Murder Must Advertise (Dorothy L. Sayers)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

‘The particular crookedness of advertising is so very far renewed from the crookedness of dope-trafficking.’

 ‘Why? As far as I can make out, all advertisers are dope-merchants.’

 ‘So they are. Yes, now I come to think of it, there is a subtle symmetry about the thing which is extremely artistic…’

A vivid and witty tale set in an advertising agency whose sense of hustle and bustle is conveyed as clearly as the personalities of the large cast of group-managers, copy-writers, typists and drug fiends. Wimsey goes undercover as his black sheep cousin Bredon to investigate the ‘accidental’ death of one of the copy-writers, and discovers a really clever scheme for drug-smuggling, relying on advertisement (and the moral qualities of the trade?). This is her most energetic and colourful book since the very early ones, but elegant and mature.

Blurb (US)

A new Lord Peter Wimsey mystery – in the course of which Lord Peter Wimsey himself is arrested on a charge of murder!

When Victor Dean fell headlong down the iron staircase and was picked up dead, he left behind him a suspicion that something very queer was going on in Pym’s Advertising Agency.  What was the connection between the intensely respectable firm and the dance-mad, dope-mad, devil-may-care crowd of Bright Young People, of whom the notorious Dian de Momerie was the leading light?

Contemporary reviews

Spectator (Dilys Powell, 17th February 1933): …It is not merely that death is brought about by methods whose ingenuity would do credit to—Heath Robinson.  It is that the motives for murder are as involved as Einstein.  Take, for instance, Miss Sayers’s brilliant new story, Murder Must Advertise.  Victor Dean was not simply hit on the head or pushed down the stairs; he was shot at through a skylight with a scarab by means of a catapult taken from the confiscation desk.  And why did he come to this timely end in the offices of Pym’s Publicity?  Not simply because he was a blackmailer; but also because he was concerned in the dope traffic; because he knew that fast young woman Dian de Momerie; because he was acquainted with the circumstances in which the Nutrax 11-inch double was prepared for Friday’s Morning Star.  It takes, of course, Lord Peter Wimsey to find out all this; and it takes Miss Sayers and a long and extremely clever book to make it plausible.  Perhaps the complications of detail are a little excessive, but we must be grateful for a story written with intelligence and education.

Times Literary Supplement (2nd March 1933): This novel represents Miss Sayers at her best.  The key murder is ingenious and yet artistic in its simplicity of execution.  The sub-plot is diverting, perhaps too diverting, for in the humours of Pym’s Publicity the reader almost forgets to care who murdered Mr. Dean or whether he was in truth murdered.  There is plenty of that direct narrative which Miss Sayer [sic] can manage as well as anyone when she cares to do so; and there is an admirable cricket match.  On the other hand Lord Peter Wimsey is now becoming almost too much of a universal genius.  All the women fall in love with him; he dives from a height into a few inches of water; he makes as many runs as he likes, and indeed more than is, in the circumstances, prudent.  Miss Sayers will find it necessary soon to consider whether he should not succeed his brother and retire into ducal ease or find some more sudden form of withdrawal.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 18th March 1933): HEAVY SPRING CALENDAR

A good detective story should be logically consistent, plausible, and interesting; and the last quality will endear it most to the reader.  Detective story writers, however, are generally happiest with their time-tables, their plans of the grounds, and their chemicals.  A certain number are gifted with natural high spirits or a vein of humour by which their style benefits, but it is only very rarely that any of them light on ways of murder which are ingenious and amusing, and at the same time credible.  They rely for puzzling their public not on contradictions of fact—they dare not face the charge of their plots “not working”—but on contradictions in psychology; their suggested motives for murder are fantastic, and their murderers would infallibly get off in a court of law on a plea of insanity.

Apart from this deficiency of vitamin B, there is some substance for the voracious reader in every one of these ten novels.  For excitement I recommend the first two on the list.  Miss Sayers not only writes brightly, but intelligently, yet in her latest story she has succumbed to one temptation.  She has taken a leaf from Edgar Wallace.  To introduce masked figures, with bludgeons, if not revolvers, round every London corner is one way of keeping our nerves on edge, but it is not the most subtle.  Inevitably the actual solution of a single murder by Lord Peter Wimsey loses some of its interest in the “thriller” atmosphere of indiscriminate violence.  But nobody could call it a dull book.

NY Evening Post (Rumana McManis, 8th April 1933, 40w): Gay young Lord Peter Wimsey, less whimsical and more interesting than usual, enters the advertising profession in order to solve the crime.  An excellent detective story and an excellent picture of a British advertising firm.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 9th April 1933, 220w): The story proceeds in a rather more leisurely manner than is usual in novels of crime and detection.  Much space—more, indeed, than is strictly necessary—is devoted to a presentation of the comic aspects of the advertising business.  It makes delightful reading, even though it does not get the story much forrader.

Sat R of Lit (M.L. Becker, 6th May 1933, 80w): I think I never enjoyed a detective story so much—probably because it takes place in a large advertising agency and what goes on there in the everyday run of business is so steadily and even so uproariously funny it would keep me reading even a mystery less double-end-twisted than this.