Dorothy L. Sayers, The Complete Stories

Sayers is the 20th century English writer (1893-1957) known for her Christian writing and also, as the cover of this collection states, “The Mistress of the Golden Age Mystery.” She is well-loved for her novels and stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, that droll, upper-crust amateur sleuth. The eleven novels in which he appears have never been out of print since their first appearance in the fifteen year period between 1922 and 1937. The twenty-one Wimsey short stories are less well-known since many appeared in various Sayers collections mixed in with other tales.

The publication history of these is too complicated to go into here. We should simply rejoice in the latest publication of The Complete Stories. All twenty-one Wimsey shorts are included. Sayers created another character named Montague Egg, and eleven of his adventures are in this collection, too. Egg is considerably less upper class than Lord Peter. Mr. Egg is actually a traveling liquor salesman representing the firm of Plummer and Rose Wines and Spirits, Piccadilly. He seems to uncover murderous crimes while traveling on trains and staying in hotels. The Montague Egg stories are shorter than the Wimseys and somewhat less loaded with emotional detail. Slight as they are, they still pack a punch.

There are twelve non-series stories in this collection, as well. Most of these are mysteries, too. One, The Cyprian Cat is a classic of horror. Another, The Man Who Knew How, was new to me. It concerns two gentlemen, one of whom appears to have not only a unique method for murder but an equally unique motive.

I just re-read one of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories called In the Teeth of the Evidence. It’s a gruesome tale of forensic dentistry in which an exhaustive exam reveals an attempt to disguise a murder victim’s identity by means of postmortem dental work. As in many of the shorter Wimseys, Lord Peter makes only a token appearance to tidy things up. It’s been said that the Wimsey short stories lack the comic/romantic banter of the novels. This may be true, but the shorts can be shockers.

By the way, The Complete Stories seems to be part of a program to reprint the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. This is certainly welcome news for mystery fans. On the other hand, beginning in 1998, an English writer named Jill Paton Walsh took a fragment by Sayers and expanded it into a new Lord Peter Wimsey novel called Thrones, Dominations. This was followed by three completely new novels, the most recent of which was The Late Scholar published in 2014. I have not seen these, but I’m wary of so-called posthumous collaborations. The originals are always best.   – Dan Erwine

Also available by Sayers: Gaudy Night; Whose Body; The Nine Tailors; Strong Poison; Murder Must Advertise; Have His Carcase; The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club; Lord Peter Views the Body; Clouds of Witness; Unnatural Death; Five Red Herrings; In the Teeth of the Evidence; Striding Folly; Hangman’s Holiday; The Mind of the Maker; The Documents in the Case; Creed or Chaos; The Man Born to be King; The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers; Letters to a Diminished Church; Two Plays about God and Man.

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