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Title: Clouds of Witness
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #2
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 2.5 of 5 Stars
Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother, the Duke of Denver, has taken a shooting lodge at Riddlesdale in Yorkshire. At 3 o’clock one morning, Captain Denis Cathcart, the fiancé of Wimsey’s sister Lady Mary, is found shot dead just outside the conservatory. Mary, trying to leave the house at 3 am for a reason she declines to explain, finds Denver kneeling over Cathcart’s body. Suspicion falls on Denver, as the lethal bullet had come from his revolver and he admits having quarrelled with Cathcart earlier, after receiving a letter (which he says has been lost) informing him that Cathcart had been caught cheating at cards. He maintains that he stumbled across the body after returning from a walk on the moors, but will say no more.
Wimsey arrives to investigate, along with his friend Inspector Charles Parker, who will find himself becoming increasingly attracted to Lady Mary throughout the novel. They find a series of unidentified footprints and a discarded jewel in the form of a cat. It is clear that both Denver and Mary are hiding something: Denver refuses to budge from his story that he was simply out for a walk, while Mary is feigning illness to avoid talking to anyone.
Wimsey investigates several false leads. The footprints turn out to be those of Mary’s secret true fiancé, Goyles, a socialist agitator considered ‘an unsuitable match’ by her family. He had crept into the grounds for a pre-arranged rendezvous at 3 am, when the couple had intended to elope. Mary assumed that he was the killer and has been covering for him, but when she learns that he had fled in terror after discovering the body, she breaks off their engagement in disgust at his cowardice.
Wimsey’s investigations lead him to a violent local farmer, Grimethorpe, with a stunningly beautiful wife. Wimsey finds the lost letter that was sent to Denver wedged in the window of the Grimethorpes’ bedroom, proving that Denver had been visiting Mrs Grimethorpe on the night of Cathcart’s death. This is what he has refused to admit, being determined to shield his mistress even at the price of being wrongfully convicted of murder.
Eventually, the jewelled cat leads Wimsey to Cathcart’s mistress of many years, who had left him for an American millionaire. Wimsey travels to New York to find her, makes a daring and dangerous transatlantic flight back to London, and arrives just in time to present his evidence at Denver’s trial in the House of Lords. Wimsey brings a letter that Cathcart had written to his mistress on the night of his death. After hearing that she was leaving him, Cathcart had written back stating his intention to commit suicide. He had then taken Denver’s revolver from the study and gone out into the garden to shoot himself. The confounding factor in the investigation had been the coincidence of Denver returning from Mrs Grimethorpe’s, just in time to find the body, at the same time that Mary had emerged from the house for her rendezvous with Goyles.
Denver is acquitted. As he is leaving the House of Lords, Grimethorpe appears, shoots at him, flees, and is knocked down and killed by a passing taxi. Mrs Grimethorpe, finally free of her husband, declares that she has no interest in continuing her affair with Denver. In the final scene of the book, Inspector Sugg finds Wimsey, Parker, and a friend on the street after midnight, hopelessly drunk, celebrating the end of the case. Sugg assists them into cabs, and reflects, “Thank Gawd there weren’t no witnesses”.
This started out so strong. I was highlighting quotes a lot (for me) and the story was moving right along. Lord Peter wasn’t missin’ his “g’s” as much and I was seriously thinking about giving this 4 to 4.5stars.
Then I came to the last 10% of the book. Which is where the trial of Peter’s brother takes place. And everything screeched to a complete halt and bored me to death. Lord Peter isn’t involved. We get pages of the lawyer pretty much summing up the entire book and showing the “jury” (ie, the readers) what really happened. A linchpin of his argument was a letter from the dead man to his mistress. In french. Fething pages of french letter. Sayers does provide an interpretation after the fact, but the original had no place in the novel. I kept hitting the “next page” on my kindle and it kept going and going and going. The lawyer had slowed the pace to frozen molasses but the french letter? It dammed up the flow completely. It was like the Hoover Dam suddenly appeared from out of no where!
Up to that point, I saw why this series is held up as great writing and great story telling. I was enjoying myself immensely. Sadly, the ending killed this book for me. Bleh and poop!