It's difficult for me to be objective about Dorothy L Sayers. Since discovering [b:Strong Poison|246225|Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #6)|Dorothy L. Sayers|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327883280s/246225.jpg|1121561] in the school library when I was about 14, she has been one of my favourite writers and one whose novels I re-read regularly. In the past couple of years I've ventured beyond the novels and the short stories (not being much of a short story reader, I've not read all of these) to read Sayers' collected letters, some of her essays (such as [b:Are Women Human?|320481|Are Women Human?|Dorothy L. Sayers|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349117181s/320481.jpg|529133]) and Barbara Reynold's excellent biography, [b:Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul|351562|Dorothy L. Sayers Her Life and Soul|Barbara Reynolds|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348015220s/351562.jpg|341793]. This has in turn made me want to read more of Sayers' non-fiction as well as her plays and her translation of Dante. Suffice to say, I'm a big fan and a shared love of Sayers' writing is what has introduced me to a number of my GR friends.
This novel is where it started for Sayers' best known contribution to crime fiction literature, Lord Peter Wimsey. At the time the novel was published in 1923, Sayers was an Oxford University graduate (she was amongst the first group of women graduates to be finally awarded their degrees in 1920) and a published poet. She had worked in publishing and as a high school teacher and was then working as a copy writer in a London advertising agency - all of which makes her stand out from other women of her generation.
For a first novel, this has a lot of strengths. Lord Peter, the wealthy and erudite younger son of a Duke, shell-shocked WWI veteran, musician, collector of incunabula and amateur detective, comes to the page fully created. He develops throughout the course of the twelve novels in which he features, but the essentials of his character are there from the beginning: the sharp intelligence, the ready wit, the tendency to quote poetry at odd moments, the silly-ass impersonation and affected drawl of his public persona, which disappears when he speaks seriously to those he is closest to, the troubled conscience, the lingering effects of shell-shock. Lord Peter is a superb character, as are his manservant Bunter, his friend Scotland Yard inspector Charles Parker and his truly wonderful mother, the Dowager Duchess, all of whom (thankfully) also feature in later novels.
The deft characterisation - not at all common in a Golden Age mystery novel - is not the only strength of Sayers' writing. Her prose is excellent, her dialogue is witty and the mystery itself is interesting enough. That said, the novel is not without its weaknesses. There is, for example, a startling lapse from the third person voice to the second person at one point in the narrative. In addition, the perpetrator is not that difficult to pick (although admittedly the big reveal is not necessarily a feature of Sayers' novels), the perpetrator's method is complex and improbable and the novel contains one of my pet peeves in crime fiction - the extended confession in the form of a letter.
The weaknesses are enough for me to rate the novel lower than I would want to rate anything written by Sayers. However, the fangirl in me means I can't bring myself to give this less than 4 stars, well, maybe 3-3/4. I'm looking forward to a Lord Peter re-read over the next 12 months with my good friend and Sayers novice Jemidar.