Five Red Herrings Mass Market Paperback – Jan 1 1959
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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.
In fairness, it picks up a bit at the end, but it's heavy slogging to get there.