Light Reading with a Cold: Dorothy Sayers’s Five Red Herrings & R. A. Dick’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

woman with cold cartoon huge.101.505042I have been trailing around Iowa with a very bad cold for a couple of weeks.  Actually, I don’t so much trail as look wistfully out the door.

Life consists of hacking open cold medicine packets with sharp objects, applying Vicks Vaporub (one of my sweaters is now a wearable form of Vicks), and sleeping on the sofa.   I do hope no one else has this cold, but if you do, I wonder, what are you reading?

I have been reading light, short books.  Here are recommendations:  a mystery and a ghost story.

Five Red Herrings Dorothy Sayers 1326761.  Dorothy Sayers’s Five Red Herrings. I love Golden Age Detective Stories of the 1920s and ’30s, and Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels are especially charming and elegantly written.   Set in Scotland, Five Red Herrings is a whodunit about the murder of an obnoxious artist.  The hero, Lord Peter Wimsey, an eccentric, witty, affable amateur sleuth, is vacationing in Galloway, accompanied by his valet, Bunter.  The scenery is beautiful, and everyone “either fishes or paints.”  Wimsey has a way of fitting in wherever he goes.

Into this fishing and painting community, Lord Peter Wimsey was received on friendly and even affectionate terms. He could make a respectable cast, and he did not pretend to paint, and therefore, though English and an ‘incomer’, gave no cause of offence. The Southron is tolerated in Scotland on the understanding that he does not throw his weight about, and from this peculiarly English vice Lord Peter was laudably free.

When Campbell, an artist who has quarreled with everyone in the community, is found dead in a pool at the bottom of a steep granite slope, it looks like an accident.  His easel is at the top of the slope, and the police think he stepped back to examine his painting and fell.  It is Wimsey, of course, who  realizes Campbell was murdered when he notices something crucial is missing from the artist’s bag of supplies.  Six artists are suspected, and the mystery involves a stolen bicycle, train time-tables, and the personal painting styles of the suspects.

This is one of Sayers’s most enjoyable books. I must admit I just let the train time-tables wash over me, but the puzzle is clever, the information about art is fascinating, and I enjoy the company of Peter Wimsey.

2.  R. A. Dick’s Thghost and mrs. muir r. a. Dick 81D8vVMXZyL._SL1500_e Ghost and Mrs. Muir is the latest in the Vintage Movie Classics series of reprints of books that inspired famous movies.  Among the books recently reissued in this series are Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer-winning Alice Adams, Edna Ferber’s Cimmaron, and Fannie Hurst’s Back Street (which I wrote about here).

I couldn’t resist The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, because I am a fan of the movie with Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney.    Guess what?  This light, graceful novel, published in 1945, is even better than the film.  It is spare,  very funny, and a joy to read.  The Irish writer Josephine Aimee Campbell Leslie wrote under the name of R. A. Dick, believing that a man’s name might help sales, according to the introduction.

The premise of the book is simple.  Mrs. Muir is a lovely, gentle widow who was dominated by her husband and his family,  Now that her husband is dead, she is determined that she and her two children will be independent.  They will live at Gull Cottage in the seaside village of Whitecliff, far from all relatives.  The realtor is reluctant to show her the house, because, yes, Gull Cottage is haunted, but Mrs. Muir soon befriends the ghost, Captain Daniel Gregg, and  he agrees not to make himself known to the children.  He will restrict his hauntings to her bedroom, where they have many spirited conversations and disagreements.  When she runs low on money, he dictates his colorful memoir to her, Blood and Swash, which, anonymously published, becomes a best-seller.  The book is so fascinating that Lucy’s publisher reads it in her presence and forgets she’s there. It is a subject at a stuffy dinner party where Lucy’s son, a pompous curate, the Bishop, and other members of prominent society condemn the book.  And this is a very funny scene, because none would ever suspect of Mrs. Muir’s role in the writing.

Charming, funny, and gracefully-written.  I am likely to read this again soon.

13 thoughts on “Light Reading with a Cold: Dorothy Sayers’s Five Red Herrings & R. A. Dick’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

  1. I adore Wimsey and this is one of my favourites – love the Highland setting and all the painting stuff! The Ghost and Mrs. Muir sounds fab – I will look out for it. Hope the cold goes away soon! 🙂

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  2. I enjoyed all the Sayers mysteries. Like you, I didn’t study the train tables the way Wimsey did. I let him handle the matter for both of us.

    Have you read Murder Must Advertize? That is my personal favorite.

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  3. I’m seriously thinking of having a Wimsey Christmas and working my way through all the novels over the the holiday period. With most writers that would be too much of a good thing but I don’t think you can ever have too much of Peter Wimsey. I hope the cold gets better soon. At least there is a good chance you will have built up such a level of antibodies that you will be cold free for the rest of the winter.

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  4. These are such magnificent mysteries! I’ve read a few of these almost TOO many times, if you know what I mean, but on each rereading I enjoy them more. I am very tempted to join you in a Wimsey reading. (And I hope I lose the damned cold soon!)

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  5. It’s great to read your post and then see comments from everyone else who loves Wimsey – I turn to Sayers (and Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart) whenever I’m sick or stressed, and I always read The Nine Tailors over Christmas! The Ghost and Mrs Muir sounds exactly the sort of thing I’d like: I must get a copy (possibly from Better World Books….)

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    • Catherine, isn’t it amazing how many of us are Sayers fans? It has been a number of years since I’ve read Heyer, so perhaps I’ll curl up with a toddy and a tattered copy of Venetia. Yes, shopping at Better World Books sounds great. Am very glad you sent me that list of alternatives to Amazon.

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  6. For me too _Five Red Herrings_ is a favorite and remains an experience I much enjoyed almost all of the other novels — perhaps the Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night stand out too but not for the same sense. I put it down to the atmosphere, mood, norms of Scotland that Sayers creates.

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  7. I’m so glad we all like Five Red Herrings. I was reading reader reviews at Goodreads and many hate it! They write very long posts explaining exactly why they find it inferior, and I feel so frustrated, because they’re missing out on so much. But all tastes are tastes.

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  8. I’d join in if you started a Sayers’ readalong. I haven’t read any since the 70’s but recently I’ve been looking up in the attic for my copies.

    My husband and I have been taking astragalus for years and I must say it seems to have done wonders for keeping our immune systems working well.

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  9. I don’t know what astragalus is, but if it works I’m in!

    I’d love to read a Sayers readalong with you. Which one? Gaudy Night? Murder Must Advertise? And then there are those I don’t really remember at all well like The Unpleasnantness at the Bellonna Club.

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