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Strong Poison - Dorothy L. Sayers

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Author: Dorothy L. Sayers / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 31 October 1968 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division / Title: Strong Poison / ISBN 13: 9780450013928 / ISBN 10: 0450013928

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      28.10.2010 17:18
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      Decent but it does have flaws

      Strong Poison is a crime novel written by 30's crime writer Dorothy L Sayers and as with most of her books, its main character is Lord Peter Wimsey but also introduces Dorothy L Sayers other main character Harriet Vane.

      The book is centred around a murder trial in which Harriet Vane is accused of poisoning her lover with arsenic poisoning. Lord Peter Wimsey is following the case when it gets to court and as he watches comes to the conclusion that Harriet is innocent and that she is also the love of his life.

      Harriet Vane is a crime writer in her 30's who had been living with a Bohemian author Philip Boyes, Boyes is highly regarded in the academic circles but his books fail to sell in any great numbers. They appear to be happy but are unmarried, the two fall out after Boyes clumsily tries to persuade Harriet to get married and they have split approximately a year before the book starts.

      Boyes tries to create a reconciliation and goes around for a meal at his cousins before meeting Harriet, Harriet throws him out for good, that night he falls ill and dies the following day of arsenic poisoning. The meal prior to this meeting was also consumed by his cousin and his cousin's staff and therefore the only source of the arsenic appears to be when he met Harriet. Harriet was also found to have purchased arsenic at two different chemists but she argues that she was using the events as an example for the ease of buying arsenic in one of her upcoming crime novels.

      Wimsey decides she is innocent, despite the obvious signs of guilt and sparks an investigation, he throws his effort and money into the investigation and the novel begins.

      The reader doesn't know for certain that Harriet is innocent but the writer clearly points to a acquittal and Wimsey getting his lady. Harriet is clearly the author Dorothy L Sayers, as she would want to be featured in a novel and she perhaps wishes for an exciting event to give her life a little sparkle and perhaps wants a rich well groomed lord to save her. The evidence appears compelling but as with all the best crime novels each fact is slowly unpicked and the real culprit is unearthed.

      In truth, the real killer is fairly obvious, if it's not Harriet then it really only leaves one other character and the book doesn't fail to present them as the murderer. The manner of the murder is fully explained and is reasonable without being ridiculous and is just about acceptable and plausible. Wimsey guides the investigation and he shows increasing Holmesian crime fighting superpowers, which in earlier novels had a rather endearing angle but here in this novel they are starting to become the main core of his character rather than the occasional flash of insight. This increasing portrayal as a god like character who appears to know all and is at least two or three steps ahead of everyone is starting to get monotonous in this novel.

      There are some rather odd moments in this book; there is a long and complex chapter on spiritualism in which the reader by the end of the chapter has almost forgotten the reason for the sevents in the first place. This is introduced almost as a stand-alone section and isn't a part of the book before or after the novel, indeed the section is one of two in which Wimsey employs a well bred young women to get employment at one of the main characters and use their skills to get information. One picks a safe to get a will and another is rather conveniently an expert on faking spiritual meeting to get information out of one of the witnesses.

      It did stretch the plausibility more than perhaps is necessary and means that for long tracts neither Wimsey nor Vane are in the book. If it was a TV series I'd be wondering if the actor involved had a deal to only appear sporadically in this episode and could he do a bit of panto whilst they were filming.

      There are a couple of slightly unsavoury comments which are borderline anti-semitic and one about the riff-raff are where they deserve when found wandering the streets.

      Overall this is a decent novel, the crime is well thought out but there are some rather strange chapters and it does drift occasionally.

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