Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey Series #5)

Strong Poison (Lord Peter Wimsey Series #5)

by Dorothy L. Sayers


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062196200
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/16/2012
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey Series , #5
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 270
Sales rank: 117,061
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.65(d)

About the Author

Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency. In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world's most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

Date of Birth:

June 13, 1893

Date of Death:

December 17, 1957

Place of Birth:

Oxford, England


B.A., Oxford University, 1915; M.A., B.C.L., 1920

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.

The judge was an old man; so old, he seemed to have outlived time- and change and death. His parrot-face and parrot-voice were dry, like his old, heavily-veined hands. His scarlet robe clashed harshly with the crimson of the roses. He had sat for three days in the stuffy court, but he showed no sign of fatigue.

He did not look at the prisoner as he gathered his notes into a neat sheaf and turned to address the jury, but the prisoner looked at him. Her eyes, like dark smudges under the heavy square brows, seemed equally without fear and without hope. They waited.

"Members of the jury--"

The patient old eyes seemed to sum them up and take stock of their united intelligence. Three respectable tradesmen--a tall, argumentative one, a stout, embarrassed one with a drooping moustache, and an unhappy one with a bad cold; a director of a large company, anxious not to waste valuable time; a publican, incongruously cheerful; two youngish men of the artisan class; a nondescript, elderly man, of educated appearance, who might have been anything; an artist with a red beard disguising a weak chin; three women--an elderly spinster, a stout capable woman who kept a sweet-shop, and a harassed wife and mother whose thoughts seemed to be continually straying to her abandoned hearth.

"Members of the jury-you have listened with great patience and attention to the evidence in this very distressing case, and it is now my duty to sum up the facts and arguments which ha' been put before you by the learned Attorney-General and by the learned Counsel for theDefense, and to put them in order as clearly as possible, so as to help you in forming your decision.

"But first of all, perhaps I ought to say a few words with regard to that decision itself. You know, I am sure, that it is a great principle of English law that every accused person is held to be innocent unless and until he is proved otherwise. It is not necessary for him, or her, to prove innocence; it is, in the modern slang phrase, 'up to' the Crown to prove guilt, and unless you are quite satisfied that the Crown has done this beyond all reasonable doubt, it is your duty to return a verdict of 'Not Guilty.' That does not necessarily mean that the prisoner has established her innocence by proof, it simply means that the Crown has failed to produce in your minds an undoubted conviction of her guilt."

Salcombe Hardy, lifting his drowned-violet eyes for a moment from his reporter's note-book, scribbled two words on a slip of paper and pushed them over to Waffles Newton. "Judge hostile." Waffles nodded. They were old hounds on this blood-trail.

The judge creaked on.

"You may perhaps wish to hear from me exactly what is meant by those words 'reasonable doubt.' They mean, just so much doubt as you might have in every-day life about an ordinary matter of business. This is a case of murder, and it might be natural for you to think that, in such a case, the words mean more than this. But that is not so. They do not mean that you must cast about for fantastical solutions of what seems to you plain, and simple. They do not mean. those nightmare doubts which sometimes torment us at four o'clock in the morning when we have not slept very well. They only mean that the proof must be such as you would accept about a plain matter of buying and selling, or some such commonplace transaction. You must not strain your belief in favour of the prisoner any more, of course, than you must accept proof of her guilt without the most careful scrutiny.

"Having said just these few words, go that you may not feel too much overwhelmed by the heavy responsibility laid upon you by your duty to, the State, I will now begin at the beginning and try to place the story that we have heard, as clearly as possible before you.

"The case for the Crown is that the prisoner, Harriet Vane, murdered Philip Boyes by poisoning him with arsenic. I need not detain you by going through the proof offered by Sir James Lubbock and the other doctors who have given evidence as to the cause of death. The Crown say he died of arsenical poisoning, and the defence do not dispute it. The evidence is, therefore, that the death was due to arsenic, and you must accept that as a fact. The only question that remains for you is whether, in fact, that arsenic was deliberately administered by the prisoner with intent to murder.

"The deceased, Philip Boyes, was, as you have heard, a writer. He was thirty-six years old, and he had published five novels and a large number of essays and articles. All these literary works were of what is sometimes called an 'advanced' type. They preached doctrines which may seem to some of us immoral or seditious, such as atheism, and anarchy, and what is known as free love. His private life appears to have been conducted, for some time at least, in accordance with these doctrines.

"At any rate, at some time in the year 1927, he became acquainted with Harriet Vane. They met in some of those artistic and literary circles where 'advanced' topics are discussed, and after a time they became very friendly. The prisoner is also a novelist by profession, and it is very important to remember that she is a writer of so-called 'mystery' or 'detective' stories, such as deal with various ingenious methods of committing murder and other crimes.

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Strong Poison 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 28 reviews.
vanlyle More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It had many quirky and amusing descriptions and had a fun plot. I finished it smiling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only a good murder mystery, but also a close look at a bygone era of manners, behavior, and the old-fashioned sense of honor
nookpj More than 1 year ago
This first meeting between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane sets the stage for 3 more mysterious and romantic adventures. If you love Lord Peter, his real story begins with Harriet. Read on!
bookfanaticSS More than 1 year ago
Well, I wrote an in-depth and thoughtful review about this story, written by one of my favorite authors. Unfortunately, the website ate it without warning. I do not think I can duplicate it again. Suffice to say that the Lord Peter Wimsey novels are one of the few mysteries that I can re-read over and over again. Strong Poison introduces the character of mystery novelist Harriet Vane, whom Lord Peter falls in love with on first sight. Problem is, his first sight of her is when she's in court on trial for murdering her former lover. It will take all his ingenuity, intelligence, and charm to save Harriet's life--and convince her his feelings for her are real.
CCTynan More than 1 year ago
This is the first Lord Peter novel to feature Harriet Vane. Try to start with this one if you can. There are other Lord Peter books without her, including the first one, Whose Body? Sayers is right up there with Christie, so give her a try.
GeoffSmock More than 1 year ago
In this installment it is not necessarily the mystery that grips or holds the reader, but once again the singularly enjoyable experience of observing Lord Wimsey, especially within the new wrinkle of his determination to rescue the damsel from the gallows and win her hand in marriage. Another great and enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Peter Wimsley is a captivating character from a great time period in England. It is hard to believe the author is a woman! The plot development and additional supporting individuals and their unfolding make for a great read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
It seems that Sayers only conjures up a detective plot for total absence of structure. She has a wonderful assortment of characters and conflicts outside of the dully predictable mystery (your's truly guessed the murder, motive, and means by page 15, much like the Dowager Duchess) but can't very well write a pointless book about only them and their captivating allusions and habits. The mstery is therefore introduced to hold everyone together with a common goal. This isn't for connoisseurs of the detective novel, only for those of mood and educated comedy. I personally prefer Poirot's 'little grey cells' method to Wimsey's active sleuthing, but it helps to think that Wimsey's sleuthing isn't nearly everything Sayers's books focus on.
MrsLee on LibraryThing 10 months ago
The first in the trilogy of the love of Lord Peter Wimsey. A very good book with an excellent mystery. I adore the debate Miss Climpson has with herself on whether or not to fake Spiritualism to get the evidence she needs in the case. Also watching Wimsey as he falls in love. The resolution of the case is also very satisfactory.
justchris on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Next on my list is Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. This was another super-cheap booksale impulse buy. I had seen reviews on LT of her works and decided it was worth trying one. This is a Lord Peter Wimsey murder mystery, somewhere in the middle of the series. I believe this is set in the late 1920s.The book opens with Harriet Vane on trial for poisoning her ex-lover with arsenic, just before the jury is sequestered for a verdict, with the judge summing up the case. Harriet Vane is a moderately successful murder mystery author who recently researched arsenic poisoning for her latest novel. Lord Peter Wimsey apparently attended the trial and fell in love with the defendant and has decided to find the real murderer. He already has a reputation as a highly successful amateur sleuth with connections to Scotland Yard, not to mention great personal wealth and family connections as the brother of a duke.The actual murderer was not difficult to figure out early on. The plot was not particularly complicated or subtle. This is very much a character-driven series. I must say that Peter's dialogue is quite odd, eccentric, idiosyncratic, full of literary allusions and period slang. It is worth reading the books, perhaps, just to hear him speak. Particularly amusing was his reference to Jeeves (as in P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster) when admonishing his valet, Bunker.The other interesting item was the treatment of women. While Sayers's protagonist is male, many of the pivotal clues are discovered by his female allies/employees. In effect, he has created a detective agency employing strictly women (fondly called "The Cattery"), which allows him to inveigle someone into suspicious households and businesses in the guise of domestic servants, clerical employees, and so on to gather the important clues and evidence. This works because women are so often invisible, downtrodden, and otherwise suffer under the oppressive society that provides them so few opportunities to exist outside of marriage and well-to-do families. Many of the women employed by the agency would be destitute without this rare and discreet job opportunity. Hence they are certainly loyal to Lord Peter and very dedicated in their work. Regardless of its effectiveness as a plot device, it provides an interesting perspective on the society of the day. None of the characters is particularly deep, but they are individuals.So I may try other books from the library, but I'm not interested enough to add this series to my own collections. I'll be giving this copy away. It was enjoyable enough, worth the read, but not a keeper for me.
foggidawn on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers is one of my favorite books in this series. A woman is on trial for poisoning her lover. The evidence points, overwhelmingly, to her guilt -- but Lord Peter is convinced that she is innocent. In fact, he takes a rather personal interest in this particular case. . . .This book introduces a character who plays a significant role in future books, and also advances certain through-running plot lines. The dialogue is excellent, even better than in the earlier books, and a few lines had me nearly rolling with laughter (there's a conversation between Lord Peter and his sister concerning pajamas that is particularly noteworthy). I reread this book more recently than most of the others, so had some vague memories about the solution to the crime, but this is one of those rare detective novels that bears rereading even without that element of surprise.
Kasthu on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Strong Poison is the first Lord Peter Wimsey mystery that features Harriet Vane. When Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, goes on trial for the murder of her lover, who is also an author, Lord Peter sets out to exonerate her¿falling in love with her as he does so.Harriet is less developed as a character, of course, than Lord Peter is¿but you can see a lot of promise with her and her relationship with Lord Peter. She¿s headstrong, feisty and unconventional, and her conversations with Wimsey are some of the better parts of the book. You can tell that she¿s quite a mental match for him; and the comparisons between Harriet and Sayers are very clear. Previously, we¿ve seen Wimsey as stoic and a bit arrogant, and it¿s nice to see some romance come into his life, and see him brought down a notch.The plot is a bit predictable, and you can tell who the real murderer is from a mile away. It¿s similar to Unnatural Death in that various characters stand to gain a lot of money by the death of the victim, but that the recipient of the money would have gained it anyways, murder or not; and Peter and his confederates spend the bulk of the book trying to prove otherwise. The ¿whodunit¿ isn¿t quite as important as the ¿whydunit.¿ However, I¿d say that in this book the mystery takes a back seat to the budding relationship between Harriet and Peter. In addition, Miss Climpson is a recurring character that I enjoy seeing over and over again¿here, she¿s got her own agency of superfluous women who perform various investigative services for Lord Peter.
richardderus on LibraryThing 11 months ago
The Book Report: Lord Peter Wimsey, younger brother of the Duke of Denver, bibliophile, and dilettante in the arts and sciences of murder, meets his One True Love, the Other Half of His Soul; where else would he do this, but in court? Too bad she's the accused in a rather sensational murder trial, in which she is accused and about to be convicted of poisoning by arsenic her Illicit Lover, now ex- after having the *temerity* to propose honorable and legal marriage to her. He was, it turns out, having her on when he refused to countenance the idea of marriage; he was counting on his Peculiar Charms to sway his Muse and fellow novelist into revealing her true depths of devotion to him by setting this test. Having fallen (and Fallen) for it, Harriet felt (not at all unreasonably) that she'd been a right prat and, in umbrage extreme, slung the rotter out on his ear, refusing thereafter to treat his suit. Subsequent to their final meeting, unluckily, the rotter collapses and dies at his cousin's home, where he's been living for over a year since the end of the dream.Lord Peter, attending the trial (as who would not?) with the Hon. Freddy and the Dowager Duchess of Denver (aka Mater), forms the simultaneous convictions that Harriet is innocent, and that she shall be Lady Wimsey as soon as the event can be fixed. How to forestall the hangman's deft attentions is his sole focus, needless to say, and he goes about proving the identity of the real culprit with his accustomed panache, energy, and cunning.Ah, but stay the strain's of the Wedding March, dear readers, because Harriet...quite Once Bitten, Twice Shy re: matrimony. She offers herself as his leman, his dolly-bird, his bit o' stuff, but marriage? To a well-known aristocrat, with all the attendant hoo and pla? No, indeed. Wimsey is, well, not to fobbed off with mere sex when what he craves is glory and delight everlasting in matrimony golden, so he ankles off as soon as he sees her acquitted. The End. Only, of course, not so much. But that's another book.My Review: A Certain Party, who shall remain nameless herein but is frequently addressed by me as "Horrible" and is known on LibraryThing as "karenmarie", has really, really put her foot in it this time. I mention, oh so casually in passing, that long, long ago I read and disliked this book. "Oh," burbles The Evil One, "I read that and found it both witty and amusing, don't you think it would be fun to re-read it?" I, ever the innocent and naive victim, forgot that the aforementioned Evil One has hooked me on ever-so many mystery series with her offhand cruelty, fell for it and re-read the book. Reader, beware! NEVER VENTURE NEAR HER! You'll end up reading long lists of (admittedly quite good) mysteries.Wimsey is certainly not for every taste. His erudition, not notably fine for that era, is huge by modern standards, and so his references to poets, writers, and cultural furniture quite ordinary in the 1930s, will come across as condescending to thos of this less well-versed (!) time and place. His general attitude of privilege might cause some sensitive souls in the era of Political Correctness to flinch. And Sayers' lovely, steady, and quite dry prose will go down like a martini at a Salvation Army bash with the modern reader accustomed to gutter talk, explosions, gunshots, and generally seamy turpitude that passes for most modern mysteries.And thank GOD for that. It's a breath of chamomile-scented mountain meadow air to me to re-find these books in a state and at a time when I can appreciate them. No one tell The Evil One, blast her eyes, that I am thoroughly glad to have read this book at 51 that I understood and so little of at 25. Loose lips sink ships!
JaneSteen on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Where I got the book: my bookshelf.Lord Peter Wimsey's latest case has high stakes. He's fallen in love with the accused, novelist Harriet Vane, and has one month to save her from hanging for the death of her former lover, Philip Boyes. Boyes was poisoned with arsenic, the method Harriet used in her latest novel; and who else would want to kill a young man of dubious talent and no wealth?As my bookfriends have reminded me, Sayers used this novel to work out some of her own relationship issues with an ex-boyfriend, the writer John Cournos. He had pressured her to sleep with him and she'd refused; after their breakup, she had a rebound affair that resulted in a secret illegitimate child, thus proving her point. In Strong Poison Sayers has Harriet live "in sin" with Boyes and then break up with him when he proposes marriage, on the principle that he made a fool of her by propounding free love and then going all traditional after she'd given in. Wimsey, of course, is not in the least bit perturbed by Harriet's past (having sown his own wild oats fairly liberally) and proposes at their first meeting. I remember reading that Sayers intended to end the book with Harriet and Peter falling into each other's arms, and then realized that this would be completely wrong for the character she'd written. It takes another two books and five years of the characters' lives to get to yes.As far as the mystery goes, this is fairly standard stuff, based almost entirely on motive (thus, I believe, breaking Wimsey's own rule that when you know how, you know who--the how only gets worked out at the last minute). The charm of this book lies in seeing the characters break out into so much human fallibility. Love is in the air all over the place, and Charles Parker and Freddy Arbuthnot also get in on the romance act.The charm of Sayers' books is their sheer readagainability, if I may put it that way. I notice that nearly all the reviewers have read the book before. It's literary comfort food, still fresh and satisfying despite its age, and even though I'd read it several times before I had a hard time putting it down. Hence the five stars despite my realization that there is an enormous, clanging inconsistency in the story, and it is this. Miss Climpson, brought in once again to go into the female world where Wimsey cannot easily achieve a sufficient degree of inconspicuousness, behaves as if she knows nothing about the case she is investigating. And yet this is the very same Miss Climpson who was on the jury at the Vane trial and thus knows every detail. Yes, the very same Miss Climpson, despite her name changing from Alexandra (in Unnatural Death) to Katherine (amusingly, one time, Katherine Alexandra as if Sayers knew she'd got something wrong but couldn't be bothered to check). I'm trying to remember if Miss C appears at all in subsequent books - I have the feeling that she fades away after this one, leaving Wimsey all the investigative glory.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Love is in the air for the Lord Peter Wimsey clan. That might be the strong poison as far as his noble line is concerned; or it could just be greed as usual. Harriet Vane is introduced, mystery writer, free love advocate, accused murderer, and with her come the Lord Peter Wimsey Cattery, a clan of women sleuths disguised as "other" women -- older, spinster, neglected invisible women. This is the best LPW yet. I hope the rest of the Harriet Vanes live up to it.
clong on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fast, fun, literate, entertaining read. The premise is simple: mystery novelist Harriet Vane is on trial for the murder of her ex-significant other, and Peter Wimsey is determined to prove that she didn't do it, and then marry her. Wimsey and his supporting cast are eminently likable, and the mystery is puzzler, with Sayers nicely managing the pace of dropping clues. I can see why Harriet Vane is a popular character, although in this book she is more of an ideal than a real person. And the glimpses of intra-war England are worth the price of admission alone. The biggest weaknesses are the string of coincidences that ultimately allow Peter to solve the crime and unveil the true murderer. The final piece of the "how he did it" puzzle felt a bit trite, but it may well be that is because so many other authors and screenwriters have copied an idea of Sayers' that was quite original back in 1930. And I must admit that I had a hard time buying Peter's "love at first sight" infatuation with Vane. The romance would have been more believable if it had evolved as he had gotten to know her at least a little bit. All in all, though, highly recommended.
Smiley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Strong Poison is not one of Sayer's best. Ingenious solution to the puzzle but Wimsey is almost Bertie Wooster on crime.
jopearson56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What fun! Fast-paced detective novel, loved the rolls of the women! Especially notable: The Cattery, what a cool place. I enjoyed the women, and I enjoyed Lord Wimsey because HE enjoyed the women. Interesting portrayal of life in Great Britian among the upper class in the early 20th century, too.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This may be one of my favorite Lord Peter mysteries. Not only is it rather delightful to see Lord Peter made vulnerable by love, the murder itself is fiendishly clever. I was completely stumped as to the method, and when it was finally revealed I shouted in delight and had to run and tell Dave (my partner) all about how it was done. I'm afraid he was probably not as fascinated as I was...I think I read a review somewhere that mentioned that Harriet Vane is something of a Mary Sue, which may be true -- it's hard not to wonder when the object of Lord Peter's affection is an unconventionally attractive, witty writer of mysteries. I've always felt that Sayers had a bit of a crush on Lord Peter, after all. But then, can you blame her? We don't get to know Miss Vane very well in this mystery, because she spends most of the time in jail falsely accused, but I found that Lord Peter's admiration rubbed off on me, and I was personally rather delighted with her blunt refusal of Lord Peter's repeated proposals of marriage.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers. Their writing styles are different, but the end result is the same: complex and appealing characters, clever mysteries, and well-paced stories all combine to create entertaining books that stand the test of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic author.
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