So, Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L. Sayers is my second book of the month (the first being a lurid but fun romance set in Montana :-D) but I'm treating it as the first of my Autumn reads... it's on the 'Autumn' shelf I created for my Kindle as a matter of fact. For those who like books set in Scotland this fits the bill. It's set in the south west of that country in the two counties of Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire... the county town of which, Wigtown, is Scotland's version of the the English book town, Hay-on-Wye. Although it wasn't of course when this book was first published in 1931.
The town of Kirkcudbright, at the mouth of the river Dee, is a bit of an artist's colony type of place, they flock there for the beauty of the area and the light and so on. Lord Peter Wimsey spends a lot of time there, not because he's much of an artist, he just likes the place. The inhabitants have got used to his eccentricities and the artists do not mind him popping in to chat and watch them paint. The other main preoccupation of the people who live in this area is fishing and the two occupations fit very nicely together in the town.
The story begins with an argument in a pub. Campbell, a thoroughly Bad Lot who gets on with no one, has been drinking and is looking for a fight. Wimsey is present and helps to cool things down but Campbell still leaves in a strop. He's found dead the next morning, in the river in an isolated spot. He'd been painting and it was thought he accidently lost his footing and got swept away and the the knocks and bruises that are evident were caused by his body getting a bashing on the rocks.
Of course, none of this is actually so. It's discovered that his injuries happened 'before' he went into the water and foul play is very soon suspected. Lord Peter is naturally there like a shot and the local police don't seem to mind this as he has the reputation of being good at solving this convoluted kind of murder. This one, however, tests him. There are half a dozen suspects, all artists because before the murderer left the scene he painted a picture in the style of the dead man, Campbell. All of these artists had some ongoing disagreement going on with the deceased, be it marital jealousy, neighbourly disputes over boundaries, or just plain dislike of a boor of a man. Several of them choose this moment to disappear off the face of the Earth but does this mean anything at all?
OK, well this is one of those 'keep your wits about you' kind of reads because the details are quite hard to keep track of and so are the suspects. To be brutally honest I struggled with this book. The six artists all melded into one and each time one was mentioned I had stop and think why he was a suspect and think of something different about him to remind me who he was. That's no way to have to read a book.
Worse than the struggle to remember the suspects was two other things. Firstly, Sayers decided on writing the broad Scottish dialect as it sounds and that was tremendously difficult to decipher at times. I'm sure I missed important details because of it. Secondly, there is an absolute obsession with train times and timetables. I have come across this before in a few other vintage crime stories but oh my goodness, it was so tedious here.
I hate calling any Lord Peter book tedious but sadly it really was in places. On the plus side, the Scottish setting was delightful and beautifully depicted. And I gather Kirkcudbright really 'is' an artist's haven, so that was interesting and something I didn't know. And Wimsey himself is never less than fun to read and there's some good and funny dialogue in this. Also, I did not guess who the culprit was but I'm not sure I ever stood much of a chance of that! So it wasn't all negative. That said, this is definitely not a favourite Wimsey book, that would be books such as Clouds of Witness, Have his Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Holiday. And I cannot recommend the Lord Peter short stories enough, I have a collection of all of them and they are just superb.