Dorothy L. Sayers’ works invariably display cunning, adaptability, and brilliance. Still, none post it so well as Murder Must Advertise, a detective fiction that perfectly incorporates all that is best about Sayers.
In it, Lord Peter Wimsey leads a double life as an advertising copywriter, a career Sayers knew well. Although Lord Peter always dons some disguise or other, sometimes the entire work is based around masking his identity. Murder Must Advertise brilliantly allows Wimsey to slip easily back and forth, playing a double role with ease and charm.
The novel adjusts its language just as quickly; Sayers slips from the shoptalk of an ad agency to the glamorous vernacular of Britain’s upper crust. Simply spiffing, old thing.
For instance, Sayers writes: “the most prosaic denizen of the garish city of daylight, had stepped into the place of bright flares and black abysses, whose ministers are drink and drugs and its monarch death” in the same book that spends paragraphs on office co-workers splitting the bill for the daily tea run.
The book begins innocently enough, with a good, solid murder ready to be solved. Quickly, however, Lord Peter (as his alias, Mr. Death Bredon, the new copywriter) becomes embroiled in a national drug ring. Effortlessly, it seems, Bredon/Wimsey wraps the whole of England around his little finger, from the messenger boys at the firm to the royal personages that he casually accompanies to the theater.
The reader is kept both in and out of the know simultaneously (part of Sayers’ characteristic style). We, with Lord Peter, travel the gamut of social strata. With him, we code-switch brilliantly as the pieces of the mystery come together.
All her works display an astounding knowledge of a wide variety of subjects; this one, however, is Sayers at her best.
Dorothy Sayers lived an abundant, complicated life. Not only was she a famous detective author, but she also worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency and wrote theological works and poetry. She’s known for a series of widely successful ads that used clever copy alongside simple drawings created by co-worker Jon Gilroy.
By displaying her astonishing powers of observation gleaned during her time as an advertising copyist, the book, Murder Must Advertise gives us a glimpse of Sayers’ own experiences. We see a Sayers (through Wimsey) that knows human nature. And, with her, we are students of humanity.
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Sarah Beach is a writer, editor, and researcher with an intense need for herbal tea. She writes about a variety of subjects, including social media, mental health, memes, and holistic wellness. Sarah is a graduate student in the field of Communication Studies and teaches rhetoric. She is also a registered Reiki practitioner and enthusiastic ukulele player. When she’s not writing, you can find her wandering aimlessly outdoors or watching period dramas.
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