“My dear child, you can give it a long name if you like but I’m an old fashioned woman and I call it mother-wit and it’s so rare for a man to have it that if he does you write a book about him and call him Sherlock Holmes.”
After the horrors of Alone In Berlin* (I mean that in a good way) I was desperate for something light hearted. Clouds of Witness was one of the books I purchased during a monumentally unsuccessful Christmas shopping trip last year when I failed to buy any presents for my friends and family but came home with several books for myself instead. For this reason I still feel a little guilty every time I look at it.
This is the second Lord Peter Wimsey novel in the series but it’s the fourth that I’ve read now. I’m a bit in love with these books but it occurred to me for the first time after I finished this one that I often seem to find their resolutions vaguely disappointing for some reason. I don’t get that nice, satisfying ‘Oh, of course!’ feeling when the culprit is revealed like I do with many Agatha Christie mysteries. I’m not sure why that is. I wonder if I just enjoy the setup to the mystery more with Sayers; she’s good at the atmosphere and the scene setting and I love some of her characters to pieces but she sometimes relies too much on easy plot devices (a secret diary in which the killer conveniently confesses to his crimes, for instance) to close the investigation. Christie, I think, may just be better at the plotting and revealing of the mystery although I find her books more annoying in other ways.
Anyway, that’s all by the by. In this book Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver, is pegged by the police when their sister’s fiancé is discovered dead at his hunting lodge. The dead man and Lady Mary had been engaged for some time until his erratic behaviour on the night of his death (coupled with hints of a very dodgy past) caused the wedding to be called off. Did a broken heart provoke Lady Mary to murder? Did her brother pull the trigger to protect his sister and prevent further scandal? Or was it one of the dead man’s other enemies, some of whom just happen to have been staying at the hunting lodge on the night of his death? Lord Peter will have to get to the bottom of it all without dragging the family name through the dirt at the same time.
It’s a difficult one to solve because, as in all good murder stories, all the key witnesses are lying for one reason or another. It twists and turns and goes off at odd angles, picks up strange characters along the way, before eventually coming back to the start to do what it was supposed to do all along. I didn’t quite solve the mystery in time but I was on the right track I think and I was enjoying it enormously until the ending which, as I mentioned, left me feeling a little deflated. Although I’m still not sure I can put my finger on exactly why that is. Still, it was good and I would recommend it for the journey if not for the destination.
*Incidentally, there’s a brief passing reference in CoW to a Lord Quangel (or something similar, I can’t find the page now). You can go your whole life never hearing the name Quangel at all and then it appears in two very different books in the space of a week. How strange.