Criminal shorts

In the teeth of the evidence is the last of Dorothy L. Sayers' short story collections to be published in her lifetime. Published in 1939, it contains a selection of stories, a few of which feature Lord Peter Wimsey, and Montague Egg (who appeared in the previously reviewed Hangman's holiday). There are 17 stories in all, 2 of which feature Lord Peter Wimsey, 5 Montague Egg, and the rest miscellaneous characters.

It's always intrigued me that Sayers had such a short career in crime fiction. Her first Lord Peter Wimsey was published in 1923, and as this is the last piece of crime fiction to be published in her lifetime (although some other material has been published posthumously since) her "criminal" career only spanned 16 years, though Sayers would die in 1957. It's surprising as at her best, Sayers was unbeatable, she was a true Queen of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction against some phenomenally tough competition.

I think it's been generally believed that Sayers made a conscious decision to move away from the popular world of crime fiction to her first love - the world of academia. Her last 16 years were spent writing religious plays, and translating medieval French and Italian works. It may well be true that this was the direction in which she wanted to move her life, but I think I detect in In the teeth of the evidence something more going on. It's a sadly weak selection of stories, with just a few gems, perhaps along with her loss of interest in the world of detection Sayers was also losing her touch.

The stories, although interesting, are generally nowhere near as good as Sayers can be. They are also occasionally repetitive, which is slightly odd as, as far as I know, the stories were written for this anthology, not collected together after having been previously published elsewhere. Some are heavily influenced by recent true life crime, sometimes this works well, sometimes less so, and some are taken almost wholesale from other authors.

There are however a few gems. The title short story is well written, with a nice touch of early CSI; and I loved the comical The inspiration of Mr. Budd. The rest range from pretty good light reads to being fairly weak. There are some fun comic highlights including The milk-bottles which I thoroughly enjoyed. It's not Sayers at her best by any means, but it's essential reading for any fan. If you're a first time Sayers reader though I would definitely recommend starting out with one of the novels.


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