Armstrong
  • Mr. Pym, owner 
  • Mr. Willis
  • Mr. Tallboy, group manager for the Nutrax account
  • Assistants: Miss Rossiter and Miss Parton
  • Mr. Prout, photographer
  • Pamela Dean, the late Victor Dean's sister
  • Dian de Momerie, wealthy dilettante who runs with the party crowd
  • Major Tod Milligan, drug distributor
  • Inspector Charles Parker
  • Lord Peter Wimsey
Locale: England

Synopsis:  Pym's Publicity is a busy advertising agency with a chaotic staff. Between floors is an iron spiral staircase, which some have always considered unsafe. Copy writer Victor Dean has just fallen down these stairs and died as the story begins, and Death Bredon is coming in as his replacement. Bredon is curious about the incident, and finding a note from Dean suggesting something is fishy at Pym's, leads him to suspect murder. He seeks to learn about it, and strikes up a friendship with Dean's sister, Pamela. 

Through Pamela, Bredon is introducted to the drug party crowd of enchanting Dian de Momerie. Bredon attends a party in harlequin costume, and begins a teasing on-again, off-again relationship with de Momerie; always remaining in his costume to hide his identity. He becomes a legend, appearing without warning.

Bredon finds the connection between the party crowd and Pym's is the method of distributing drugs; which led to the murder of Dean, the man who knew too much.


A very nice page-turner, I did not mention Lord Peter in the synopsis as it would be a spoiler. 

The sudden revelation of the identity of Death Bredon came as a surprise to me, I should have seen it coming.

The chaotic activities at Pym's are sometimes hard to follow, with a parade of every employee challenging the reader to keep track of who's who. The descriptions show some of the true absurdities of corporate life. 

Much is made of the fact that Victor Dean did not relinquish his hold on a book during his fatal fall, yet this turned out to be a big red herring which never was brought up again.

The interplay of Bredon (as the harlequin) and Dian de Momerie is rather fairy-tale, especially the forest scene with him playing the pan pipes in a tree to Dian below. Dian becomes enchanted with this mysterious figure, reminding me of Luisa and the bandit El Gallo of The Fantasticks.

The chapter "Unexpected Conclusion of a Cricket Match" is a highly detailed play-by-play of the game, which didn't mean anything to me - not being familiar with the game - but the ending of the game did provide a plot element as a catalyst to wrap the story up.

The method the drug dealers use in dealing with security risks gets a bit repetitive, send them out on the sidewalk and a convenient truck jumps the sidewalk and runs over them (happens 3 times).

The denouement explains the involvement of Pym's and the drug trade, a clever little strategem involving the use of the advertisements themselves, a World War II -era espionage staple.

PS> If  you enjoy books set in advertising agencies, also try The Hand of Power by Edgar Wallace, which features Pawter's Publicity Services.

Also please see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

No comments:

Post a Comment