The Lunchtime reading group met In August to discuss Dorothy L. Sawyer’s Murder Must Advertise. Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the greatest of all fictional detectives and ‘Murder Must Advertise’ presents us with one of his most intriguing mysteries. Set in the confines of a 1930’s advertising agency, Pym’s Publicity,
Lord Peter is called in to investigate the death of copywriter Victor Dean. Sayers’ was arguably the most complex of the pre-war ‘Queens of Crime’ and this book certainly worked for us on a number of levels. For those who are unfamiliar with either Wimsey or Sayers, (which included members of the lunchtime reading group who were reading her work for the first time) this book makes an excellent introduction and demonstrates why the author and her most famous creation’s popularity has persisted.
When Lord Peter Death Breden Wimsey, privately investigating the “accidental” death of an employee of an advertising firm, takes a copywriting job there, he raises curiosity among the female employees. Known on the job only as “Breden,” he is regarded as “a cross between Ray Flynn and Bertie Wooster, ” complete with silk socks and expensive shoes, and obviously not from the same background as the rest of the staff. Assigned to advertise Dairyfield’s Margarine and “domestic” tea, he occupies the dead man’s office, churning out slogans while poking into relationships and possible motivations for murder. The reader soon discovers that the dead man, with limited resources, actively participated in the drug culture of upper-class parties, though how he became involved is an open question. The reading group loved the ‘in house gossip’ of the office staff and thought this aspect of working life had not really changed over the decades since this book was written. Lord Peter, as aristocratic as his title would imply, is adventurous and imaginative, a man of action and intelligence who does not hesitate to get down and dirty if necessary (though he’d prefer not “too” dirty). With a “tongue that runs on ball bearings,” he can talk his way into and out of almost any situation, and as an ad agency employee, he provides some terrific one-liners and quips as he tries to sell products. Author Dorothy Sayers, who worked in an advertising agency herself for seven years, brings the agency to life with all its petty infighting and cynicism, creating a vibrant environment in which Wimsey’s familiar wordplay and cleverness can be highlighted during his investigation of the murder–and more gruesome murders which follow in its wake. The portrait of an advertising agency, from the messenger boys to the directors was much appreciated by us as was the office environment. Office politics and rivalries serve to muddy the waters of Wimsey’s investigation. He gets involved with the bored and drug taking socialite Diane de Momerie, because the late Victor was a member of her sophisticated set, and tries to find out what is going on amongst the glitterati. Masquerading as a masked harlequin and his own dissolute cousin, Wimsey ultimately puts himself in danger to unravel the mystery of Victor Dean’s death and the connection of the fast set with Pym’s Publicity. The plot could seem a little ridiculous now, involving as it does Bright Young Things getting involved in criminal activities, and Lord Peter Wimsey infiltrating the gang in disguise. (As in Shakespeare, no one recognises him). However, the group agreed the faint silliness of the plot was counterbalanced by Dorothy L. Sayers marvellous writing. There are some fascinating characters in the book from Ginger the messenger boy who wants to be a detective to the slightly pompous but good hearted Mr Pym himself. We loved the banter between the staff and clash of personalities which occurs in any office. While the mystery might be too complex to unravel before the intriguing denouement it is still a well written story. If you read it a second time you can see the clues are all there but most readers may well miss them. Happy to say more than one member of the reading group took another Dorothy L. Sayers book home with them before they left.