Book Review: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

I am finally back from my hiatus of moving. While my stress isn’t completely gone, it’s definitely much less than when I last posted.

I have been meaning to reading this book for some time. For reference, I read the first two books of this series, Strong Poison and Have His Carcass, all the way back in 2014. Why did it take me nearly five years to read it? I have no excuses. I started it, but because it is so dense and longer than most of Sayers’s other books (544 pages in my copy), I would read a few pages and give up. But, since I was suck in the car for two days straight last week, I finally forced myself to finish it.

And all I can say about this book is: WOW!

Release: 1935

Synopsis: Harriet Vane, acclaimed mystery writer, is invited back to Oxford (her alma mater) to aid the female teachers, who are victims of a mysterious harassment of threatening letters. She soon recruits her sometimes-suiter Lord Peter Wimsey to aid her in solving the perplexing crime.

Non-Spoiler Review

I think every author has that one great book, which soars higher than all the rest. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. For me, this is Dorothy Sayer’s masterpiece. Do not be misled by the synopsis of this book in thinking it is merely a mystery. No, it is an intense and detailed examination of the nature of humanity and the best romance I have ever read. While I enjoyed the first two books featuring Harriet Vane, nothing could prepare me for this book.

I won’t be giving any spoilers away, because I honestly think it is so good everyone should read it. Yes, it is helpful to read the first two books, but this one is by far the best. The depth of understanding of the characters is on par with Dostoevsky and Hugo. The intricacies of which Harriet notices the behavior of others (and her own behavior) is incredible to me. For example, there is a scene where Peter Wimsey’s nephew is being very friendly to her, and she immediately knows it is because he wants to annoy his uncle. Her level of reading people is amazing.

There are quite a few characters in this book, so many that I would usually hate it in a murder mystery. But this book is over five hundred pages long, and much effort is put into understanding each of the many characters. Thus, I never felt as if there were two many suspects.

The mystery itself is very much second to the character development. While it is interesting, it’s rather simple and the stakes are never raised incredibly high. And yet you are constantly questioning everyone’s actions, as you should in every good mystery. Saying that, this is simply a mystery, not a murder mystery, making it unusual that it can keep the conflict high enough without offing one of its characters. That is a talent in of itself.

But let’s get to the romance. Yes, there is a romance. In the first two books with Harriet Vane, there was little progress in their relationship, whereas this book is perfection when it comes to Harriet and Peter’s growing relationship. I won’t give away too much, but let’s just say it’s a happy ending.

I find it difficult to put into words all the things I love about this book (a rarity for me). I could go scene by scene, quoting the beautiful lines, the moments of character clarity, the dialogue and descriptions, but I feel as if that would be rather boring for you to read and tedious for me to write. But suffice it to say that I was not expecting both a good mystery and an amazing romance filled with intricate character development stylized in 1930s English style.

It’s a beautiful book, and well-worth the slow-moving plot and long page count.

I already have plans to read Busman’s Honeymoon, which is the fourth (and I believe last) book featuring Harriet Vane. I’ve tried to read a couple of Lord Peter Wimsey’s other mysteries without Harriet, but they just aren’t the same. It’s definitely the banter and communication between the two that make these books.

Have you read this book, or any other by Sayers? What is your favorite mystery novel? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

12 thoughts on “Book Review: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

  1. Great review! And I can’t imagine a mystery novel that combines plot, romance and insight into the nature of humanity so well as you mentioned in this review. I’ll look it up right now. Thank you for recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was really nervous to read what you thought of this book. I almost always agree with your opinions of books (I can’t think of a time that I haven’t), but this one if one of my all-time favorites. I was so afraid to find that you didn’t like it. But you did like it!! I’m so relieved. Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That is a great one, too! Really all of the Lord Peter Wimsey books are excellent except, I’d say, The Five Red Herrings. Sayers also published some Wimsey short stories along with a few stories of another of her characters, Montague Egg (most people don’t know of this character). I love short stories and these are great!

        Sayers is one of my absolute favorite authors. My second child is named after her. I’m such a book nerd…Ha!

        Liked by 1 person

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