The Body in The Cellar

Ok..so this post really belonged to the month of March. But like I keep saying March was a brilliant glittering vacation and lot of unexpected readings, so this kind of went in the back burner! But Dorothy Sayers is Dorothy Sayers and her talent cannot lie hidden for long and I was soon hooked till I reached the finishing line! Busman’s Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsy #13 by Dorothy Sayers was my  third Reading England Book for the year, focusing on Hertfordshire and my first ever Dorothy Sayers! Yes! I know! I know! I have spent all my adult years without reading a Dorothy Sayers mystery and you have no idea on which planet I was living in and all that! But what can I say? I just never got around to it! Anyhow lets get on with the book!

Busman’s Honeymoon begins with the wedding of Lord Peter Wimsy to his long standing inamorata Miss Harriet Vane and departing for his honeymoon accompanied by his faithful valet Bunter to a farmhouse in Hertfordshire, a long cherished place of Harriets. However on arriving to the farmhouse, they find the scene quite chaotic, the owner, Noakes, from whom the farmhouse had been bought, is missing and no one, including his niece are even aware that the farmhouse had been sold. As the Wimsy’s try an settle in, they discover creditors looking for Noakes for money that he has not returned and other less savory sides to his character like his borrowing and never returning sums of money from his niece and the gardener and his miser like behavior towards everyone including the upkeep of the farmhouse! Soon all these discoveries are held in suspension, when the body of Noakes is found in the cellar and an investigation is launched to find the killer! The Wimsy’s are unwillingly drawn into the search for the criminal, all the while realizing that the murdered man was a blackmailer, miser and a crook himself and there is more than one person with reasons for hating the former owner of the farmhouse!

Dorothy Sayers in the very introduction of the book says that this is not a murder mystery but a romance, where a murder just happens! Well, it is true, it is a romance, but it also a mystery and it a well knit plot that caters to readers of both genre’s without the mush or the gore, respectively.  Her character’s drawn from a small village hamlet are created to perfection, with a scholarly kindly Vicar, a Superintend of Police trying to do what is best and the gossiping servant. Without playing to the cliche’s Ms. Sayer’s puts together an ensemble that is as brilliant as its life like! The plot is exciting with new twists and turns at every page and an absolutely ingenuous solution in the end!But more than the usual play of great characters and a wonderful plot line, there are some unique factors to this novel, that made it a outstanding read! The book is filled with literary allusions, from Shakespeare to Marlowe to Arnold, all of the greats of English Literature come into play and a marvelously knitted into the dialogues of the book. There are so many authors and poets I recognized and then so many I did not. This literary guessing game, added a whole new layer to the book! Even the title of the book is a colloquial assertion to a bus driver’s holiday – it refers to a  busman, to go off on a holiday, would take an excursion by bus, thereby engaging in a similar activity to his work. I quote directly from my trusty source Wikipedia. We do not rush into the mystery, but are treated to a long prologue of how the marriage happened, how did the relatives react and how the press was decoyed! Similarly, we do not rush out of the book after the culprit is caught, but rather, we are exposed to a human and moving experience of how Wimsey deals with the post investigative time, with allusions to his World War I trauma. The ending especially makes the book sensitive and absolutely unlike any other detective novel series!

In the end, I loved the book and have bought a couple of more Dorothy Sayer’s already. If you are looking for a hard boiled crime whodunit, this may not be the book for you. But if you are looking for a crime fiction, which looks at many other things and has relationships, and literature and fun, this IS the book for you!

The ‘romance’ of romantic novels…..

I was just 12 years old and I wondered into a book shop. The owner showed me all the books a young adult would like – Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Anna of Green Gables. I picked them and one more – a vague book with green cover, called Shadow Princess. I picked it up because the back cover said that the heroine was a Ph.D student and even at that age I knew a doctorate was ‘the thing’ for me; so I was going to read up everything even remotely related to it. My ever encouraging dad paid for the books and we walked out.

However it was not till two years later that I got around to reading Shadow Princess….I do not quite remember what happened; but  I think I lost a couple of books traveling and then found them two years down the line. Anyway that’s not the point. The point is at the age of 14, I read the “Shadow Princess” and after reading the slim book, I decided that romance was a piece of nonsense! It took the protagonist (who by the way was supposed to be intelligent; what with a Ph.D in chemistry) 180 pages realise that she loved the male protagonist for no better reason that one point his father had dated her sister!!! Oh! Lord!!

That was my introduction to Mills & Boons……..

So many years down the line, my view has not changes. It has just expanded to include Silhouette romances and all flowery cover jacketed books with apparently, the key word is “apparently” intelligent heroines and the silent strong men. Give me a break!!!
I defy anyone to show me such a piece of work which does not adhere to the following premises – 
  1. The writing is always from the woman’s point of view considering most these things are written by women
  2. The obviously stunning girl whose looks are played down in the initial part of the book for the “wow” effect later with large black/blue/green eyes (they always have large eyes!) meets “the guy” at some gathering
  3. The girl is obviously someone who is supposed to have substance though she has done very little in the first 10 pages to show it and might be in some kind of trouble which only “the guy” can rescue her from.
  4. The Guy” is obviously extremely tall, extremely good looking, extremely intelligent, extremely rich, extremely popular among opposite sex, extremely in love, extremely rude…extremely annoying!!
  5. They get off to a rocky start because they have a past or because they are trying to deny their attraction for each other because of some weird twisted logic that will be revealed at the end of novel that will want to make you barf!
  6. We will now spend 80 -100 pages skimming through various ups and downs where the two fight, detest each other and end up making out (Have you ever made out with someone you truly detested?????)
  7. The novel ends with “the guy” doing some incorrigible act of daring and chivalry that will make the girl declare her undying (yawn!) love for him (now that was an ending I never so coming!!) with some trite vapid wannabe joke!

Oh!! Please!!

Long back, a friend’s brother told me at an impressionable age, when I voiced my disgust for such writings that we can thank Jane Austen for introducing us to such plots via, Pride and Prejudice.

Agreed…. P&P does follow this plot line….but Jane Austen actually originated it. Furthermore, she addressed some very serious concerns of that age – marrige as the only security for educated women; the case of entailment of estates; marriage between people of unequal status….I can go on!! Besides, her humour is subtle and sarcastic!!  I refuse to believe in today’s day and age, women marry for security and in a more and more democratic world where Princes are marrying commoners, one writes about an unequal marriage where a rich ‘the guy” marries our woman of apparent substance, albiet of lower social standing and there is an ado about it! If she has substance, she will cope!!

I know this will put many in a tizzy, but can’t we do a book, a romance novel, where the heroine is fat or taller that the hero. Also what if the hero is an average guy with a good job, but is not a power wheeler dealer. I am told such books would not sell….really? Is our reading population so insipid? Maybe there is a certain section of the population that will never read such books and thrive on traditional romances, but I am sure, if a romance is a good book that truly depicts the poetry and humour of our lives, people will read.

In the meanwhile, if you like many of my friends feel the need for an out of the world, so unreal romance, there is always Messer’s Mill & Boon!