This week I read a little collection of Lord Peter Wimsey stories I picked up at Mr. K's in Asheville, Striding Folly. This book includes only three stories, but its still appealing for two reasons: Lord Peter is always fun, and these are the last three Lord Peter stories Sayers wrote. One of them, "Talboys," was not even published during her lifetime.
The title story, "Striding Folly," is an odd little puzzle. An elderly chess enthusiast, tormented by a strange dream about the folly on a nearby hillside, has a mysterious foreign-sounding visitor on the night he usually expects to play chess with the local landowner. Later that night, the old man, guided by his dream, wanders up to the tower and finds the landowner murdered. The crime scene has been arranged to cast suspicion on him, and no one will believe his alibi. Lord Peter shows up in, quite literally, the last two pages to sort things out.
"Striding Folly" is a strange story but has some wonderfully gothic, apocalyptic atmosphere, and that will (almost) always win me over.
The second story, "The Haunted Policeman," begins with Lord Peter and his wife Harriet welcoming their first baby, a son named Bredon, into the world. Peter is then shooed away, after the fashion of that era, and finds himself lounging around outside their London flat, where he meets a policeman who has just had a strange experience that, like the elderly chess player, no one will believe.
The solution to this mystery is a bit pat for my taste, but the increasing intoxication of both Lord Peter and the policeman as the latter recounts his story is immensely entertaining.
The last story, "Talboys," written in 1942 but not published until the 1970s, was my favorite. The mystery is minor—a farmer near Lord Peter's country seat complaining about stolen peaches—but the story is a lot of fun. Lord Peter, Harriet, and their now three boys are hosting Miss Quirk, a guest sent to them by relatives. Miss Quirk and Harriet have a number of humorous exchanges about childrearing and corporal punishment, Miss Quirk being a childless expert on children thanks to her reading about all the latest theories. You know the type.
A lot of the story consists of Lord Peter trying to investigate the peach incident and corral his oldest son, who loves peaches and has been behaving suspiciously, without provoking know-it-all commentary from Miss Quirk. The ending brings these plot threads together in a hilarious and satisfying punchline.
Definitely check out Striding Folly if you enjoy short mysteries of the more genteel variety, especially if you like them with a good dash of wry humor. It may help if you're already familiar with other Wimsey stories (I've listened to Gaudy Night on a roadtrip, which is my sole past experience with Lord Peter and Harriet's relationship), but if not they should still be thoroughly enjoyable.