Friday, 11 January 2008

Have His Carcase

I saw some of the tv adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers novels at the time they were made in the 1980s, starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter, but not all of them. At last I’ve got round to watching one that escaped me first time around, Have His Carcase. It’s a Sayers book for which I have a genuine fondness, because it was the first of hers that I ever read, at the tender age of around 13.

By then I’d read plenty of Christie, and all of Sherlock Holmes, but Sayers was a very different writer and I quickly devoured her novels and short stories. Some of the period stuff and background I found tedious as a teenager, but I admired the writing as well as the plots, and I still do. My all-time favourites are The Nine Tailors, Murder Must Advertise and (although a lot of people don’t rate it) the interesting and unusual The Documents in the Case, co-written with that shadowy figure Robert Eustace. (Eustace also co-wrote one of the all-time classic detective short stories, ‘The Tea Leaf’.)

Lord Peter Wimsey is a challenge for any actor because of his evolution over the years from a Bertie Wooster type to someone of genuine sensitivity and deep passion, as well as intellect . In the 70s, I enjoyed the series starring Ian Carmichael, which focused on the earlier books. Petherbridge is a more serious actor, and he did justice to the way in which Sayers developed her detective. As for the casting of Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane, I think it was inspired. Walter is invariably an impressive performer, but she caught the subtleties of Vane’s character to perfection.

The pace of the story is noticeably slower than you would find in present day tv drama, but the production values were high, and even today it is easy to see why the series was a popular success. It’s also good to be reminded of an interesting book and I look forward to watching the remaining episodes.

As for Sayers, she had faults as a writer, and critics such as Julian Symons, Raymond Chandler, Q.D. Leavis, Edmund Wilson are amongst those who have pointed them out. But she aimed high and was capable of brilliance, and for those qualities, she can be forgiven much. It’s no surprise to me that, half a century after her death, she is still regarded as one of the major detective novelists of the last hundred years.


Juliet said...

There were also some very fine radio dramatisations of the Lord Peter Wimsey books in the 70s or 80s, featuring Ian Carmichael as LPW, which are currently being re-run on BBC digital Radio 7 on Mondays and Fridays. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (also starring Iain Cuthbertson and Martin Jarvis) ends this week and I'm hoping it will be replaced by another in the series. The Nine Tailors from the same stable was aired again on Radio 4 over Christmas (unfortunately I caught only part of it).

Xavier said...

As for Sayers, she had faults as a writer, and critics such as Julian Symons, Raymond Chandler, Q.D. Leavis, Edmund Wilson are amongst those who have pointed them out.

Symons's "arguments" against Sayers have always seemed to me basically amounting to "I can't stand that lady and the kind of books she wrote". Same goes for Chandler. As to Wilson... well, just compare his current sales with Sayers's and you'll see who won the argument. :-)

Anonymous said...

She was one of the first dectective authors I read. About the same age as you, though I read them in dutch.

Years later I found out that they were very badly translated, pieces had been left out, a weird kind of censorship had happened (for example a sentence in Murder must advertise runs something like: "...dancing with little else then a tophat and boots on..."and that was translated as "a scarsely clad dancing person..")

So I got them all in english (by then I could at last read books in english) and it was like reading new books! I only find Five Red Herrings very tedious.

Did you read Thrones, dominations as well?

Martin Edwards said...

Juliet, I confess I've never listened to Radio 7, but from a quick glance the schedule looks interesting.
Xavier, although I'm a Symons fan, I do think his judgment on DLS was far too harsh.
Liesbeth, yes, I've read Thrones, Dominations and will post about it before long. Very good. I'm afraid I agree that Five Red Herrings is rather dull.

Jilly said...

Like you I love 'Have His Carcase' and think it one of her finest. Edward Petherbridge was the actor who fitted my idea of Wimsey, though Ian Carmichael is excellent in the radio adaptations. The fact that all Sayers's Wimseybooks and short stories are still in print shows people's fondness for her even today.
By the way I have posted a review of 'The Coffin Trail' on my blog - I enjoyed it and loved the twist at the end.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jilly.
You're right, DLS is one of the few detective story writers to retain widespread public appeal long after (70 years after!)she finished writing whodunits.
I've now seen the second episode of 'Have His Carcase' and found it just as good as the first.