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Five Red Herrings [Mass Market Paperback]

Dorothy L. Sayers
1.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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0 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Have you heard of a good book??!! Nov. 11 2001
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
If you want a good book, this would NOT be my choice in a million years.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  64 reviews
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For Die-Hard Sayers Fans Only Aug. 1 2002
By Gary F. Taylor - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
At her best, Dorothy Sayers was able to juggle a complex writing style, complex characters, and complex plot to tremendous effect--and such novels as GAUDY NIGHT and BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON have remained landmarks of the murder mystery genre for well over sixty years. But some of Sayers' work has a tendency toward incessant clutter--and no where is that more apparent than in this 1931 novel, which finds Lord Peter investigating a suspicious death in Scotland.

The plot of THE FIVE RED HERRINGS begins with some promise: the victim is a man despised by virtually everyone in town, so no one is greatly shocked when his body is found in a creek at the bottom of a ravine. But the story soon acquires a mechanical feeling: of six possible suspects, HALF are unexpectedly and mysteriously out of town--and tracking them down allows Sayers to indulge her love of time-tables and train schedules to the nth degree. It makes for some very dry narrative indeed. At the same time, Sayers attempts to duplicate the Scottish accent of the locals on the page itself, and the result is page after page of phonetic spellings and oddly placed aphostrophes. It is more than a little off-putting.

In spite of these drawbacks, the book does have its graces, chiefly in Sayers' knack for turning a witty phrase and in her ever-developing portrait of Lord Peter Wimsey. And to do Sayers justice, the gimmicky plot and the emphasis on time-tables, etc. is rather typical of 1920s and 1930s murder mysteries. Such books often have a great deal of period charm, but frankly, THE FIVE RED HERRINGS is not among them. Die-hard Sayers fans will certainly want to read this novel, and many will get a good degree of pleasure from it... but newcomers to Dorothy Sayers' work should start with one of her later successes, and I specifically recommend MURDER MUST ADVERTISE to them instead.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dorothy Sayers Gets Hooked on Phonics May 21 2004
By C. T. Mikesell - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
As other reviewers have commented, this book has two strikes against it. First, Sayers transcribes most of the dialogue preserving the native Scottish accents of her characters. Occasionally she'll allow a character to have so thick a brogue that she'll simultaneously translate for the reader. However, it frequently takes several times through a conversation to make sure you're reading it properly. A glossary at the end of the book would have helped immensely (everybody say Imph'm). The other strike against the book is that five red herrings is a couple kippers too many. Combined with the dialectic nature of the book, there are simply too many people (suspects, police, railroad employees, servants, etc.) to keep track of at the same time.
Fortunately, Sayers doesn't get the fatal third strike. She weaves a complex web and sets master sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey in the middle of it. The obvious wit in her other novels is obscured somewhat by the accents, but enough shines through to keep the overall tone light. Bunter disappears about halfway through, but while he's on the scene he's as wonderful as ever. Tracking Farren and Wimsey's re-creation of the murderer's alibi were, for me, the high points of the story.
I'm sure Dorothy Sayers knew the risks she was taking in crafting such a detailed, complex mystery. That it doesn't entirely work for an American reader in the 21st Century probably isn't ruining her afterlife much. I've found myself hopelessly outclassed on several occasions when reading the Wimsey series, and under those circumstances I find it most helpful to get in Wimsey's Daimler with him and go along for the ride. The trip is always breathtaking (as most of Wimsey's passengers can attest), and while Lord Peter may know where he's going sooner than I do, he doesn't get there too far ahead of me. Don't let my criticisms of this book dissuade you from giving it a read; it's tough in parts, but well worth the effort.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sayers Almost at Her Best Sept. 5 2005
By Kim - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I must be in the minority because I thought this was Sayer's almost at her most brilliant. Only the Nine Tailors seems better to me. Unlike some other reviewers here it was the complexity of the plot that I found so intriguing-that and the Scottish setting. No one could handle intricate plotting better than Sayers. I have also heard this book on tape read by Patrick Malahide. He does a fabulous job and the tapes are particularly mesmerizing. If you enjoy mysterys for their characters start with Murder must Advertise. If you read mysterys for their plot this is definitly the place to go.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overdone Nov. 28 2004
By RCM - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
A long time fan of mystery stories, I was excited to try one by an author I had not read (and one who enjoyed such grand company in her Oxford years). However, "The Five Red Herrings" gave me much pause and I almost laid the book aside, unfinished. While I believe that Dorothy L. Sayers is a gifted writer, this novel is overdone in both style and story.

"The Five Red Herrings" begins with the mysterious death of Sandy Campbell, a Scottish artist, who was disliked by almost everyone, and had received threats from all of these people in the past, making them perfect suspects. When Lord Peter Wimsey examines the crime scene, he immediately suspects foul play (but Sayers leaves it to the reader to determine what aroused his suspicions). The police of Kirkcudbright are then set off in all directions to follow impossible leads and various red herrings involving six local artists who are all suspects to Campbell's murder. The story changes viewpoints numerous times as it follows one lead to another, and seems, at times, to go nowhere. When the reader does finally reach the conclusion and the murderer is revealed, instead of ending the story, Sayers continues on in a "fantasy sequence" of sorts, with Lord Peter Wimsey recreating the crime in order to justify his theory.

While "The Five Red Herrings" is entertaining, and manages to put the reader off the real killer, it is overdone. In trying to capture the dialect of Scotland (not to mention Scottish residents with lisps) Sayers sets an enormous challenge for her readers to understand pages of this dialect, but translates it herself in other pages. Had she been consistent, this might not have bugged me. Plus, the reader gets lost in all the true and false evidence, each artists' story, and what various witnesses have to say. Not to mention railroad timetables and the numerous theories that the policemen and detectives have put together - all of them wrong, of course, because only Lord Peter Wimsey could discover the truth. And although I rather fancied the recreation of the crime, since we'd had so many theories floating through the novel by that point, it caused the ending and confession of the murderer to seem rather more rushed than it should have.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic in Scotland and Arctic Alaska Aug. 9 2003
By Arctic Voice Earl - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This was the first Dorothy Sayers story I saw on television in the original series aired on Public TV. And it is one of her best.
Like all of her mysteries, it gives the reader an in-depth view of a fascinating time and place --this time Scotland. I loved all the little details, including full portraits of bicycles used by the local folks.
Also use of the Scottish language and accents. They were a bit difficult to follow the first time, but I tried again. As a resident of an Inupiat Eskimo community in the Alaskan Arctic, I know the value of local language as a very basic means of communication and an expression of cultural identity.
The book carefully weaves in a basic course in painting, and makes it a factor in description and possible solution of the murder. (I'll say no more)
So if you can't get to Arctic Alaska, or Scotland, in the near future, or take an extensive art course, buy this book. Read it at your leisure and enjoy!
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