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Review: Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers


Pages: 261

Original date of publication: 1930

My edition: 2006 (Harper)

Why I decided to read: I felt like reading more Dorothy Sayers

How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, May 2010

Strong Poison is the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery that features Harriet Vane. When Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, goes on trial for the murder of her lover, who is also an author, Lord Peter sets out to exonerate her—falling in love with her as he does so.

Harriet is less developed as a character, of course, than Lord Peter is—but you can see a lot of promise with her and her relationship with Lord Peter. She’s headstrong, feisty and unconventional, and her conversations with Wimsey are some of the better parts of the book. You can tell that she’s quite a mental match for him; and the comparisons between Harriet and Sayers are very clear. Previously, we’ve seen Wimsey as stoic and a bit arrogant, and it’s nice to see some romance come into his life, and see him brought down a notch.

The plot is a bit predictable, and you can tell who the real murderer is from a mile away. It’s similar to Unnatural Death in that various characters stand to gain a lot of money by the death of the victim, but that the recipient of the money would have gained it anyways, murder or not; and Peter and his confederates spend the bulk of the book trying to prove otherwise. The “whodunit” isn’t quite as important as the “whydunit.” However, I’d say that in this book the mystery takes a back seat to the budding relationship between Harriet and Peter. In addition, Miss Climpson is a recurring character that I enjoy seeing over and over again—here, she’s got her own agency of superfluous women who perform various investigative services for Lord Peter.

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