Book Review: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey, 2)

Clouds of Witness is a classic mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, published in 1926. It is the second book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, which features the aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. In this novel, Lord Peter Wimsey finds himself in the middle of a murder case involving his brother, the Duke of Denver, and he must race against time to clear his name and solve the crime.

The story begins with Lord Peter Wimsey returning to England after a trip to Africa, only to find out that his brother, the Duke of Denver, has been arrested for murder. The victim is their sister’s fiancé, Captain Denis Cathcart, and the evidence against the Duke is overwhelming. Lord Peter Wimsey believes in his brother’s innocence and sets out to investigate the case.

The investigation leads Lord Peter Wimsey to the family’s country estate in Yorkshire, where he begins to uncover a web of deceit, jealousy, and family secrets. As he delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a number of suspects, each with their own motive for wanting Cathcart dead. Among the suspects are the Duke’s fiancé, Lady Mary, who was in love with Cathcart, and the Duke’s former mistress, Mrs. Grimethorpe, who had a child with Cathcart. Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigation takes him to London, where he discovers that the victim was involved in a shady business deal, which may have led to his murder.

The novel is set in the early 20th century, and Sayers does an excellent job of recreating the atmosphere and social norms of the time. The book is also notable for its strong character development, with each of the suspects being well-drawn and distinct. Sayers’ use of language is also impressive, with her prose being both elegant and witty.

One of the standout features of the novel is the character of Lord Peter Wimsey himself. Wimsey is a complex character, and Sayers does an excellent job of exploring his psyche. He is a man who is haunted by his experiences in World War I, and he uses his work as a detective as a way to deal with his trauma. Despite his aristocratic background, Wimsey is also a man of great empathy and compassion. He is able to connect with people from all walks of life, and he has a deep understanding of human nature.

Another notable aspect of the novel is the way that Sayers uses the setting to create a sense of atmosphere. The country estate where much of the action takes place is described in great detail, and the reader gets a strong sense of the isolation and claustrophobia that the characters must feel. The novel also makes use of the contrast between the idyllic countryside and the dark underbelly of London, which serves to create a sense of tension and unease.

The plot of the novel is complex and multi-layered, with Sayers skillfully weaving together a number of different threads. The mystery itself is well-constructed, and the reader is kept guessing until the very end. Sayers’ use of misdirection and red herrings is particularly effective, and she manages to keep the reader on their toes throughout the novel.

One criticism of the novel is that it can be slow-paced at times, particularly in the middle section. There is a lot of dialogue and exposition, which may not be to everyone’s taste. However, the novel does pick up towards the end, and the final few chapters are particularly gripping.

In conclusion, Clouds of Witness is a well-written and engaging mystery novel, which is notable for its strong character development, atmospheric setting, and well-constructed plot.

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