My Book Notes: Clouds of Witness, 1926 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery # 2) by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Hodder & Stoughton, 2009. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 5020 KB. Print Length: 324 pages. ASIN: B004GKMU4O. eISBN: 9781848943698. Introduction by Ruth Dudley Edwards, 2016. First published in Great Britain in 1926 by T. Fisher Unwin. In 1935 a revised and corrected version of this novel was published by Victor Gollancz.

hbg-title-9781848943698-8Book Description: The Duke of Denver, accused of murder, stands trial for his life in the House of Lords. Naturally, his brother Lord Peter Wimsey is investigating the crime – this is a family affair. The murder took place at the duke’s shooting lodge and Lord Peter’s sister was engaged to marry the dead man. But why does the duke refuse to co-operate with the investigation? Can he really be guilty, or is he covering up for someone?

My Take: Lord Peter has returned from Corsica where, for the last three months, he has been touring about the mountains, admiring from a cautious distance the wild beauty of Corsican peasant-women, and studying the vendetta in its natural haunt. On his first day back in London, Bunter, his valet and assistant sleuth, hands him The Times, folded open at the heading: ‘Riddlesdale Inquest. Duke of Denver arrested on Murder Charge’. Lord Wimsey’s brother, Gerald, Duke of Denver, has been accused of having killed Captain Denis Cathcart. The deceased was last seen quarrelling with the Duke the previous evening. A pistol belonging to the Duke was found near the scene of the crime. And, to top it all, the Duke’s sister, Lady Mary Wimsey, was engaged to be married to the deceased. During the inquest, the Duke refused to declare. His silence and all available evidence leaves little doubt of his guilt. Given his status as Duke of Denver, his case will be heard by the House of Lords, to be tried before a jury of his peers. Lord Peter Wimsey comes to the aid of his brother, but Gerald’s persistence to remain in silence does nothing to help him prove his innocence. Lord Peter suspects that both his brother and sister are not telling the whole truth, and that the two of them have something to hide.

Clouds of Witness is the second book featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and the third one I’ve read. After having enjoyed my first two encounters with Dorothy L. Sayers novels, I was decided to read most of her books in order of publication, but I was told that this novels was a good place to start in the series and eventually I decided to choose it. The novel is far from being one of Sayers bests and, at least in my view, the plot didn’t manage to capture my attention. Without a doubt, the novel has many positive aspects, as highlight some of the reviews given below. But I very much agree with Mike Grost here, at least in relation to Clouds of Witness, when he says: ‘Such early Sayers novels as Clouds of Witness (1926), Unnatural Death (1927), Strong Poison (1930), and The Documents in the Case (1930) do not seem very good to me. These novels are painfully minimalist, in their near absence of plot, real detection, or any sort of substance. They lack the puzzle plots of Sayers’ shorter works, and the literary quality and fascinating “background” material of such later Sayers novels as Murder Must Advertise (1933) and The Nine Tailors (1934).’ Though perhaps what has disappointed me most of this novel has been its denouement. However, I don’t want to sound too harsh on my appreciation of this book, I merely believe that it doesn’t stand well the test of time and is quite uneven. That said, I still look forward to reading more of Dorothy L. Sayers books and short stories in a not so distant future.

My rating: C (My expectations have not been met)

What others have said:

Jennifer S. Palmer @ reviewingtheevidence

Does Clouds of Witness stand up to further reading 78 years after its first publication? … My conclusion is that Clouds of Witness by Dorothy Sayers is still well worth reading or rereading today.

Les Blatt @ Classic Mysteries

Wimsey hadn’t evolved much as a character in 1926, when this book was first published, and some of his aristocratic mannerisms are more than a little annoying. He is constantly droppin’ the final “g” from his verbs, don’t y’know, which gets a bit tirin’, to be honest. But “Clouds of Witness” remains a very readable and enjoyable story, the trial in the House of Lords is marvelously done and Sayers, as always, gives us some memorable characters. The book’s age means that it is available in a number of editions, including a new, electronic edition from Open Road Integrated Media, which includes a brief biography of Sayers and some family old photos of the author.

Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (The British Library Publishing Division, 2017):

Clouds of Witness is the work of a novelist learning her craft, but manifests the story-telling qualities that soon earned fame for Dorothy Leigh Sayers. … Together with Anthony Berkeley, she became a driving force in the Detection Club, using experience gained in the advertising world to help build its reputation; she succeeded E. C. Bentley as President in 1949. Her detective fiction became increasingly ambitious, and although opinion remains divided as to the extent of its success, her contribution to the development of the genre was highly significant ….

Nick Fuller @ The Grandest Game in the World

A piece typical of the 1920s: dated without being period, and never escaping from its roots in sensational fiction (the Renaissance of detective fiction was still a year or two away). …  Physical clues (footprints and grains of sand) and the evidence given at the inquest (presented at the beginning to save the grind of interviews) lead to more scandals and histrionics, before Wimsey’s dramatic trans-Atlantic flight allows him to arrive at the court at the very last minute to avert another scandal, and produce the letter in French that proves the “crime” is a disappointment. The highlight of the book is Murbles’ account of the imaginary life led by a miser; the portrayal of wife abuse is also excellent.

Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy!

For all of its faults, Clouds of Witness is a more entertaining and interesting work than its predecessor. Sayers’ mystery lacks a punchy or unexpected resolution but there are some entertaining action sequences built around it and some nice character moments for Lord Peter.

Bev @ My Reader’s Block

Overall, another wonderful visit to the world of Lord Peter Wimsey.

Mike @ Only Detect

In place of a scene that would let Wimsey explain a series of masterly deductions—he performs little deductive reasoning, in the classic sense—Sayers presents a grand finale that occurs in the House of Lords, where the duke has come to be judged by his peers. …. For those who share her politics, Clouds of Witness offers a winning saga of the nobility at its best. For others, perhaps not so much.

FictionFan @ Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews

What I meant to say is that the book is quite entertaining in some respects, and some parts of it are well written and quite atmospheric, … But the plotting is fundamentally silly and the solution is a major cop-out, and, in case you haven’t spotted it, I do find Lord Peter’s insufferable superiority… well… insufferable.

Margaret @ Books Please

Clouds of Witness is a book of its time, there is much banter, wit and humour, and plenty of snobbery of all types clearly showing the class distinctions between the working and upper classes. It is a clever story, well told, with colourful characters and I liked the details it gives about Wimsey’s family as I’ve been reading these books totally out of order.

About the Author: Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born at Oxford on 13th June 1893, the only child of the Rev. Henry Sayers, of Anglo-Irish descent. Her father was at the time headmaster of Christ Church Cathedral School, and she was born in the headmaster’s house. She was brought up at Bluntisham Rectory, Cambridgeshire, and went to the Godolphin School, Salisbury, where she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford. In 1915 she graduated with first class honours in modern languages. Disliking the routine and seclusion of academic life she joined Blackwell’s, the Oxford publishers, worked with her Oxford friend Eric Whelpton at L’École des Roches in Normandy, and from 1922 until 1929 served as copywriter at the London advertising firm of Bensons. In 1923 she published her first novel, Whose Body, which introduced Lord Peter Wimsey, her hero for fourteen volumes of novels and short stories. She also wrote four other novels in collaboration and two serial stories for broadcasting. Writing full time she rose to be the doyen of crime writers and in due course president of the Detection Club. Her work, carefully researched and widely varied, included poetry, the editing of collections with her erudite introductions on the genre, and the translating of the Tristan of Thomas from mediaeval French. She admired E C Bentley and G K Chesterton and numbered among her friends T S Eliot, Charles Williams and C S Lewis. She married Arthur Fleming in 1926. In 1928 her father died at Christchurch in the Fens, his last parish, and she bought a cottage at Witham, Essex, to accommodate her mother. On the latter’s death a year later she moved in herself and bought the house next door, No 22 Newland Street, to throw the two houses into one. There she worked until her death in 1957. Gaudy Night was to be the culmination of the Wimsey saga, but her friend Muriel St Clare Byrne persuaded her to collaborate in putting Lord Peter on the stage in Busman’s Honeymoon. The play was successfully launched in December 1936, and she gave up crime writing except for the book of the play and three short stories. With her new financial security she turned thankfully to the work for which she had been trained. The stage fascinated her. She had already been asked to write a play, The Zeal of Thy House, for the Canterbury Festival. She followed this with six more, up to the Colchester Festival play, The Emperor Constantine in 1951. The most momentous was The Man Born to be King, written for broadcasting in children’s hour at the request of the BBC. Her presentation of Christ’s voice speaking modern English raised a storm of protest and revolutionised religious play-writing. Opposition stimulated her. She would never compromise where her art was concerned. Her theology was traditionally Anglican with emphasis on doctrine. Every available moment of her time was spent writing, to the small hours of the morning. Letters, articles and essays streamed from her pen. The war led her to write Begin Here, followed by The Mind of the Maker, in which she compares the human with the Divine creator. She explored by-ways of knowledge, delighted in puzzles and enjoyed many a fight which she conducted with wit and good humour. Her formidable presence, magnificent brain and logical presentation put her in great demand as a lecturer. She worked with the Rev. Patrick McLaughlin at the St Anne’s centre for Christian discourse and became in 1952 churchwarden of her London parish, St Thomas-cum-St Annes. She found her culminating role after the war. Dante’s writings had long intrigued her. Now she taught herself old Italian and made a translation in terza rima of The Divine Comedy unmatched for its popularity and the clarity of its notes. She also found time to finish her translation of the Song of Roland from the old French. But she unexpectedly died from heart failure on 17 December 1957 while engaged on Dante’s third volume, Paradiso, and her friend Dr Barbara Reynolds completed her work.


Other Dorothy L. Sayers book notes at A Crime is Afoot:

Hodder & Stoughton UK publicity page

HarperColllinsPublishers US publicity page

Dorothy L Sayers Official Site

Dorothy L. Sayers by Michael E. Grost 

Dorothy L. Sayers: The Lord Peter Wimsey Stories


Clouds of witness, de Dorothy L. Sayers

Descripción del libro: El duque de Denver, acusado de asesinato, se enfrenta a un juicio en la Cámara de los Lores que puede costarle la vida. Naturalmente, su hermano Lord Peter Wimsey está investigando el delito, se trata de un asunto familiar. El asesinato tuvo lugar en el pabellón de caza del duque y la hermana de Lord Peter estaba comprometida en matrimonio con el fallecido. Pero, ¿por qué el Duque se niega a cooperar con la investigación? ¿Puede verdaderamente ser culpable o está encubriendo a alguien?

Mi opinión: Lord Peter acaba de regresar de Córcega, donde, durante los últimos tres meses, ha estado recorriendo las montañas, admirando desde una distancia prudente la belleza salvaje de las campesinas corsas y estudiando la vendetta en su entorno natural. En su primer día de regreso a Londres, Bunter, su ayuda de cámara y detective asistente, le entrega The Times, doblado en el encabezado: “Juzgado de Instrucción de Riddlesdale. El Duque de Denver arrestado por asesinato”. El hermano de Lord Wimsey, Gerald, duque de Denver, ha sido acusado de haber matado al capitán Denis Cathcart. El difunto fue visto por última vez discutiendo con el duque la noche anterior. Se encontró una pistola que pertenece al duque cerca de la escena del crimen. Y, para colmo, la hermana del duque, Lady Mary Wimsey, estaba comprometida en matrimonio con el difunto. Durante la investigación, el duque se niega a declarar. Su silencio y toda las pruebas disponibles dejan pocas dudas de su culpabilidad. Dado su estatus de Duque de Denver, su caso será examinado por la Cámara de los Lores, para ser juzgado ante un jurado  compuesto por sus pares. Lord Peter Wimsey acude en ayuda de su hermano, pero la persistencia de Gerald en permanecer callado no hace nada para ayudarle a demostrar su inocencia. Lord Peter sospecha que tanto su hermano como su hermana no están diciendo toda la verdad, y que los dos tienen algo que ocultar.

Clouds of Witness es el segundo libro protagonizado por Lord Peter Wimsey y el tercero que he leído. Después de haber disfrutado mis dos primeros encuentros con novelas de Dorothy L. Sayers, decidí leer la mayoría de sus libros en orden de publicación, pero me dijeron que esta novela era un buen lugar para comenzar la serie y finalmente decidí elegirla. La novela está lejos de ser uno de los mejores libros de Sayers y, al menos en mi opinión, el argumento no logró captar mi atención. Sin lugar a dudas, la novela tiene muchos aspectos positivos, como destacan algunas de las críticas que figuran más adelante, pero estoy muy de acuerdo con Mike Grost aquí, al menos en relación con Clouds of Witness, cuando dice: “Alguna de las primeras novelas de Sayers como Clouds of Witness (1926), Unnatural Death (1927), Strong Poison (1930) y The Documents in the Case (1930) no me parecen muy buenas. Estas novelas son claramente minimalistas, en su casi ausencia total de trama, auténtica investigación, o cualquier clase de contenido. Carecen del enigma argumental de las obras más cortas de Sayers, y de la calidad literaria y del fascinante material de referencia de novelas posteriores de Sayers como Murder Must Advertise (1933) y The Nine Tailors (1934).” Aunque quizás lo que más me ha decepcionado de esta novela ha sido su desenlace. Sin embargo, no quiero parecer demasiado duro en mi apreciación de este libro, simplemente creo que no resiste bien la prueba del tiempo y es bastante desigual. Dicho esto, todavía espero leer más libros y cuentos cortos de Dorothy L. Sayers en un futuro no muy lejano.

Mi valoración: C (No se han cumplido mis expectativas)

Lo que otros han dicho: (Mi traducción libre)

Jennifer S. Palmer @ reviewingtheevidence

¿Resiste Clouds of Witness lecturas posteriores 78 años después de su primera publicación? … Mi conclusión es que todavía vale la pena leer o releer Clouds of Witness de Dorothy Sayers hoy.

Les Blatt @ Classic Mysteries

Wimsey no había evolucionado mucho como personaje en 1926, cuando este libro se publicó por primera vez, y algunos de sus gestos aristocráticos son algo más que un poco molestos. Él constantemente deja de pronunciar “la” g “final de sus verbos, por si usted no lo sabe, lo que resulta algo cansado, a decir verdad. Pero “Clouds of Witness” continúa siendo una historia muy fácil de leer y agradable, el juicio en la Cámara de los Lores está maravillosamente  hecho y Sayers, como siempre, nos ofrece algunos personajes memorables. La edad del libro significa que está disponible en varias ediciones, incluida una nueva edición electrónica de Open Road Integrated Media, que incluye una breve biografía de Sayers y algunas fotos familiares antiguas de la escritora.

Martin Edwards, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (The British Library Publishing Division, 2017):

Clouds of Witness es el trabajo de una novelista aprendiendo su oficio, pero manifiesta las cualidades narrativas que pronto le otorgaron fama a Dorothy Leigh Sayers. … Junto con Anthony Berkeley, se convirtió en el alma del Detection Club, utilizando la experiencia adquirida en el mundo de la publicidad para ayudar a construir su reputación; sucedió a E. C. Bentley como presidente en 1949. Su ficción policíaca se volvió cada vez más ambiciosa, y aunque la opinión sigue dividida en cuanto al alcance de su éxito, su contribución al desarrollo del género fue muy significativa …

Nick Fuller @ The Grandest Game in the World

Una pieza típica de la década de 1920: anticuada sin ser de época, y sin escapar nunca de sus raíces en la novela fantástica (el Renacimiento de la novela de detectives aún se encontraba a uno o dos años de distancia). … Las pistas físicas (huellas y granos de arena) y los testimonios dados durante la instrucción (presentados al principio para evitar la rutina de los interrogatorios) conducen a más escándalos y dramatismos, antes de que el dramático vuelo transatlántico de Wimsey le permita llegar al tribunal en el último momento para evitar otro escándalo y mostrar la carta en francés que demuestra que el “crimen” es una desilución. Lo más destacado del libro es el relato de Murbles sobre la vida imaginaria llevada por un avaro; el retrato de la violencia doméstica es también excelente.

Aidan @ Mysteries Ahoy!

A pesar de todos sus defectos, Clouds of Witness es una obra más entretenida e interesante que su predecesora. El misterio de Sayers carece de una resolución impactante o inesperada, pero tiene algunas secuencias de acción entretenidas construidas a su alrededor y algunos buenos momentos de la personalidad de Lord Peter.

Bev @ My Reader’s Block

En general, otra visita magnífica al mundo de Lord Peter Wimsey.

Mike @ Only Detect

En lugar de una escena que le hubiera permitido a Wimsey explicar una serie de deducciones magistrales (realiza un pequeño razonamiento deductivo, en el sentido clásico), Sayers presenta un gran final que tiene lugar en la Cámara de los Lores, donde el duque ha acudido para ser juzgado por sus iguales … Para aquellos que comparten sus posturas  políticas, Clouds of Witness ofrece una atractiva histroria de la aristocracia en el mejor de los casos. Para otros, quizás no tanto.

FictionFan @ Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews

Lo que quise decir es que el libro es bastante entretenido en ciertos aspectos, y algunas partes están bien escritas y son bastante evocadoras … Pero la trama es fundamentalmente tonta y la solución es solo un gran forma de escurrir el bulto y, en caso de que usted no se haya dado cuenta, encuentro la insufrible superioridad de Lord Peter … eso … insufrible.

Margaret @ Books Please

Clouds of Witness es un libro de su tiempo, tiene muchas bromas, ingenio y humor, y un montón de esnobismo de todo tipo que muestran claramente las diferencias de clase entre las clases trabajadoras y las clases altas. Es una historia inteligente, bien contada, con personajes pintorescos y me gustaron los detalles que ofrece sobre la familia Wimsey, ya que he estado leyendo estos libros de forma totalmente desordenada.

Sobre el autor: Dorothy Leigh Sayers nació en 1893 en Oxford, donde fue una de las primeras mujeres en obtener una licenciatura, en su caso en francés medieval. En Londres trabajó en una agencia de publicidad desde 1922 hasta 1929. Su aristócrata detective, lord Peter Wimsey, fue una de las estrellas de la novela policiaca de los años treinta y protagonizó doce novelas y varios libros de relatos. Pero Dorothy Sayers no se dedicó tan solo a la novela, sino que destacó también como reputada teóloga, dramaturga, ensayista y traductora. Su Divina comedia todavía hoy se considera la mejor traducción al inglés de la obra de Dante. Amiga de T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Agatha Christie o G. K. Chesterton, Sayers fue una mujer avanzada a su tiempo, madre soltera en un ambiente estrictamente anglicano y victoriano, y precursora literaria de Patricia Highsmith o P. D. James. murió en 1956. En 1973, la BBC produjo una serie basada en sus novelas de lord Peter Wimsey, en la que Ian Carmichael encarna al sofisticado detective. Lumen le ha dedicado una Biblioteca donde han aparecido sus novelas más importantes.

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