Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

THE NINE TAILORS

by Dorothy Sayers

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers is quite possibly Sayers’ masterpiece. Although there is much debate as to whether it truly is her best novel, many argue that it’s her finest literary achievement. The murder method in this story, published in 1934, was unique. The idea came from a sixpenny pamphlet that explained bell-ringing.

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The Nine Tailors - Dorothy L. Sayers 15

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The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers: Conversation Starters

Tell us what you think about the book, and we may share your thoughts in our next episode and send you a fabulous sticker! (It really is a pretty awesome sticker.)

The Nine Tailors - Dorothy Sayers - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast
Dorothy Sayers - Lord Peter Wimsey - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast
The Nine Tailors - Dorothy Sayers - Tea Tonic & Toxin Podcast

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers

The church of Fenchurch St Paul has eight bells. A flu epidemic threatens the Reverend’s attempt at 15,840 Kent Treble Bob Majors (that’s nine hours of ringing, folks!). Can you even imagine? Check out this handy bell ringing video to get a better sense of what’s what.

There’s an old tradition of ringing a church bell to announce a death. (From the old saying “Nine tailors maketh a man.”) Nine blows meant a man, six a woman, and three a child. After a pause, the years were counted out at half-minute intervals.

“By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations.”

In 1945, literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote an essay titled “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” His correspondents recommended The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. After skipping what he described as “conversations between conventional English village characters,” “boring information on campanology,” and the “awful whimsical patter of Lord Peter,” Wilson concluded that The Nine Tailors was one of the dullest books he had encountered in any field. Do you agree? Why or why not?

The first ~50 pages of the book focus on change-ringing. There’s no mystery in sight. Carolyn was sort of stunned by this structural decision, though she ultimately was far less bothered by it than she originally thought possible. How about you?

Geography plays an important role in The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers. The fens are at the mercy of the elements, and it seems fitting that the book begins with a snowstorm and ends with an apocalyptic flood. Did the geography feel ominous or portentous to you? Did Sayers transport you to Fenchurch St. Paul? How did you feel about the setting?

In Busman’s Honeymoon, Harriet is speaking of her husband, Lord Peter: “[He] carried about with him that permanent atmosphere of security. He belonged to an ordered society and this was it. More than any of the friends in her own world he spoke the familiar language of her childhood. In London anybody at any moment might do or become anything, but in a village, no matter what village, they were all immutably themselves, parson, organist, sweep, duke’s son and doctor’s daughter, moving like chessmen upon their allotted squares.” Does this quote hold true for The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers?

Sayers said that certain cultural factors had to be present for the modern detective story to arise: a sense of criminal procedure; a respect for the law; an Anglo-Saxon respect for exact details; changes in communication; general public safety that the crime violates; and a substitution in popular conception of the doctor, policemen, and detective for the knight and adventure hero.

Sayers also said the modern detective story must observe certain rules: there must be a recognizable Aristotelian beginning-middle-and end; we can’t enter the mind of the murderer; and the solution must follow from the evidence offered to the reader. Does The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers follow these rules? How about Whose Body?

How do the bells function in the novel? Can they be considered characters?

Sayers’ complicated methods of death in Whose Body and The Nine Tailors were ingenious, though unrealistic. According to P. D. James, it wasn’t enough that the victim should be murdered; he must be ingeniously, bizarrely and horribly murdered.” What did you think of the “murder”?

About Tea, Tonic & Toxin

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters, will discuss a game-changing mystery or thriller from the 19th and 20th centuries. Together, we’ll see firsthand how the genre evolved.

Along the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with the occasional guest. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

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