My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.
I’m starting to wonder whether Dorothy Sayers has a “one standalone book, one continuing narrative book” going on with these mysteries. It reminds me of anime seasons where the show has gotten too close to the manga, so the showrunners create a few standalone original stories to let the manga get more issues produced. In the tradition of the short story collections and Unnatural Death, this is a Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery almost entirely removed from the traditional surrounding cast—even Parker and Bunter have appearances that barely amount to cameos.
If the dedication by Sayers is accurate, The Five Red Herrings is intended as a tribute to the town where she vacationed regularly, a small Scottish artists’ retreat where “everyone is either a painter or a fisherman,” and which she claims to have recreated exactly in the novel, right down to the bus schedules. The mystery, too, is particularly ambitious, centering on a murder with 6 plausible suspects, all of whom have lied in one way or another about what they were doing at the time of the murder, all for different reasons.
The resulting novel is an exercising in alternatively deciphering clues and thick Scottish accents, which are reproduced phonetically in a way that will annoy anyone who found, say, Their Eyes Were Watching God to be a difficult read. Much of the mystery revolves around the apparently-accurately-reproduced bus schedules, and the amount of time Sayers spends speculating on all the ways you could murder someone in Kircudbright and generate an alibi for yourself using the transit system ought to encourage the authorities to look closely into any fatal accidents that occurred during the time she spent in the region.
Overall, it’s the sort of mystery that can probably only be appreciated if you are a chess grandmaster, or if you keep a notebook while you read and take notes on each of the six suspects, and refer back to them frequently. While it’s a course correction from Strong Poision, which only had one real suspect, it arguably goes a little too far in the other direction, removing the Wimsey family happenings and plunging into a morass of angry Scottish dialogue. But the mystery holds up, and the solution is as fun as ever.
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