Tuesday, October 8, 2013

That scandalous affair

Every year when it comes to book club book selection time, I usually toss a few mysteries on the pile.  Dime detective novels are a particular favorite with me & my absolute favorite is Nero Wolfe.  Actually, I prefer Archie Goodwin.  Alright already, I really have a thing for Saul Panzer but they are referred to as the Nero Wolfe books. 

I have probably said it here before: I am fascinated by pulp-style fiction (be it mysteries or romances or westerns or what have you) written more or less contemporarily to their setting in time, particularly when it is not my place in time.  Or to put it another way, don't you think Lt. Uhura's uniform tells us more about the present day when Star Trek was made than it does about what people thought the future would be?  Or if they did think the future was all mini skirts & long sleeves for women, who do you think was planning that future?  Yes, I can get lost in this silliness. 

I am also a fan of Agatha Christie, although I came to it later in life.  But the first sleuth (after Nancy, of course; Nancy is always first-first).  But before Agatha, for me anyhow, there was Dorothy.  Agatha Christie had the reputation for writing as a lark, at least once she became successful she didn't need to keep it up &maybe that showed.  Dorothy Sayers, however, needed the money.  & just as Agatha's detective were more or less living on their income, or at least some kind of budget, Dorothy's detective lived, well...LARGE.  Just about as large as any book-detective I have ever heard of, barring the Scarlet Pimpernel, if you were going to call him a detective, which I really think you should.

I refer, of course, to Lord Peter Wimsey: he had money, he had brains, he had style.  The only thing he did not have was looks.  His creator was ruthless; just about the nicest thing she ever said about his appearance was he looked rather silly.  He also went for long long long time without the affection of the woman he adored.  But that all came to an end today...in 1937.  On this day Peter Wimsey married Harriet Vane.  I think what I like best about these books is that the marriage is more or less mid-point in their careers. While he has most of his mysteries before, there are a handful after.  Marriage can do that.  Before they get together, but after he falls in love, Harriet has a book more or less without him

Another thing I came to love was something I didn't really catch on to when I was 16 or so & reading them for the first time.  Before the books ever begin, Peter is a returning soldier, profoundly ill with some wounds, but mostly shellshock & even with every advantage of wealth & connection, he just barely pulls himself together.  He has flashbacks & setbacks that fade but never really go away. 

& unlike Nancy & Miss Marple & so forth (not Nero et al, they do this too), Peter & Harriet move forward through time, at the same speed as the rest of us.  So happy anniversary Lord & Lady Peter. 

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