The Five Red Herrings and Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers

On June 13, Sayers’ birthday, I wrote about starting to read her novels with Gaudy Night in 1971. My lifetime appreciation of her work has expanded to a rereading of all 11 novels almost every year. Now, during this pandemic shut-down time, I started again a few months ago. Sayers is comfort reading for me!

I made my way through the first five: Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Strong Poison. Then I came to the place on the list that I don’t find particularly comforting. Without a doubt, The Five Red Herrings is my least favorite of the novels. Sayers and her husband went to Scotland every year, staying in Galloway in Gatehouse-of-Fleet and Kirkcudbright. Their landlord kept urging Sayers to set one of her books in that most lovely area, and The Five Red Herrings is her response. The area is known for its artists, and when one is found dead in a creek not far from his unfinished painting, Lord Peter and the rest start checking it out. This is a complicated story of missed opportunities, shady dealings, missing persons, and way too many railroad timetables!

My husband and I visited this area a couple years ago and checked out all the Sayers’ sites. I thought perhaps my acquaintance with the towns and geography would help my appreciation of the novel. I did enjoy seeing it all again through Sayers’ writing, but the novel really didn’t improve very much.

Have His Carcase is just a step up from The Five Red Herrings in my thinking. This is the second Harriet Vane novel. Harriet is escaping from the notoriety of her trial for murder by doing a walk on England’s southwest coast. She does come upon a body, Peter trundles down from London to help, and the story continues. This novel also contains way too many (IMHO) railway timetables and other schedule issues. But I think, with these novels, Sayers got that bug out, showing herself, her readers, and no doubt the members of The Detection Club that she was just as good as any other crime writer at developing a timetable-dependent mystery. But they are both worth reading (in order with the others) and totally enjoyable despite the schedules!

[N.B.: Books are still totally available. The pictures are from the Harper and Rowe editions published in the US in the 1970’s. It’s the set I own.]

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