Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Murder Must Advertise: Dorothy L. Sayers

Murder Must Advertise is the eighth novel in the Peter Wimsey series. In this book, Victor Dean, a copywriter in an advertising firm, fell to his death on a spiral staircase made of iron. Although many employees had considered the staircase dangerous, there have been allegations that the death was not accidental. Lord Peter Wimsey has now taken over Dean's job, under another name, and is working undercover to determine if his death was a result of foul play.


I have always considered this my favorite mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers, so I was glad to find that the story lived up to my memories of it. Some of Sayers' books were a disappointment to me on a second read.

I like mysteries with an office setting, especially older mysteries like this one. I have enjoyed at least two others: Minute for Murder (1947) by Nicholas Blake, set in the Visual Propaganda Division in the Ministry of Morale, and Smallbone Deceased (1950) by Michael Gilbert, set in the law firm of Horniman, Birley and Craine. This one is mainly set in the offices of Pym's Publicity.

The author does have a lot to say, via her characters, about the evils of advertising. Per her obituary in the New York Times, Sayers' "first job was that of copy writer in a leading London advertising agency." And that was the main attraction of this book for me.

In a recent review, I commented on my dislike of stories about detectives working undercover, but in this case the undercover plot was fun. Wimsey could have been in some danger when consorting with drug dealers, but this was more an adventure story than a thriller. It surprised me that a novel set in the early 1930s has a good deal of the plot related to drug dealing. Somehow I always see this as a more recent problem.

I did especially like that the story allowed Peter to spend time with his sister Mary and her husband Chief Inspector Parker, a pair that I have always enjoyed. And as a ploy to maintain his cover, Peter also drops in on a party given by his older brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver, and irritates Gerald's snobbish wife, Helen.

I thought this book was well written and a good puzzle, although the puzzle element of a mystery is not the most important part to me. Possibly a bit too long. Some readers complain about the lengthy discussions of public schools vs state education and cricket, yet I did not think these departures went on too long to be interesting. And, at least in the case of the chapter on the cricket game, it does relate to the plot. Even though this was a reread, I was still surprised at the ending and the way it was handled.

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Publisher:   Perennial Library, 1986. Orig. pub. 1933.
Length:      323 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Peter Wimsey, #8
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copies.


28 comments:

  1. Not one I'll be seeking out thanks. GA crime just doesn't particularly appeal to me. I will try and make the odd exception though.

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    1. I know this isn't your type of thing, Col, but if you had to choose a book by Sayers, this might be a good choice because of the humor about advertising.

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  2. Probably not one I'll read either, but I do so enjoy hearing about your 'vintage' reads. Some I have read before and some I'd like to pick up. Keep 'em coming! LOL

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    1. I am glad you enjoy hearing about the old books I read, Kay. It is interesting when I go back to old favorites, to see if they still appeal.

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  3. I need to re-read Sayers. I haven't read much of hers since the 1970s. I just checked my Books Read list and I only see that I've read two! That can't be right. I guess I read them before I became obsessive about keeping records.

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    1. I wish I had kept records for much longer than I have, Joan. I started at the beginning of 2002. Some books I know I read, others I cannot be sure about.

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  4. Can you believe I’ve never read a Sayer book! Started one once but couldn’t interested. I’m sorting books for our library book sale and get to ‘preside’ over the mysteries. There are five Sayers. I’ve been dithering over whether to snatch them up or not.

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    1. That is a hard decision, Peggy. I like some of them now, others don't appeal to me so much. But what fun to be able to 'preside' over the mysteries.

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  5. I like office settings, too, Tracy. There are a lot of possibilities with them, and it's interesting to see the office culture of that time portrayed. I'm glad to hear, too, that this one stood the test of time for you. I've found that as I've changed over the years, not all books have been as appealing the second time as they were the first time.

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    1. I was very glad I liked it this time too, Margot, but I can understand why Sayers' books don't appeal to everyone.

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  6. I have read several, but not this one. I particularly remember liking THE NINE TAILORS. Truthfully, I far prefer her Lord Peter short stories.

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    1. That is interesting, Rick. I have some of Sayers' short story books and I must have read some of the stories years ago. I will have to try some soon. And although I don't have fond memories of THE NINE TAILORS, I do plan to reread that one sometime too.

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  7. I've read them all but in the 1970s, I used to work in Witham where she lived but sadly she was dead by then and her old house wasn't open to the public. I think it's owned by the Sayers Society now. I need to read them all again soon.

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    1. How interesting to work in the same city where Sayers lived, Katrina. I would love to visit there, but it is the same old story, I am not going anywhere I have to fly to.

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  8. This is one of the Wimsey books I haven't read. I've enjoyed the ones I have read so must get to this as I think he's a wonderful character and the writing is *so* good.

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    1. I think you would like it, Cath. Only complaint I have now is the length, but it was so much fun.

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  9. Fingers crossed this comment might actually work. Tried using a different browser.
    Anyways thanks for the mention. Sorry you didn't find this one as gripping as I did, as this is one of my favourite Sayers novels, along with Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon. But I appreciate that Sayers can be a bit of a marmite author.

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    1. Hooray, I am glad you were able to comment, Kate. I don't enjoy the Sayers books as much as I did when I was younger, Kate, and I don't know why. My favorites of the ones I have reread are Murder Must Advertise and Strong Poison.

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    2. What do you think has caused you to like Sayers less? Intrigued to find you find the book too long, as compared to some of Sayers novels (and quite a lot of modern day novels), it seemed quite a short to normal length to me.

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    3. I know, it isn't that long, but it felt long to me. Same with Busman's Honeymoon. Altho I loved parts of Busman's Honeymoon.

      My theory it that I read the Sayers books one after another when I was younger, and really liked getting to know the characters, like the other people in the Wimsey family. But it was decades ago. 70's or 80's. So very hard to remember.

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  10. Haven't read this one. Pretty much sticking to the Harriet Vane novels. I do find Sayers verbose which is why I haven't jumped to her next book in the series yet. --Keishon

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    1. I do like the Harriet Vane novels, Keishon. Maybe I will someday reread Have His Carcase and /or Gaudy Night and watch the TV adaptation of those. Those both have their good and bad points.

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  11. I read this one ages ago and I agree that it's one of Sayer's better Wimsey books. I like the setting as well. I also remember the adaptation with Ian Carmichael. I'm not Sayer's biggest fan, but I enjoyed her books. I suppose my favorite might be THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB. Recently read: BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY which is not her best, but still fun.

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    1. I had forgotten that there was a TV adaptation of this one, Yvette, or I would have watched it before writing the post. We have both of the TV series, but haven't watched them in a long time.

      It has been so long time since I read The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club that I forgotten anything about it. It certainly gets good reviews. I will add that to my reread someday list.

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  12. Murder Must Advertise is one of my favourite 3 of DLS's book. I recall when I first read it in the 1970s, when I was working in an insurance head office downtown, I was amazed and amused at how much the office of 1930s London resembled my own working environment. Lots of chat and long lunches and office pools and goofing off. By the 1990s, of course, it was a whole different world.

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    1. Yes, things have changed a lot, Susan. I have only worked in that kind of office briefly in the 80's.

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  13. I love this one for its picture of office life in the 1930s. Someone once pointed out to me that sitcoms divide among those set among friends, among family, or in a workplace or similar. I realized that I really like the workplace ones, where a disparate group of people are thrown together, and realized that I like that in a murder story too...

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    1. Interesting point about sitcoms, Moira. We don't watch many sitcoms, but a good one set in an "office" (actually a police station, but still...) is Brooklyn 99. I like mysteries set in an office and especially in earlier times.

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