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Strong Poison (1930)

by Dorothy L. Sayers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Lord Peter Wimsey (6)

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3,835932,320 (4.06)356
Dashing detective Lord Peter Wimsey is caught up in the murder trial of mystery writer Harriet Vane. Her fiance has died of poisoning exactly as described in one of Harriet's novels -- so naturally she is the prime suspect. As Peter looks on, he not only falls in love with the accused but eagerly helps with Harriet's defense when the first trial ends in a hung jury. Will she be convicted and executed for the crime, or can he save her life and win her hand in marriage?… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)


I didn't think I could be surprised by this book. After all, I dived in two books later at 'Gaudy Night' so I already know Harriet Vane and I thought I understood her complex relationship with Peter Wimsey.

Yet the book did surprise me. Firstly because I saw no more of Harriet Vane that Wimsey did, which isn't much. Second, because the investigation to clear Vane's name and unmask the real killer is carried out not by Wimsey but by clever, resourceful women working for him. The final surprise was Wimsey himself. He carries a great deal more trauma with him than I had understood and his attraction to Vane goes beyond charmingly eccentric to desperate and obsessive until it seems that his love for her may be the 'Strong Poison' of the title. It took me a long time to see that, from Wimsey's point of view, he is not recognising Vane, she is rescuing him.

I'm not a fan of insta-love. It seems to me to be either a lazy plot device or a shared delusion. And yet, I could immediately see why Wimesy fell for Vane. She's tough, bright, educated, independent, honest with herself and capable simultaneously of dignity, humour and kindness. How could you not love that?

She is a woman under great pressure and with little hope and has just met for the first time an eccentric man who seems not to be playing with a full deck yet when Wimsey asks if he may call on her again in prison, she replies:

‘I will give the footman orders to admit you,’ said the prisoner, gravely; ‘you will always find me at home.’

Wimsey presents himself to Vane with all the grace of a new-born foal trying to learn to use its legs, but that's part of the fun. If you're going to propose to a woman the first time that you meet her, and that first time is when she's in prison for murder, then you go in knowing that, if you are to be honest, you cannot fail also to be absurd.

Yet, even in the midst of his awkwardness, the real man comes trough by asking one simple question. In his effort to assess the relationship between Vane and her former lover, who she is accused of having murdered, he asks:

'Were you friends?'

The question says a great deal about Wimsey's values and his insight into people. Vane's instant reply of 'No.' holds in it the doom of her relationship with her former lover and the 'repressed savagery' with which she delivers it explains a great deal about her and how she came to be in her current situation.

Given how clever and insightful Wimsey is and given that he has already said to Vane,

'you’ll understand that I’m not really such an ass as I’m looking at present.’

I'm a little unsure how much to take the charm of his marriage pitch to Vane at face value.

To a woman whose lover disdained friendship, he says

'I’d like somebody I could talk sensibly to, who would make life interesting. And I could give you a lot of plots for your books, if that’s any inducement.’

To a woman who has won her financial independence by writing fiction, he says that he would like a wife who writes books because

'...it would be great fun. So much more interesting than the ordinary kind that is only keen on clothes and people. Though, of course, clothes and people are all right too, in moderation.'

To a woman who has had her sexual history used against her in court and who reminds him that she has had a lover, he responds:

‘Oh, yes. So have I, if it comes to that. In fact, several. It’s the sort of thing that might happen to anybody.'

These remarks sound honest and innocent and most likely are both but are they not also artfully knowing and carefully persuasive?

If I were Harriet Vane, I'd want to believe in Wimsey's honesty but I'd find it hard to set aside his careful curation of his character.

After this initial encounter, the book stumbles a little as the unassailability of the case against Vane is established, one slow step at a time. Fortunately, that is the last problem with pace because, after that, I was introduced to The Cattery and its inmates and everything took off. ( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Dec 16, 2020 |
My favorite of the Wimsey series (but the others are pretty much almost uniformly good too). This happened to be the first of the Wimsey series I read, and I'm glad, because if I had started with her first, which I think is one of the weakest, I'm not sure I would have taken the effort to find them all.

This book is a darn good mystery, with plenty of surprising twists (all of Sayers' mystery is like that), but it's also hilariously funny and yet (at least to me) not merely silly. The humor here is more character-oriented, and does not detract from the plot. ( )
  garyrholt | Nov 5, 2020 |
A couple of years ago, I read a book by Dorothy Sayers and I am sorry to say, I didn't like it. So, that was the end of that. Recently, I found one of her books in a Little Free Library and decided to give her a second chance. I finished reading the mystery last night and I need to say, I had a very different reading experience. This time, I did like the mystery.

Harriet Vane is on trail for murder. She is accused of poisoning her former lover. And! I must say, it does look bad. Lord Peter Wimsey is present at the trial and is convinced she is innocent. He has one month to prove she is innocent or she will most likely be facing the hangman's noose.

Dorothy Sayer's certainly knows how to create characters! There are several good ones, Lord Peter Wimsey himself being one of them. Miss Climpson was exceptional. Her adventure in sleuthing was rich and so well described. I was with her every step of her journey, holding my breath and enjoying her newly found talent of lockpicking. She did so well under pressure!

Because I am new with Sayer's mysteries, I don't know much about Bunter, however, I did feel he was a strong presence and great support to Lord Wimsey.

Lord Wimsey is a fun character, honest and I believe his name fits him. He has a touch of whimsy in his person.

The plot is certainly interesting and never lost. I solved the mystery right along side of Lord Wimsey. Because Harriet Vane is in court at the beginning of the mystery, the reader never views a crime scene, neither does Lord Wimsey.

Good mystery! I'm chuckling to myself now that I reflect on the story. Happy Reading! ( )
  KatiesCottage | Oct 17, 2020 |
Nice who-done-it about arsenic poisoning. Light reading. ( )
  jvgravy | Sep 9, 2020 |
Crime fiction novelist Harriet Vane is on trial for poisoning her lover, Philip Boyes. While observing the trial from the audience in the courtroom, Lord Peter Wimsey falls in love with Harriet. He is certain that his good friend, Inspector Parker, and his Scotland Yard colleagues came to the wrong conclusion and that Harriet is innocent. Wimsey has just 30 days to investigate the murder and discover what Scotland Yard had missed. The stakes have never been higher for him, for if he fails, the love of his life will go to the gallows. Harriet parries a besotted Wimsey’s advances in the same spirit they’re offered. However, tension undergirds the surface levity as the day of reckoning draws ever closer.

Although I had seen the TV adaptation of this book, I’m not sure I had read it before, unless I borrowed it from the library. I bought most of the Wimsey novels in my teens, but this one isn’t in my collection. Even though I had no memory of reading this book, I had no trouble spotting the means of the murder when it was first introduced. Like the murderer, Sayers drew too much attention to it. Between Wimsey and Harriet’s witty banter and Miss Climpson’s foray into spiritualism, I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much while reading a detective novel! ( )
  cbl_tn | Jun 18, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sayers, Dorothy L.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bayer, OttoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bleck, CathieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brand, ChristiannaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carmichael, IanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
George, ElizabethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Griffini, Grazia MariaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehtonen, PaavoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Michal,MarieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
"Where got ye your dinner, Lord Rendal, my son?
Where got ye your dinner, my handsome young man?"
"--O I dined with my sweetheart, Mother make my bed soon,
For I'm sick to the heart and I fain wad lie down."

"Oh, that was strong poison, Lord Rendal, my son,
O that was strong poison, my handsome young man,"
"--O yes, I am poisoned, Mother; make my bed soon,
For I'm sick to the heart, and I fain wad lie down."
-- OLD BALLAD
Dedication
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There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.
Quotations
"I often wonder what we go to school for," said Wimsey. "We never seem to learn anything really useful...."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Dashing detective Lord Peter Wimsey is caught up in the murder trial of mystery writer Harriet Vane. Her fiance has died of poisoning exactly as described in one of Harriet's novels -- so naturally she is the prime suspect. As Peter looks on, he not only falls in love with the accused but eagerly helps with Harriet's defense when the first trial ends in a hung jury. Will she be convicted and executed for the crime, or can he save her life and win her hand in marriage?

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Third printing, 2006
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