Monday, January 16, 2012

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers

“Not one of my best efforts,” Sayers said, but surely one of the most entertaining.

Dorothy Sayers, a friend and contemporary of CS Lewis, was one of those early-twentieth-century academics that appears to have been good at everything. Her most enduring works include translations of the Divine Comedy and The Song of Roland; essays including The Lost Tools of Learning, a famous argument for classical education; The Man Born to be King, a cycle of radio plays on the life of Christ; the famous Guiness Beer Toucan advertisement; and, perhaps most enjoyably, the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories.

To most people, including (to their downfall) most criminals, Lord Peter appears to be a rich idiot with no day job, fastidious tastes, and a Jeeves-like valet. In fact he has a quiet reputation as a brilliant detective. When a copywriter at Pym’s Publicity, Ltd (an advertising agency) falls to his death, foul play is suspected and Lord Peter agrees to go and work there for as long as it takes to unravel the mystery. By day he is Death Bredon, impoverished distant relative of the Wimsey family and inventor of the famous Whiffle Your Way Around Britain advertising campaign. By night he is the mysterious harlequin frequenting the wild parties of cocaine-addled socialite Dian de Mommerie, a friend of the deceased. What’s behind the death at Pym’s? Who else is involved?

Murder Must Advertise shows Dorothy L Sayers at her most entertaining, full of wit and fun and social satire (the Wimsey/Bunter relationship to begin with is intentionally Wodehouseian). She may have thought it inconsequential, but with a body of Wimsey novels including the more serious The Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night, and The Five Red Herrings, there’s plenty of latitude for a little froth. Unless you want to start with the first Wimsey novel, Whose Body?, this one is a great place to start.


Radagast said...

This is one of my favourite Dorothy Sayers novels (after, of course, Gaudy Night). It draws on her own experiences working as an advertising copywriter, and has many things to say about ethics in advertising. Things that are still valid, because we are still assaulted by billboards that say "Eat more Oats" and "Take Care of your Complexion" and "No More War."

It is also, of course, very funny in places, though tragic in others. I would recommend it, and it's certainly a great place to start with the Wimsey novels.

Kara Dekker said...

When I first read this, I said to myself "I must learn more about cricket", little knowing I would one day live in a country where people are mad about it! I should read it again. It's one of my favourites, along with Strong Poison and Gaudy Night.


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