Clouds of Witness (1926) – Dorothy L. Sayers
A renowned detective whose own brother, a Duke, is on trial for murdering his sister’s fiancé — that’s the position in which Lord Peter Wimsey finds himself in Clouds of Witness. This was the second Lord Peter mystery and the one that brought Sayers to the attention of the British public, largely because of its famous trial of the Duke of Denver in the House of Lords. (A British lord could only be tried by his peers.)
With almost too many clues, this book starts as a routine detective story, as Lord Peter and his friend Inspector Charles Parker spend their time tracing footprints and motorcycle tracks. But when Parker follows a clue to Paris and Peter begins to search the moors near the Duke’s hunting lodge, the mystery gains momentum and races to its climax in the House of Lords.
There is a lot of charm in Sayers’s writing. The friendship between Wimsey and Parker is nicely developed as is Parker’s growing attraction to Peter’s sister, Lady Mary. Sayers also depicts, with much humor, British attitudes of the times towards French manners and customs, as well as the upper class’s flirtation with Socialism (Lady Mary is member of the London Socialist Club). Some of the characters’ names are outright Dickensian, especially Mr. Grimethorpe of Griders Hole, and the trial lawyers Wrinching and Glibbery. And, as in many mysteries of the Golden Age, the echoes of World War I still reverberate. (The fiancé, Denis Cathcart, lost his fortune as a result of investments in France and Russia that disappeared during the war.)
Not the best of the Lord Peter mysteries, but a good introduction to Wimsey, his family (notably Lady Mary and the Dowager Duchess), and the usual cast of Sayers’s characters, with the unusual addition of two femme fatales.