Book Review: Cloud of Witness

My book review a week continues with the strangely singular Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (I know it’s a quote from Hebrews, but witnesses makes much more sense), in which Lord Peter Wimsey’s vacation to Corsica is interrupted when he finds out that his brother, George, the Duke of Denver, is accused of murdering his sister Mary’s fiancee, Cathcart.

Wimsey rushes home to find that things aren’t very straightforward. His brother will not speak about the incident other than to say he was out for a walk across the moors at 3:00am—as you do—when he stumbled across the body. At the inquest, his sister, Mary, says she was awakened by a gunshot and went outside to see the Duke standing over the body and blurted out, “you’ve killed him”. No one else heard this gunshot and when she realizes it further implicates her brother she has an attack of nerves and locks herself in her room, except when she appears to act weird and totally out of character. And Wimsey and Inspector Parker have found entirely too many clues at the crime site.

Following up on the clues leads to the discovery that Cathcart was not the sort of person Mary should have been engaged to. Strike one. But that’s okay because she was eloping with a radical socialist, who shoots at Peter when he goes to talk to him.  Things cool considerably between Mary and the socialist as his true nature is shown. So, strike two for Mary.  But that’s okay because Inspector Parker, rather charmingly, falls in love with Mary soon enough.

One of the clues leads to a murderously jealous farmer with a stunningly beautiful wife that lives in the middle of a bog. This leads to a lot of local color and tough reading as Wimsey and Bunter chat with the heavily-accented locals in the nearby town while checking his alibi. The bog almost claims Lord Peter’s life when a fog rolls in and he and Bunter get hopelessly lost. Which leads to Peter figuring out why his brother won’t say anything about his walk that night. o_O

Another clue leads to France, where we spend some time wandering about with Inspector Parker, who seems like a decent chap.

Another clue leads to America, where Lord Peter goes, and then makes a stunning trans-Atlantic flight back (only adventurers and daredevils did it in those days), just in time to prove his brother’s innocence. Phew.

Also, we spend time with Mr. Murbles, the family attorney, and Sir Impey, the famous defense attorney, as they attempt to save the Duke from hanging. Sayers, following the 10 Commandments of Detective Fiction, always lays everything out in the most obvious fashion so it does go on a bit. I guess if you want to know how a trial in the House of Lords went on, this would be the way to do it. But since Blair disbanded the Lords, it seems unlikely this knowledge will come in handy.

All in all, it was interesting meeting Peter’s screwed up family, getting to know Parker better, but kind of meh.


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