One of the reasons why so many of the stories written during the Golden Age of Detective Fiction in England, between World Wars 1 and 2, are still read today is surely the nature of the detective characters created by that talented pool of authors.
Among them, to be sure, is the ultimate English aristocrat turned detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. The creation of Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter appears in eleven of her novels and a number of very good short stories. Wimsey starts out as a kind of dilettante of crime, working as an amateur to help the police. But his second full-length outing, "Clouds of Witness," first published in 1926, was far more personal, for Lord Peter was called upon to prove his brother innocent of having murdered his sister's fiance. "Clouds of Witness" is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Lord Peter's older brother is Gerald, Duke of Denver, a senior member of Britain's aristocracy. One night, he is discovered outside his home, standing over the body of his sister's fiance. Earlier that evening, the duke had been heard in a loud and violent quarrel with the fiance, Captain Denis Cathcart, who stood accused of having cheated at cards - which simply was not done in the upper reaches of British society. Cathcart apparently has been shot with the duke's gun. When the duke - and his sister, Lady Mary - tell fairly improbable and constantly evolving stories, the police feel they must arrest him and hold him for a very ceremonial trial before the House of Lords.
However, Lord Peter Wimsey, with his background as a solver of unusual crimes and his friendship with the police officer in charge of the case, believes his brother and sister are innocent - and he is willing to take drastic steps to ensure that the duke does not go to the gallows for a crime he did not commit.
Wimsey hadn't evolved much as a character in 1926, when this book was first published, and some of his aristocratic mannerisms are more than a little annoying. He is constantly droppin' the final "g" from his verbs, don't y'know, which gets a bit tirin', to be honest. But "Clouds of Witness" remains a very readable and enjoyable story, the trial in the House of Lords is marvelously done and Sayers, as always, gives us some memorable characters. The book's age means that it is available in a number of editions, including a new, electronic edition from Open Road Integrated Media, which includes a brief biography of Sayers and some family old photos of the author.