In the teeth of the evidence

This probably rounds out the reviews for the year.

In the Teeth of the Evidence
Dorothy L Sayers
(New English Library, 1970 edition – now Hodder & Stoughton)

I’ve a terrible feeling I’ve read this collection of short stories before. It opens with a Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery, then a set of Monty Egg murder mysteries, then a set of standalone stories of the ‘sting in the tale’ kind.

Short crime fiction is a very different beast to the crime novel. You need to misdirect the reader yet swing back to the solution without causing whiplash. With less room to manouvre your cast and no space for subplots, it’s a tricky thing to pull off.

It’s not Sayers’ strongest form. When I think of Sayers books, I think of the brick thick Gaudy Night; all Latin quotes and romantic subplots. Wimsey was one of the first detectives to have a domestic live. Put Wimsey in a short story and he’s too high-handed. He barges in and solves a crime, end of.

Montague Egg is much better suited to the short format. A travelling salesman for a wine company, he lives by The Salesman’s Handbook and quotes from it given a chance. He doesn’t seek out murders to solve, he instead tends to be protecting the company’s interests. For example, when a customer dies of poisoning from one of their bottles of wine. Because he is thrown into new situations thanks to his job, there’s less of a sense of him ‘swanning in’.

The nagging suspicion that I’ve read this collection before means I can’t really comment on the sting in the tale stories – they only work if the sting is a true surprise and I seemed to know them already.

If you’re a Wimsey fan, you’re better off with the novels, but this is worth reading for the Egg stories alone. They’re neat and well-characterised, and make full use of the format.

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