BOOK REVIEW: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

When a disfigured corpse is discovered in a country parish, the local rector pleads with Lord Peter to take on what will become one of his most brilliant and complicated cases.

My Thoughts:

The Nine Tailors is the ninth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series by British writer Dorothy L. Sayers, and was published in 1934. I have been reading my way through her oeuvre in order of publication, and was very glad to reach this one as it’s always been one of my favourites. It’s been interesting to witness both the growth of Dorothy Sayers as a novelist and the growth of her amateur-detective as a character. This is another intriguing mystery -something she does very well - but the vividness of the setting and the warmth and realism of the minor characters all lift The Nine Tailors above the ordinary.


The story is set in the Fenland village of Fenchurch St. Paul on New Year's Eve. Lord Peter Wimsey is stranded there after his car runs into a ditch, and is invited to stay by the vicar. Peter then helps ring a nine-hour peal on the church bells after one of the ringers is struck down with influenza. Lady Thorpe, the wife of the local squire, dies the next morning. Their family has been impoverished for years after a valuable emerald necklace was stolen 20 years earlier. The family’s butler was blamed, tried, and convicted, along with his accomplice, but the necklace was never recovered.


When the squire dies the following Easter, his wife's grave is opened so he can be buried inside her. To everyone’s consternation, the corpse of an unknown man is found within. The vicar calls on Peter to investigate, which he does with his usual acuity and flair.


At the heart of the book is the art of campanology, or bell-ringing. I have always loved the sound of church bells, and I found the descriptions of the bells and their central role in the story absolutely fascinating. A lot of people don’t, I know, and so they skip the passages where Dorothy writes about campanology – but then they find the mystery baffling. My advice – read every word. You still won’t guess who the murderer is, but you will enjoy the sheer beauty and poetry of Dorothy’s writing and when the mystery is finally solved, it will make perfect sense. Here is a sample – be aware that all bells are female and all bells have names:


“The bells gave tongue: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas and Tailor Paul, rioting and exulting high up in the dark tower, wide mouths rising and falling, brazen tongues clamouring, huge wheels turning to the dance of the leaping ropes. Tin tan din dan bim bam bom bo--tan tin din dan bam bim bo bom--tan dan tin bam din bo bim bom--every bell in her place striking tuneably, hunting up, hunting down, dodging, snapping, laying her blows behind, making her thirds and fourths, working down to lead the dance again. Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells--little Gaude, silver Sabaoth, strong John and Jericho, glad Jubilee, sweet Dimity and old Batty Thomas, with great Tailor Paul bawling and striding like a giant in the midst of them. Up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the scarlet sallies flickering roofwards and floorwards, and up and down, hunting in their courses, went the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul.”

You might also like to read Whose Body and Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers:


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Kate Forsyth
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