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73 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love At First Sight In The Dock
In public life, Dorothy L. Sayers was a scholar, writer, and woman of impeccable morals. In private life, however, she had a torrid love affair and bore a child out of wedlock. In her literature, Sayers expressed the schism between these aspects of her personality via the character of Harriet Vane, who makes her first appearance in the Lord Peter series in STRONG POISON...
Published on January 8, 2004 by Gary F. Taylor

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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder most literary
"Strong Poison" is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, the first of four that feature his relationship with Harriet Vane, so if you are new to Sayers, this is a good one with which to start. Sayers was one of the authors of mystery's "Golden Age", following the pioneers - Poe, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle - and preceding the hardboiled school of Hammett and Chandler. She was...
Published on March 8, 2003 by Peter Reeve


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73 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love At First Sight In The Dock, January 8, 2004
This review is from: Strong Poison (Mass Market Paperback)
In public life, Dorothy L. Sayers was a scholar, writer, and woman of impeccable morals. In private life, however, she had a torrid love affair and bore a child out of wedlock. In her literature, Sayers expressed the schism between these aspects of her personality via the character of Harriet Vane, who makes her first appearance in the Lord Peter series in STRONG POISON as a fallen woman on trial for her life.
Published in 1930, the novel opens with Harriet Vane in the dock, listening as the judge presiding over trial sums up against her. She is a writer of mildly popular mysteries who has had a liaison with Philip Boyes, a rather pretentious author better know to critics than to the public. Their acrimonious separation is quickly followed by Boyes' death from arsenic--and it seems that Harriet, and Harriet only, had both motive and opportunity.
But the judge reckons without juror Miss Climpson, employee of the celebrated Lord Peter Wimsey, who derails what would seem an open and shut case--and gives Lord Peter the opportunity to unravel the crime. And, not incidentally, to fall in love with the accused. With an infamous actress of the Victorian age lurking in the background and a sizable inheritance on the line, Wimsey rushes to sort out the mystery and save the woman he loves before the case can be retried.
STRONG POISON is not really among Sayer's greatest novels, which combine a unique literary style, memorable characters, and complex plots to remarkable effect. The opening description of the trial, with its detailed account of the judge's comments, feels excessive; the solution to the crime is tricksy and relies heavily on coincidence; and Harriet Vane stands out less effectively than such supporting characters as Miss Climpson. Nonetheless, it has its charms, most particularly in Sayers' witty and highly literate style and the continued evolution of the characters she had previously created.
Most particularly, STRONG POISON sets the stage for two novels in which Harriet Vane will become one of the most memorable characters in the golden age of the English mystery: GAUDY NIGHT and BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON, both of which are regarded as high-water marks in the genre. Sayers wrote several memorable novels in which Harriet Vane does not appear at all, most notably the famous MURDER MUST ADVERTISE, but her development of the character is a remarkable process to behold, and fans will enjoy watching the process. Enjoyable, but recommended more to established Sayers readers than first time visitors.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the start of a saga, December 10, 2002
This review is from: Strong Poison (Mass Market Paperback)
Dorothy L. Sayers remains the finest of the early 20th century mystery writers: unusually erudite, she earned one of the first english degrees awarded to a woman at Oxford University. Eclectic enough to have written a definitive translation of Dante's Divina Comedia, her detective novels are shot through with quotations from a who's who of english literature.
Sayers loved language and her characters display this love with brilliance. In this novel, her favorite sleuth, the curiously human Lord Peter Wimsey, engages himself for the first time with Harriet Vane, whom he discovers on trial for her life for murdering her lover. Convinced at once of her innocence, he sets out to prove it. A hung jury gives him the opportunity, and Sayer's great skill in plotting brings Miss Vane out of prison, but unfortunately for Wimsey not (yet) into his arms. He has, of course, become hopelessly besotted with her.
Some reviewers describe Harriet Vane as unlikable -- there's little douibt that Sayers put much of her own sometimes awkward personality into Harriet. However, she is a genuinely interesting and surprisingly real character, and without question an early feminist.
The book is entirely satisfying in its own right, with particularly telling passages about spiritualism (an obsession of the time). Sayers' Miss Climpson, another fascinating character, a spinster who aids Wimsey in his detective work and philanthropy, uses spiritualism to elicit the motive for the murder and ultimately the responsible party.
It is also noteworthy for introducing the series of novels about Wimsey and Harriet Vane that includes Have His Carcase (the least satisfying), Gaudy Night (the first great feminist novel of the 20th century) and Busman's Honeymoon. Jill Paton Walsh, no mean novelist herself, completed a Sayers manuscript much more recently for Thrones and Dominations, a competent additional chapter in Peter and Harriet's lives.
Sayers was an extraordinary woman and an extraordinary writer -- in Wimsey and Harriet Vane, she connected her ideal man (Wimsey) with her alter ego, (Harriet). Strong Poison is the start of a sequence of highly intelligent, beautifully written novels that happen to be mysteries.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Murder most literary, March 8, 2003
By 
Peter Reeve (Thousand Oaks, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Strong Poison (Mass Market Paperback)
"Strong Poison" is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, the first of four that feature his relationship with Harriet Vane, so if you are new to Sayers, this is a good one with which to start. Sayers was one of the authors of mystery's "Golden Age", following the pioneers - Poe, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle - and preceding the hardboiled school of Hammett and Chandler. She was thus a contemporary of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen.
Her style is perhaps the most literary and polished of any mystery writer. (For further evidence of her skills, read her superb translation of "The Song of Roland"). She handles dialogue and human interaction extremely well and convincingly portrays a wide range of character types. Also notable is the occasional flash of ironic, rather dark, humor. I have to say however, that her penchant for bizarre names can be rather off-putting. We meet two jounalists called Salcombe Hardy and Waffles Newton, a lawyer called Sir Impey Biggs and an actress called - would you believe? - Cremorna Garden.
The plot is not as strong as the poison; it is too linear, with no twists and turns, although the central idea is quite good. It is more interesting as a literary portrait of 1930 English society than as a crime puzzle. But a good read, nonetheless.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miss Sayers administers the dose., November 17, 2003
Few would argue with the contention that no better writer has ever tried her hand at writing detective fiction than Dorothy L Sayers. I happen to like good writing, and I don't mind if it features more strongly than the puzzle component in a mystery novel.
"Strong Poison" abounds in wit, charm, characterization, and literary excellence. This is the one that begins with two whole chapters of a judge's summing up. On trial is Harriet Vane, accused of killing her lover by administering arsenic. All believe she is guilty except one jury member, Miss Murchison, who prevents the jury from bringing in a "guilty" verdict, and someone attending the trial, Lord Peter Wimsey, who determines to prove Harriet's innocence and make her his wife.
Dorothy L Sayers then makes little pretence at hiding the identity of the killer. Instead she unfolds a fascinating investigation into how the crime was committed and how Lord Peter and one or two helpers collected the evidence to convict.
Neither as long nor as long-winded as some of Miss Sayers' later detective fiction, this one offers rich and pure pleasure all the way. The additional luxury of hearing it read by Ian Carmichael in audio book form is well worth investigating.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comparing the Petherbridge and Carmichael recordings, November 7, 2004
By 
Michele L. Worley (Kingdom of the Mouse, United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Strong Poison (Audio Cassette)
This review is geared more toward reviewing the quality of two audio editions of the book than the book itself (which I think highly of). First published in 1930, this book introduces Harriet Vane to Lord Peter Wimsey's life.

The abridged edition narrated by Edward Petherbridge came out when PBS first televised the BBC adaptation of the story with Petherbridge as Lord Peter. The MYSTERY! airing of the series in the U.S. was my introduction both to this book and to Dorothy L. Sayers' work. Petherbridge is the best physical match for Wimsey I've ever seen, and he's a fantastic narrator with an immense command of accents. (I highly recommend the DVD of that adaptation, in addition to the book itself.)

On the other hand, Ian Carmichael, who played Wimsey in all the BBC adaptations up to that point, narrates the unabridged edition. He specializes in Bertie Wooster-ish characters, like Wimsey's defensive public persona, and is also an excellent actor and narrator who given the chance can drop smoothly into a variety of characters with all kinds of accents. Once in a while Carmichael speaks tongue-in-cheek during 3rd-person narration where playing it deadpan straight would be more appropriate, but he generally keeps that under control.

I favor Petherbridge as Wimsey, but both recordings are worth the money.

The story begins with the judge's summation to the jury at the end of R. vs. Harriet Vane for the murder of her lover, Philip Boyes, as Lord Peter looks on. (He didn't assist with the investigation, but his attendance at the trial is perfectly plausible: his ally Miss Climpson is on the jury, and his best friend Parker handled the police case). I prefer Petherbridge's narration of judge Crossley to Carmichael's; he manages to convey Crossley's disapproval of the irregular Boyes/Vane living arrangements quite neatly.

Lord Peter is not only convinced of Harriet's innocence; he's convinced he's found the only woman he could possibly spend the rest of his life with - if she'll accept his offer of marriage, considering that they've never met before. Not to mention that her relationship with Boyes ended *very* badly (even discounting her being tried for his murder afterwards), so Peter's timing is *terrible*.

The Petherbridge audio abridgement eliminated several blind alleys from the investigation, along with much of the development of various subplots not bearing directly on the murder (Boyes' family background; his and Harriet's social circle; Parker's relationship with Lady Mary, which began in CLOUDS OF WITNESS; Christmas with the family and their maddening observations about the Vane case). The long Wrayburn and Urquhart investigations have been compressed, but both Miss Climpson and Miss Murchison's roles remained intact.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An independent woman in danger of the rope., October 18, 2003
By 
C. I. Black (Rayleigh, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Strong Poison (Mass Market Paperback)
This novel opens fairly abruptly at the end of a murder trial.
We're in England in the 1920's . It's not an easy time to be an independent woman but Harriet Vane is doing pretty well as a writer of who-dun-its. Her private life, though, is clouded by an affair she has had with the conceited novelist Philip Boyes.
Boyes was killed by arsenic; Harriet had bought arsenic; she's apparently the only person who the opportunity to adminster it and now she's in grave danger of hanging.
To Harriet's eternal good fortune, the celebrated Lord Peter Wimsey has been struck down by love at first sight - not only does he want to prove her innocence, he wants to marry her...
This is an excellent tale, and I have read it several times with pleasure. The dialogue is good, the plot keeps your attention throughout and the period detail adds to the enjoyment.
For a 21st century reader it throws a light on the life of single women in the 1920s - especially as seen by the indomitable Miss Climpson, one of Lord Peter's associates:
"I had no difficulty getting a comfortable room at the Station Hotel , late as it was. In the old days, an unmarried woman arriving alone at midnight with a suitcase would hardly have been considered respectable - what a wonderful difference one finds today!"
If you want to explore the novels of Dorothy L Sayers, this seems a good place to start.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Harriet Vane's Debut Enchants, July 14, 2000
This review is from: Strong Poison (Mass Market Paperback)
Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books are diverting detective fiction, set in a 20s and 30s England in which an aristocrat who is much less silly than he sometimes pretends to be goes about solving well-thought-out literary puzzle mysteries. As the saying goes, if Lord Peter did not exist, we would have to invent him.
Strong Poison marks the introduction of Ms. Sayers' love interest for Lord Peter, Harriet Vane. Ms. Vane, a curious mix of 19th Century ideas and 20s era feminism, is a mystery writer (and, in this volume, accused murderess) in her own right.
Apparently, some of those folks they call "purists" took a dislike to Ms. Vane, much preferring Lord Peter to be assisted only by his Jeeves-like gentleman's gentleman, Bunter. In fact, Sayers' Harriet Vane is a thorough delight.
This book is the first of a set of subplots in a love story notable for the fact that its heroine is frequently described as "not pretty", the affair is one of the head as well as heart, and the enchanting quirkiness of the couple makes the chase a bit winding but the result inevitable.
Is the plot a bit of whimsy? Absolutely. But, after all, it is Lord Peter Wimsey, and that makes it all come out right.
If you've not read this, I strongly recommend. If you have read this, take a good afternoon, and return to the Wimsey/Vane world.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unfortunately, not very interesting, February 18, 2013
I've heard stellar things about the Lord Peter and Harriet Vane mysteries, so I was excited to pick up Strong Poison, the novel where their romance begins as Peter seeks to clear Harriet's name in a murder trial. Unfortunately, I was disappointed, but I may continue with the Peter/Harriet stories since this book merely served as a stage-setter.

Strong Poison sort of resembles a reverse Oreo cookie of the literary variety. According to my entirely not subjective wisdom, an Oreo's white creamy middle is by far the only part worth eating. The dark wafers sandwiching the cream inside are auxiliary; all they have to do is provide a surface upon which the delicious middle can rest. But with Strong Poison, the Oreo philosophy is reversed. Instead of a scrumptious middle crammed between a merely decent exposition and denouement, we get a superb beginning and end accompanied by snoozy middle stuffing. I started the book going "yeah yeah yeah!" and ended with "yes yes yes!" but in the middle, I felt, "please, something, anything, happen!"

So what I'm saying is Sayers needed to take some counsel from Nabisco and amp up the bulk of her book in the middle. Although I didn't enjoy much of this reading experience, I might continue with Harriet and Peter since the reviews for their later escapades are so positive.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Peter meets Harriet - but still not one of Sayers's best books, August 31, 2006
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This review is from: Strong Poison (Mass Market Paperback)
This was the first Peter Wimsey mystery that I didn't find totally satisfying. I had really high hopes; I couldn't wait to find out how Peter and Harriet met, and why Peter fell in love with her.

It starts off promisingly enough - the judge is summarizing the case against Harriet for the jury, who are about to start their deliberations. It's a pretty strong case; Harriet's former lover died of arsenic poisoning, and Harriet had been buying arsenic for research purposes.

Now, first of all, it was really easy to figure out who the real murderer was. Normally Sayers keeps me guessing much longer than she did here.

Second of all, Peter does almost nothing from beginning to end. Miss Climpson and her staff do all the actual detecting - Peter mostly flops around feeling a little useless because love for Harriet has impaired his judgement.

Third of all, Peter is already in love with Harriet as the book begins. Not only do we not see him actually falling in love, the first thing he ever says to her is to ask her to marry him. This is romantic and all, but what makes Peter and Harriet's relationship so magical to me, at least, is their repartee - they're so well matched in wit, sensibility, and principle. I thought something more mature than love at first sight would bring them together.

There's a little bit of a twist - but I guessed it around the same time as I guessed the murderer, which is to say pretty early on.

I still enjoyed Strong Poison, quite a bit, but Sayers has done better.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars terrific period piece, October 16, 2012
In 1929 mystery writer Harriet Vane stands trial for the arsenic poisoning of her fiancé, author Philip Boyes. Everyone knows she murdered Boyes as she had the means having purchased strychnine, prussic acid, and arsenic just before he died; the opportunity as he was her fiancée though she left him after a spat heard by the neighbors; and the motive as her intended was an advocate of free love, which may have been why they argued.

Unable to resist the lure of the most scandalous murder cases in years, Detective Lord Peter Wimsey attends the trial expecting to find a killer. After hearing the evidence and observing the accused in the dock, Peter explains to Chief Inspector Charles Parker that the latter erred as the accused is innocent. The jury shockingly reports they failed to reach a unanimous verdict as three holdouts refuses to bow to the pressure of the other members. He gets Sir Impey Biggs to add him onto the defense team as he investigates the murder with intensity as he has fallen in love with the accused. After being the forty-seventh person to propose to Miss Vane, Wimsey investigates.

The reprint of the first Wimsey-Vane mystery is a terrific period piece that brings to life 1920s England. The whodunit is entertaining as time is running out on identifying who killed Boyes. The whimsical fun in this tale comes from Wimsey's serial proposals and vane's serial refusals. Fans will relish this strong entry as Dorothy L. Sayers shows why she remains relevant with her ability to provide a slice of a bygone era to the reader.

Harriet Klausner
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Strong Poison
Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers (Mass Market Paperback - March 16, 1995)
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