“The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.”
I must have read my first whodunnit when I was around 8 years old. Agatha Christie`s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was also the first adult book I had read; I had never been a great fan of children`s books that were full of talking rabbits, and children doing “frightfully jolly things” while on holiday during an endless summer. Where did these people come from? I never knew anyone like them. If we`re talking children`s books here, Wind in the Willows was much more my style: talking animals are in evidence here, but it`s stuffed with characters and issues you could actually relate to. Jealousy, envy, anger, deceit, pomposity; replace the furry animals with human beings, and there is something about it you can recognise.From my first Christie book, I slowly chewed my way through the entire collection, until I had been the witness to seemingly hundreds of murders. Then, in my mid-teens, I arrived at The Big Daddy of all detectives……..Sherlock Holmes. I had seen a couple of television series with different actors portraying the great man, and found myself enjoying them immensely. Every Holmes is different; but most of the Watsons have been slow witted bumblers; how could that be? When I read the books, Watson came across as the kind of guy Holmes would consider a fine man to know. He was intelligent, dependable and loyal, but also importantly for Holmes, an interesting individual with deep waters. Looking at the stories with hindsight, the plots aren`t the most complicated, but the interaction between the characters is a joy to behold. And, I guess, the emphasis Holmes places upon a scientific approach to the crime scene was ground breaking for a late Victorian audience. “Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel – dark dykes and the wind bent, groaning polar trees, bursting from the snow – choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells – little Gaude, silver Sabaoth, strong John and Jericho, glad Jubilee, sweet Dimity and old Batty Thomas, with great Tailor Paul bawling and striding like a giant in the midst of them. Up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the scarlet sallies flickering roofwards and floorwards, and up and down, hunting in their courses, went the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul.”
Lord Peter Wimsey is, without doubt, my favourite of all the great classic detectives. Okay, he`s filthy rich with more money than he knows what to do with. Perhaps, in another time, such a highly intelligent, rich and humane individual would have developed a strong social conscience, and put his talents to other uses, rather than solving crime in the mountain of spare time he obviously has on his hands. Dorothy L. Sayers is without a shadow of doubt a far better writer than Conan Doyle or Christie: her prose style is elegant, and highly descriptive of emotion and place; she actually knows what makes a human being tick, the foibles, the deep psychological forces that can bubble up to the surface, driving someone on to disturbing and murderous action without pity or compassion. Her detective stories are more like serious, full blown novels with a bit of sleuthing thrown in as an aside; and because of this, they are far more emotionally engaging than just about any other detective fiction out there. If Agatha Christie is the Queen of Crime, well then, Dorothy L. Sayers is the Empress.
“We are all like sheep who have gone astray, and well I may say so, for I was a dark and wicked sinner myself, until this here gentleman laid his hand upon me as I was a – busting of his safe, and became God`s instrument for turning me away from the path that leadeth to destruction.”
Oh yes, a detective who has cold icy logic, laced with a fair dose of compassion and sense for altering, and diverting someone`s life back onto the straight and narrow path without recourse to the hammer of the law. I do love those great detectives from the classic age of Whodunnits; the stories and the personalities seemed so much bigger and more interesting than modern sleuths, with their over reliance on forensics and crime scene investigations. Back in the day, they let their brain do the walking, and not some technological, yapping dog.