Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #11
Published by Reading Essentials on January 31, 2019 (first published 1934)
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Purchase at Bookshop.org
Add on Goodreads
When a disfigured corpse is discovered in a country parish, the local rector pleads with Lord Peter to take on what will become one of his most brilliant and complicated cases.
Did you listen to the bell video above? Do, because it’s the background to the book. We start with church bells and end with church bells, but it’s not a tune like the carillon at our church plays. It’s change ringing, more mathematical than melodic. The story actually talks about it a fair amount, but basically, the bells are rung in a sequence, but then go through the “changes” or permutations of that sequence. It can more complicated and the jargon itself is interesting, with bobs and hunts and dodges.
Lord Peter Wimsey is the series’ amateur detective, an English gentleman, second son of a duke, who is wealthy and solves mysteries for his amusement. On New Year’s Eve, his car goes off the road near the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. It just so happens that the church has a fabulous set of bells and Wimsey is recruited to help ring a nine-hour peal, as one of the regular ringers is down with the flu. The following day, after the death of the local squire’s wife, he hears the story of how an emerald necklace had been stolen from the house 20 years ago and never recovered. Two men were sent to jail for the crime, one of whom was killed after escaping. Wimsey finds it interesting but heads off on his merry way. The following Easter, the squire himself dies. They re-open his wife’s grave to bury him there too and find a corpse that’s not supposed to be there. The rector writes to Wimsey, inviting him to come back and help with the investigation. And of course, he does.
Of course, the dead man is connected to the original crime and even though it dates back 20 years, small towns don’t change that much. The same people live there, the same suspicions exist, people remember. Evidence, though, is harder to come by. The clues are well-done, especially a cipher that involves the church. Wimsey and the local police interview the townspeople, but also have to send off to France for information. Wimsey and the police work well together. He gives them the information he has and they allow him to tag along or take the lead when it fits. It also doesn’t hurt than when he drives them places in his Daimler; it’s quicker and cheaper for the government than if they had provided their own transportation. There are definite benefits to being rich, as he tells the teenage daughter who is left an orphan by the two deaths.
There are a limited number of suspects, both in the murder of the unidentified corpse and the original theft, but who did what and why is tough to figure out. It’s complicated but by the end, all the threads pulled together and it all makes sense. It intertwines so well with the bell talk too, which I found fascinating. The bells are used for praise, warning, mourning, celebrating. Sayers does such a fabulous job of teaching us about bell ringing and how much it means to the ringers themselves, at least her fictional ringers. The title, by the way, comes from the saying “Nine Tailors Make a Man.” “Nine Tailors” means the nine strokes which at the beginning of the toll for the dead announce to the villagers that a man is dead. A woman’s death is announced with “Six Tailors.” Hence the old saying.