Friday, June 30, 2017

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: June 2017

Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the works they enjoyed most over the previous month.  Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.  If you wish to add your own review to the conversation, please sign on to the link list at the end of my post.

Title: Strong Poison
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
via Amazon
My wife is a huge mystery fan.  Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Hercule Poirot: she loves them all.  In fact, I'm a little surprised that she hasn't chosen one for a book swap with me before this.  She is especially fond of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers and chose Strong Poison as the best choice for introducing me to that series.

Lord Peter is an English aristocrat, circa 1930, who solves mysteries basically because he's good at it and has nothing better to do.  He strikes me as a cross between Holmes and Bertie Wooster of the P.G. Wodehouse novels.  In fact, this book references both of those other works.  Fortunately, he is more grounded than Sherlock and far more useful than Bertie.

Strong Poison begins in a courtroom.  Harriet Vane, a successful mystery novelist, stands accused of murdering her lover.  Nearly everyone is convinced of her guilt but Peter is sure she didn't do it.  When a hung jury suspends the trial, Peter pledges his services to the accused.  To make things more interesting, he's in love with her, though as the story opens, he hasn't actually met her yet.

As far as the mystery itself goes, I figured most of it out fairly early.  The story's appeal, though, is more in the characters than the plot.  Peter's delightfully zany, if brilliant.  Harriet is understated, yet charming - a perfect complement.  Bunter is Jeeves to Wimsey's Wooster.  Police inspector Parker is the practical everyman, also in love with Peter's sister.

The most clever part of this series, though, is the "cattery."  Peter maintains a typing service - I suppose an early version of a temp agency - employing women to use as his own stable of spies.  If nothing else, I think it was a brilliant way for a woman of Sayers's era to involve more female characters in the dirty work of the narrative.  Miss Climpson, who runs the cattery on Peter's behalf, is an engaging personality in her own right and plays a particularly important role in putting the pieces together for the current case.

I'm definitely up for more of this series.  I am inclined to go back to the beginning.  Strong Poison was, in fact, the sixth of the series published by Sayers, though the first to introduce Harriet Vane.  Now I want to know the established principals better, especially Peter, so it's back to the origin story.  Our shelves are bursting with mystery novels so it's a genre that could keep me occupied for years to come.

For my half of the swap, I gave my wife my Coffeehouse book from last month: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (reflection here).  

Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month.  This month's link list is below.  I'll keep it open until the end of the day.  I'll post July's tomorrow.  Meetings are the last Friday of each month.  Next gathering is July 28th.


23 comments:

  1. I have some Agatha Christie novels that I've had stuck to the side for years but haven't gotten to. I may finally read Orient Express, now, though, before the movie comes out.

    I did finish a book this month, but, for some reason, I didn't set the review up to go live until next month. I'm not really sure what I was thinking at the time, but I'm sure I had some rational or another. At any rate, I'll link it as soon as it's up. And I might actually have two!

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    1. The new Orient Express looks horrible. On another blog they had outtakes and photos. They have destroyed Poirot and turned him into a rumpled Columbo with a wig for a mustache. Not at all like the character in the books. If this is to be your first look at The Murder on The Orient Express, look up any of the old movies and TV series. Great book and terrific movie.

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    2. We really like the BBC Poirot series and, as Gayle points out, their interpretation of Orient Express is outstanding. There are good reasons for why that is her most famous story. At our house, we're definitely excited for the new movie.

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  2. I like all the old fashioned murder mysteries and have read quite a few of them. They are also great to listen to on audio tape (or whatever the equivalent is these days).

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    1. No doubt. We used to do audio books on road trips but have lost the habit in recent years.

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  3. That sounds like the sort of series I'd love. Thanks!

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  4. Great review, I like good old mystery and crime above everything else. Thanks for sharing and warm greetings!

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  5. It's funny, I haven't disliked a single classic mystery I've read, yet these are not the books I gravitate too. Usually, if someone recommends one, I'll read it and enjoy it, but I never seem to pursue these stories on my own. I may have to check out one of Dorothy Sayer's stories. I like the sound of her work.

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    1. It's a genre I devoured as a kid. The Three Investigators was my favorite series but I enjoyed other books too. I have not read so many as an adult. That seems likely to change.

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  6. Sounds like a fun one, and I love the "cattery" idea! Was Sayers a contemporary of Christie? I wonder why I've never heard of her before... I'm intrigued about the romantic angle, too.
    Thanks for the recommendation!
    V :)

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    1. They were indeed contemporaries, though AC outlived her by 19 years.

      The romance is mostly cute at this stage, not nearly up to your usual steam.

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  7. I wonder if I would like Dorothy Sayers better than Agatha Christie? I like an occasional mystery, but Christie just doesn't do it for me. Anyway, great review. I think I'll have to check Sayers out.

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    1. I haven't read Christie in years so I don't feel I can make a meaningful comparison. You should try Sayers.

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  8. I read a Lord Peter Wimsey book once, but I don't remember the title. It was quite good.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. I expect I will be reading a lot more. Wife has the whole series.

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  9. I love mysteries. Grew up reading Agatha Christie's and then branched out. Sayers is pretty good. And I love Bertie !
    I wonder if it is our age as opposed to when the books were written, that we can figure them out.
    Plus I love the English Village setting many of these have.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

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    1. Well, for the most part, the English Village is London in this case but some of the investigating takes Miss Climpson further afield. There is a wonderful passage when she scopes out local tea houses.

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  10. Sounds like a fun read - and like it has some strong female characters. Thanks for sharing! I'll be keen to hear what you think of earlier books in the series too.

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    1. It may be a while before I make my way around to them but they're on the shelf.

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  11. A great mystery read is always captivating and keeps the brain ticking over until the last page is reached - you did so well to reach a conclusion but like all origin serials characters are drawn out over a timeline. I'm still reading Asimovs Trilogy while captivating with the mathematician discovery angle, so much chaos come to pass. 4 stars

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    1. I love Asimov and with my renewed interest in mysteries, I am eager to reread Caves of Steel.

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