Five Red Herrings by Dorothy L Sayers is part of her Lord Peter Wimsey series of mystery novels. One of my reading challenges for this year is to catch up on some of the crime writers from the past. To this end I am trying the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge. I have selected the theme of Colourful Crime – Books with a colour in the title. Hence the choice of Five Red Herrings.
This was my first encounter with Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey. An entertaining read too. Though I was a bit put off by the very small print in the edition I got from the library. What made this tale even more interesting was that it was set in Galloway in south west Scotland. I have just read two crime novels by Aline Templeton which are also set in this part of Scotland. Templeton’s novels are set in the present, while Five Red Herrings was published in 1931. Quite a different world which Sayers captures rather well.
As regards the tale, it is about the murder of an artist, one of a colony of artists based in and around the town of Kirkcudbright. As the title suggests, there are six suspects, all other artists. Each has to be investigated and of course five of them turn out to be red herrings. The solving of the murder relies a great deal on the intricacies of the railway timetables and ticketing practices from the period. There were a lot of trains in those days, even in Galloway. One of the charms of the book is that Sayers manages to convey the regional dialect of the locals. As a Scot with some familiarity with Scots dialects I found this fairly easy to follow, though non Scots might have a bit of trouble with some of the dialogue. She must have done a fair amount of research for this. Of course the use of local dialects in speech was probably much more common 70 years ago. Five Red Herrings is a classic who-dunnit mystery, with the added attraction of a rather unusual set of characters.