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.