RogerBW's Blog

Striding Folly, Dorothy Sayers 12 June 2018

1972 collection of the last three short mystery stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.

Striding Folly is framed by the coming of the National Grid, and pylons covering the landscape; the puzzle is straightforward, but the phantasmagorical imagery makes the story worth revisiting. While Lord Peter tells the police where to look for the culprit, and how to prove guilt, the actual details of this are elided, as indeed is the motive; well, we know Sayers didn't care for motive as a force in detective-stories, and here she proves it.

The Haunted Policeman is set just after the birth of Lord Peter's first son, which leaves him in a fey mood; so when he sees an off-duty policeman wandering confusedly down the street, he invites him in and gets his story, of a murder discovered and, impossibly, lost again. Because the solution has to be shown to the reader rather later than Wimsey puts it together, the clues on which it's constructed are rather slight, and I found myself not entirely convinced.

Talboys is set some years later, with three sons and a domestic mystery to be solved; but it also has the visiting Miss Quirk, clearly a stand-in for Modern Methods of Rearing the Child (any child), who's a bit of a strawman though mildly amusing. (Marsh's Final Curtain, written some five years later, does a surprisingly better job with this idea, perhaps because she can find some sympathy with modernity rather than rolling into the opposition all of the traits she doesn't like.)

'I knew it,' replied Harriet, resignedly. 'If I'd realised the disastrous effect sons would have on your character, I'd never have trusted you with any.'

The first two stories had been published previously, in Detection Medley (1939), an anthology by multiple authors; the last had its first publication in this collection (and the collected short stories that came out the same year), though it had been written in 1942. It's not clear to me why Sayers didn't have it published at the time; perhaps she was waiting for the war to be over so that she could write a story that didn't mention it, but by the time that had happened the old story didn't fit any more?

I've now reviewed (and enjoyed) all of the Wimsey detective fiction… but not, quite, all the Wimsey material.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 03:22pm on 12 June 2018

    I watched a TV documentary about the building of the National Grid. It was quite weird watching them in the 1930s using shire horses to pull the cable out across the fields and parts for the pylons, a juxtaposition of two ages. But given the remote locations of some of the grid I can understand that only big horses could do the job back then. Shame we didn't have any elephants to do it, that would be footage worth watching.

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