Book Review

Book Review: Dorothy Sayers’s Strong Poison

First of all, a business note:  I’ll be on vacation for a few days.  Deo gratias.

Secondly, with sigh, the area around Paul’s spinal catheter is beginning to swell again.  If you think of it, remember him in your prayers.  It would appear to be only a matter of time before he’s in surgery once again.   Fiat mihi secundum verbum.

And now for delightful Summer Reads…

After finishing Dorothy Sayers’s Gaudy Night and loving it, of course I would immediately want to read Strong Poison (and Busman’s Honeymoon.)

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Gaudy Night could be my favorite book of the year.

Now, if you haven’t read Gaudy Night, quit reading this blog post right now and go read that.  Then come back to this post to see if Strong Poison is for you, because I have One Big Qualm with it.

Strong Poison

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This book is naturally going to be interesting to those who have read Gaudy Night, as it’s the backstory of Harriet Vane’s infamous trial, as she’s accused of poisoning and killing her then live-in boyfriend, Philip Boyes.  This trial and Vane’s immoral history are alluded to several times in Gaudy Night.  It was rather informative, therefore, to actually read about it.

Perhaps I should have mentioned that Sayers wrote Strong Poison first, then Gaudy Night?  But I’m not sure reading them in that order would be captivating, for I think Strong Poison isn’t as good.  Certainly I love Sayers’s wit, and the glimpses of immature Lord Peter Wimsey falling hard for Vane are so enduring, but as I mentioned above, I have One Big Qualm with this book.

My problem is that Miss Climpson, an undercover employee of Wimsey’s, decides to play the part of a soothsayer or a spiritualist in order to obtain information to free the innocent Vane from prison and the death sentence.  By doing this, Climpson leads multiple false seances, pretending to invoke the dead, while also manipulating an Ouija Board.

Now this is a Bad Idea; it’s downright dangerous.  This is the world of the demonic–just ask any exorcist.  In fact, these kinds of behaviors open one to demonic oppression or possession.  One would want to stay as far away from such things as possible.

To be fair, Miss Climpson does voice her concerns, and it would appear that her conscience does bother her, but in the end, she goes through with it.  One could maybe conclude that while Sayers doesn’t like the practice of deception to reach into this evil world of spirits, she too, however, would be willing to go through with it?  I don’t know.

But I do know that that chapter alone is the reason why I couldn’t recommend this book to anybody who does not understand the seriousness of the matter.  Let me repeat myself–only a mature reader ought to read this book.

Strong Poison otherwise was a delightful read.  One gets a clearer picture of Vane’s transformation from a girl willing to practice “free love” to a woman beginning to realize the foolishness and shallowness of such behavior.  In the end, Vane wants something more, but needs time to heal, which Lord Peter Wimsey just doesn’t understand until Gaudy Night.  

So, what am I bringing on vacation to read?

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Busman’s Honeymoon, naturally, as it follows Gaudy Night.  I’ve started it already and have had to force myself to put it down, or I won’t have anything worthy to read on the beach.  I hope to write a few words on it later next week or so.

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