Set in the remote village of Fenchurch St. Paul, this 1934 mystery involves an unknown body, which has been disfigured and mysteriously buried in the same grave as a local woman, shortly after the New Year. Many years before, a magnificent necklace of emeralds was stolen here, though it was never found. Two men and a local woman were implicated in the theft, and both men served time in prison. Now the unknown body, the fate of the two men involved in the theft of the emeralds, the whereabouts of the necklace, and the involvement of seemingly upright citizens of Fenchurch St. Paul are all under investigation.
Lord Peter Wimsey, accompanied by his "man" Bunter, becomes involved in the investigation when their car runs off the road on a snowy New Year's Eve. Lord Peter ultimately agrees to substitute for an indisposed bell-ringer when the rector attempts to set a record of more than 18,000 rings in nine hours as a New Year's Eve celebration. The bells are an integral part of the mystery, with the "nine tailors," a pattern of bell ringing, figuring prominently in the action. A coded letter suggests that the bells themselves may be connected to the emerald necklace.
Author Dorothy Sayers creates vivid characters--the somewhat arrogant Lord Peter Wimsey, his faithful manservant Bunter, the "forgetful" rector of the local church and his wife, the French wife and children of one of the thieves, assorted odd characters from the town, and local law enforcement. The opportunity to locate the emeralds and ascertain the fate of the thieves, one of whom escaped shortly after being sentenced to jail, intrigues Lord Peter, and some townspeople have much to gain (or lose), depending on the identity of the man in the grave and his possible killer. Sayers's complex mystery and the equally complex interactions of the various characters keep the reader guessing to the very end.
Ingenious and clever, this mystery is full of dry humor, as Lord Peter and Bunter engage in word play, hilarious who's-on-first dialogue, and multiple absurdities as they try to solve the case. The characters go beyond stereotype, eliciting sympathy and often respect, as they contrast with the sometimes stuffy and aristocratic Lord Peter. A mystery which is as satisfying in its conclusion (resembling the divine intervention of classical Greek tragedy) as it is in its immediate action, The Nine Tailors is one of Sayers's best and most intricate mysteries. n Mary Whipple
on December 6, 2001
This novel, Dorothy L. Sayers' best-known, is, without doubt, one of her best-if not the best. Sayers takes the customary English village, and makes something new of it, by setting it in the Fen country, and by giving to it a church, which, as the well-drawn rector describes, "East Anglia is famous for the size and splendour of its parish churches. Still, we flatter ourselves we are almost unique, even in this part of the world." The church services show great feeling and power, and neatly tie in with the theme of religion. The church possesses bells, the book being best-known for the bell-ringing, described in such powerfully beautiful descriptions as:
"Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells-little Gaude, silver Sabaoth, strong John and Jericho, glad Jubilee, sweet Dimity and old Batty Thomas, with great Tailor Paul bawling and striding like a giant in the midst of them. Up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the shadows of the ringers upon the walls, up and down went the scarlet sallies flickering roofwards and floorwards, and up and down, hunting in their courses, went the bells of Fenchurch St. Paul."
The bells are also eerily threatening-"Bells are like cats and mirrors-they're always queer, and it doesn't do to think too much about them."-which is fitting, as the plot hinges on bells: both an ingenious cryptogram (again, to quote the rector, "I should never have thought of the possibility that one might make a cipher out of change-ringing. Most ingenious."), and an ingenious murder method.
The whodunit aspect of the story is not neglected; for once, it is a genuine problem. The body is buried in a grave, and involves a complicated problem of identity, and an unknown method. The victim, as Wimsey describes, is "a perfect nuisance, dead or alive, and whoever killed him was a public benefactor. I wish I'd killed him myself." Wimsey is engaging here, and not the parody of Bertie Wooster he sometimes is-he is a human being, without being the equally obnoxious creature found in Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon. The detection is excellent, and, as was to be the trend in nearly every detective story following (especially Nicholas Blake's), the detective "felt depressed. So far as he could see, his interference had done no good to anybody and only made extra trouble. It was a thousand pities that the body of Deacon had ever come to light at all. Nobody wanted it." These tie in with the burden of guilt and innocence, redemption and repentance.
Finally, the book comes to its powerful climax in a flooded village, "with an aching and intolerable melancholy, like the noise of the bells of a drowned city pushing up through the overwhelming sea."
This is not a detective story-this is, if anything, a novel.
on June 13, 1999
When I first read this book, I was in high school. Having encountered the phenomenon of change ringing in Groves Dictionary of Music and read that "The Nine Tailors" was a novel which involved it, I assumed at first that something so old and specialized would be long out of print and unavailable. Imagine my delight when I found that the local college library had it! Presumably unable to borrow it, I felt very daring smuggling it into the 24-hour reading room and leaving it on a coat rack so that I could read it even when the library was closed. It was exciting again to discover later that it was actually in print and I could buy it for myself. This I have had to do several times over the years, because my copies keep disappearing-- probably loaned to friends.
The continued availability of a novel on such an esoteric subject can only be testimony to the "the worth of the work" (one of Sayers's telling phrases in another of her books). It is, indeed, not as readily available as some of her other Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. I have read most of them, believe that this is the best, and wouldn't be surprised if the author agreed. Yet many times I have noticed bookstores having several of the others in stock, but not The Nine Tailors. This has to be a sad commentary on the reluctance of many readers, even of mysteries, to venture into a quaint, abstruse subculture foreign to their own environments. Yet, happily, the real connoisseurs of the genre, who knowingly demand it even on special order, are numerous enough to keep it in print.
This is the kind of book to take up cozily by the fire, or while snuggled unter the quilts, in wintertime as the snow falls and the wind whistles outside; for such is the weather on a bleak New Year's Eve in its first scenes. The circumstances are important-- so intricately crafted is the novel that almost everything is important. Lord Peter and his valet, driving through the fens between the world wars, meet with an automobile mishap compelling them to venture forth on foot. Soon they encounter the vicar and other salt-of-the-earth folk in the nearest village, and circumstances draw them quickly into the life of this close-knit community of good, solid, honest people unanimous in the love of the mighty, exquisite old church which is their heritage from a long-dissolved medieval monastery.
Places like this really used to exist frequently in rural England. To read of them now, when they are so rare, is to meditate on what we have lost as time marches on. Although I doubt that Sayers was writing in this mode, the nostalgia which the book provokes in a reader today can be very poignant. But, beyond nostalgia, we can imbibe a gentle, abiding "wonder and delight" in these humble villagers' experience of their faith, and what it has wrought among them, which badly needs to be recovered in much of Christendom today. Fictional entertainment though it may be, if this book inspires and helps readers more than half a century later to recover this in their own lives, we can be certain that the author would be highly gratified. I would venture to guess, in fact, that this was her larger purpose, devout Anglo-Catholic that she was, in writing it.
on May 26, 1996
Unlike some of her Lord Peter mysteries, this novel can be read by itself, and it is a delight. About a murder done in an old church in the English countryside, you will learn more about the ringing of church bells than you thought possible. Lord Peter is at the top of his form, literate, intelligent, and a thinker beyond being just a mystery novel detective. None of the characters are one or two dimensional, and each of them is developed fully and delightfully. When it comes to mystery fiction, you can't do much better than Sayers...which may be one reason her novels appeared on PBS' MASTERPIECE THEATRE rather than MYSTERY! They are indeed, masterpieces
on December 4, 2000
I would agree with some others that this is the best mystery of all time. It indeed is a book best to be read in the winter, in a big comfortable easy chair, in front of a roaring fire.
I have several copies, but am always on the lookout for another one. Sayers has her ace detective and consumate English gentleman Lord Peter Wimsey in an absolutely engrossing rural landscape. Like many traditional country areas, this one is dominated by a massive church. And the parish has some strong bell ringers, but also some members with dark secrets. The plot develops slowly, like fine wine.
I am sorry that the Masterpiece Theater version is not yet out in video. Then I could read the book and watch the video throughout the long, freezing winters we have in my home in Arctic Alaska. Enjoy this book. Cherish it and buy a few extra copies, including a few for very close friends. It is a book you will want to keep handy on your bookshelf for the rest of your days! Earl Finkler in Barrow, Alaska
The 1934 Dorothy L. Sayers mystery titled "The Nine Tailors" is not about the garment industry. Instead it centers on the venerable tradition of "change ringing" still practiced in England in which a given number of church bells or "tellers" are rung in every possible combination. So nine of them would have to be rung in (what we call in math class) "9 factorial" or 362,880 different combinations. You can figure out how long that would take at one peal per second.
Well the combinations do play a part in the solution of a particularly involved plot concerning jewelry stolen considerably in the past, a freshly dug grave with the wrong body in it, a flood, a snowstorm, and a villageful of really interesting characters, one of whom might be a thief, another a murderer, and so on. However, I am not reviewing the book itself but a marvelously effective complete reading of it by Lord Peter Wimsey himself, which is to say character actor Ian Carmichael who played Wimsey so well on the television series (now available on both VHS and DVD from Acorn Media). Here is the novel, complete on 6 cassettes, from Audio Partners, which is increasing their catalogue of complete mystery recordings very quickly indeed.
Of course, Carmichael is the perfect Wimsey; but he is also very good at every other voice needed to make this an excellent reading. Some books-on-tape readers merely use their own voices throughout; and success depends on how interesting and appropriate that single voice is. Like David Suchet on the companion Poirot readings, Carmichael makes his reading into a full dramatization.
Highly recommended for those who love a really intricate mystery read by a terrific actor.
on March 27, 1998
It's a cliche to say that something "transcends its genre." However, any time I want to point to an example, I use The Nine Tailors. Sayers' best novel is far more than just a mystery novel. It is well written, with great characters, atmosphere, and a sense of place that rivals the best of Thomas Hardy. Even if you don't like mystery novels, you should read The Nine Tailors.
on January 2, 2013
I am new to Dorothy Sayers and her Lord Wimsey series. I selected this book based on the excellent reviews. Unfortunately, I was disappointed, but primarily because of the author's writing craft. Sayers takes a long time to develop the story's plot. The main mystery is not introduced until page 90. A lot of time at the beginning is spent describing the art/technical aspects of bell ringing and I just did not find these long descriptions interesting, though I do appreciate the connection between the novel and the tradition. The most unattractive aspect of the novel, for me at least, was the way Sayers crafted dialogue, or should I say monologue, as she wrote only a single character's contributions to a conversation, similar to the way one would write a phone conversation: "Yes, superintendent? Oh, I see...why didn't you say so..." Some of this one-sided dialogue goes on for pages. It is an odd technique, perhaps one that is used for economy of space or for development of main characters? Regardless of the purpose, I found it a bit monotonous. On the brighter side, once the story gets going, the mystery is interesting and Lord Wimsey's character is very likeable. Still that is not enough to compel me to read another Wimsey story or anything else by Sayers.
Alongside Agatha Christie and P.D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers is one of the top female mystery writers of the twentieth century. Her singular creation of Lord Peter Wimsey assures that her novels will be full of uncanny wit and sparkling intelligence. "The Nine Tailors" is a spellbinding mystery with an overabundance of suspects but very little evidence. While some readers may be able to solve the heart of matter, that does not distract from the sheer novelty of this puzzle, steeped in the history and mystery of bell ringing.
On a snowy New Year's Eve, Lord Peter Wimsey accidentally runs his car into a ditch outside of the small town of Fenchurch St. Paul. The local rector rescues Wimsey and invites him to stay, soon pressing him to fill in as a substitute for an ill bell ringer. Wimsey gladly takes over the role and has a pleasant albeit strange holiday in the countryside of East Anglia. As he is leaving town, he encounters a tramp looking for work, and thinks nothing further about it. But when a body is discovered buried atop a recently dug grave, the rector calls on Lord Peter again, this time for his detective help.
The body found on top of the coffin is greatly disfigured and has had its hands removed, but Wimsey is certain it is the man he met on the road the day out of town. But who is he and how did he get there? Most importantly, who killed him? In searching for this answer, Wimsey and the local inspector are sent following clues to France and retracing the sordid history of some of the town's previous unsavory inhabitants. The identity of the body may prove easier to figure out than the method of his murder.
"The Nine Tailors", the title a reference to the bells that are rung when a man dies, is a unique thought-provoking mystery. Dorothy L. Sayers brings her story full circle and no small piece of information or clue gleaned along the way is left out. For those unfamiliar with bell-ringing, some of the descriptions and dialogue regarding this topic may seem tedious, but are not ones that should be overlooked in order to see the whole picture. "The Nine Tailors" is an enjoyable, puzzling whodunit sure to please mystery fans everywhere.
on April 27, 2004
I'm a huge fan of the Wimsey novels and had read all of the books in the series--some twice--except for this one. I had been putting it off because 1) the subject of change-ringing sounded dull and unduly esoteric; and 2) I had heard that none of the usual characters appeared.
I must admit that I am still unclear on exactly what change-ringing is. Regardless, I loved this book, even though there was very little Bunter and no Parker, Biggs, or Vane. The writing is outstanding, and I found the mystery aspect of the novel deeply satisfying. Even though I guessed one asepct of the mystery early on (the identity of the man in the grave), the rest of it was a nice twist.