Book: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
Genre: Mystery novel
Publisher: A Harvest Book / Harcourt, Inc.
Publication date: 1934
Summary: Lord Peter Wimsey and his manservant have a car accident on a snowy New Year’s Eve, taking refuge in the village of Fenchurch St. Paul. For the vicar and the community, though, Lord Peter’s accident is their good fortune. They planned to ring in the New Year with a full peal of Kent Treble Bob Majors, a feat that will take nine hours — the whole night. Unfortunately, the village has been visited by a bout of influenza and they don’t have enough healthy bell-ringers to do the job. But it turns out that among Lord Peter’s many and varied experiences, bell-ringing (particularly the Treble Bob) is one of them.
Thoughts: One of the things I like about older mysteries, particularly Sayers, is that they take the time to set the scene. The mystery in The Nine Tailors is slow to start, but we have all the fascinating material about British bell-ringing to distract us while we learn about the village and the characters within it, who will prove to have more complicated stories than it first appears.
Sayers describes better than I have managed what makes the British style of bell-ringing so different:
The art of change-ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully-tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English camponologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations. p. 22.
I like bells, and got to hear them four times while we visited England (three Sunday mornings and one Tuesday night rehearsal). Mind you, I also like bagpipes, accordions, and drums — any instrument that is loud and raucous and tied to a culture makes me happy when I hear it.
Sayers also has an obvious appreciation for bells in this story, but being a mystery writer she finds the dark side. Bells have an air of mystery and capriciousness about them. Learning to ring tower bells begins with safety lessons — a bell left in the wrong state can unexpectedly pull up a rope along with anyone unwittingly hanging on it. As Lord Peter says at one point:
Bells are like cats and mirrors–they’re always queer, and it doesn’t do to think too much about them. p. 323
Appeal: Mystery lovers and anyone who likes a good story about life in an English village will appreciate this novel.
Have you read this book? What did you think?