Dorothy Sayers created a rather unusual sleuth in Lord Peter Wimsey -- think Bertie Wooster, except with a formidable crime-solving brain, a haunted past and a tendency to stumble across murders. And "Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection" brings together all of the solid BBC adaptations of her works starring Ian Carmichael, which are hampered mainly by the fact that the cast is a bit old for their roles.
In "Clouds of Witness" Peter is on vacation when he finds out that his brother, The Duke of Denver (informally "Gerald"), is on trial for murder -- he had a blowup with his sister Mary's fiancee, Denis Cathcart, and the next morning, Cathcart was found shot through the heart by Gerald's gun, with Gerald bending over the body. The Duke stubbornly refuses to explain why he was out in the rain at three in the morning. Now Peter must unravel a mass of lies, secrets and red herrings, and figure out who truly killed Cathcart.
"The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club" happens while Peter is lunching with his mentally fragile friend George Fentimen -- elderly General Fentiman expires in his chair. Because the exact time of death is unknown (and the general's sister died at around the same time), it's not clear who the inheritance is going to. And when the body is exhumed and examined, it's found that the old guy was actually poisoned.
"Murder Must Advertise" when an employee at an advertising agency falls down a spiral staircase and breaks his neck. Using the name "Death Bredon," Lord Peter goes undercover at the agency, and quickly discovers that he has a natural talent for it. He also discovers that the agency is involved somehow in a seedy drug smuggling ring, and has links to an upper-class party crowd. Oh yeah, and there are more murders.
Then in "Five Red Herrings," a fishing/painting vacation to an arty little village in Scotland goes horribly awry. Bunter and Wimsey stumble across the body of Sandy Campbell -- a violent, malicious, verbally-abusive painter who has alienated almost everybody in Galloway -- face-down in the pond. At first it appears to be an accident, but Wimsey soon realizes that it was murder. Now he has to figure out who actually murdered the man everyone wanted to throttle.
And finally, in "The Nine Tailors" Wimsey helps out the bellringers at a remote village by helping them ring in the New Year... and of course, a corpse is found the next day. As Wimsey investigates the identity of the mystery man, he discovers that it's connected to stolen emeralds from several years ago -- AND the biggest mystery is not just who killed the man, but HOW.
The BBC did an excellent job preserving the spirit of Dorothy Sayers' classic mystery novels, steeped in the atmosphere of post-World War I England -- gentlemen's clubs, tweed jackets, wood-paneled manorhouses and flapper dresses. There's incisive wit in the dialogue, clever humor ("Every time I get my pay packet, I glow with honest pride!"), and an array of characters including fusty old gentry, office drones, feisty artists to drug-addled flappers.
Even better, these are genuine whodunnits. All three mysteries are tangles of lies, deceptions, infidelities, errors and the occasional bizarre twist such as a Nosferatu-esque man scaring a maidservant into a few grey hairs. In every situation, the solution ends up being wonderfully simple.
Perhaps the biggest problem of the story is that the cast is a bit long in the tooth: Ian Carmichael, Rachel Herbert and Anna Cropper are all at least a decade older than their characters are. It's a bit weird, especially since Carmichael is old enough to be his own character's dad. But despite being in his mid-fifties, Ian Carmichael plays Wimsey with a light, incisive touch and a clever tongue ("I like facts... and there are remarkably few of them in this case"), and he's a likably plausible detective who can be steely when the occasion demands it. Glyn Houston is a warmly jolly Bunter, and he's sorely missed whenever he isn't in one of the stories.
"Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection" has a cast that's a bit old for their roles. But otherwise it's a solid collection of murder mysteries that stick close to the original books.