Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers

Strong Poison is a comfort book of mine.  I bought it at Bongs & Noodles one time on the way back from a doctor’s appointment regarding my tendonitis.  It was a very trying year – I was doing four AP courses and two honors ones, and I was very stressed about getting good grades so I could get into college – and anyway, we stopped by Bongs & Noodles and my mother suggested Strong Poison if I was after a new book.  I read it under my desk in calculus (bad, I know, but trust me, nobody was learning anything in that class).  Those books still feel like a haven in the middle of a storm to me, even if no storm is happening.

Peter Wimsey had already starred in several of Dorothy Sayers’s (less good, I believe) mysteries, but Strong Poison is the first one where the delightful and intelligent Harriet Vane shows up.  She’s on trial for murdering her lover, and Lord Wimsey falls madly in love with her at the trial, and decides to solve the mystery and clear her name and marry her.

I love, love, love this book.  I loved it from the second Lord Wimsey started quoting Alice in Wonderland at Harriet’s trial.  Ella over at Box of Books was not in love with the first bit, where Harriet’s at her trial and all the evidence in the case is being set forth, and I can see how that part could seem tedious and expository.  When I first read it, though, I was using it to drown out lessons on differentiating sine and cosine.  You can see how, in those circumstances, just about anything would seem like a thrilling adventure novel by comparison.  It’s kept that feeling of excitement for me even after multiple rereadings.

Peter and Harriet charm me, and their relationship continues to be just as fun and brilliant all through the rest of the books.  I get irritated with Peter a little bit in Busman’s Honeymoon – take a Valium and get over it, guy! – but mostly I find him and Harriet tremendously entertaining.  Because Harriet’s not available to go out solving the mystery, Peter engages the assistance of two women from his personal secretary agency, whose exploits cause me much tension and amusement.  There is a certain element, since I am paying attention for it, of things being excessively convenient, like the secretary Peter engages happening to know about a Trust that’s gone bust, or one of the other spies happening to know all about spiritualism and how to fake seances – but it’s not too jarring.

Do you have books that never get old, no matter how many times you read them?

  • I love this whole series, but I agree, they’re better once Harriet is in the picture.

  • Haha i have this one thin, very worn out, children’s paperback: Trapped in Time by Ruth Chew. It’s about a girl and her brother who find an old watch that takes them 200 years into the past, during the American civil war and it comes with little black and white sketches of the action. Every time I read it, I feel hungry for fresh bread and cheese, clams and juicy apples. I can’t bear to give the novel away, it’s just stirs up memories of lying on my stomach on the couch on a warm Saturday afternoon, just reading. Those times don’t happen very often anymore!

  • jennysbooks

    wordlily – I checked out a couple of Peter Wimsey (by himself) mysteries from the library. I’ve always sort of assumed I wouldn’t want to be bothered with them, without Harriet in the picture, but I’m kind of curious whether that will really be the case.

    Sharry – Aw, that sounds great! I’m a sucker for time-travel books, so I’m adding this one to my list!

  • Oh, that book is so brilliant. I am a little ashamed of myself for drumming my fingers through the first chapter. I am up to Gaudy Night now, and the ending made me happy all over; I wish there were more Peter ‘n Harriet mysteries, but that’s the last one, isn’t it?

  • jennysbooks

    There’s another one, after they’re married – Busman’s Honeymoon. I thought it was less good than the foregoing novels, but see what you think. My recollection is that the mystery isn’t as good.

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