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Clouds of Witness

Clouds of Witness

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Clouds of Witness

3/5 (762 évaluations)
303 pages
5 heures
Dec 22, 2018


Peter's and Mary's older brother, the Duke of Denver, is charged with wilful murder and put on trial in the House of Lords. How can detective Lord Peter proceed when it's a murder in his own family potentially by his own brother?
Dec 22, 2018

À propos de l'auteur

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) was a British playwright, scholar, and acclaimed author of mysteries, best known for her books starring the gentleman sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. While working as an advertising copywriter, Sayers began writing Whose Body? (1923), the first Wimsey mystery, followed by ten sequels and several short stories. Sayers set the Wimsey novels between the two World Wars, giving them a realistic tone by incorporating details from contemporary issues such as advertising, women’s education, and veterans’ health. Sayers also wrote theological essays and criticism during and after World War II, and in 1949 published the first volume of a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Although she considered this translation to be her best work, it is for her elegantly constructed detective fiction that Sayers remains best remembered.

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Clouds of Witness - Dorothy L. Sayers

Clouds of Witness

by Dorothy L. Sayers

First published in 1926

This edition published by Reading Essentials

Victoria, BC Canada with branch offices in the Czech Republic and Germany


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, except in the case of excerpts by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

The Solution of the Riddlesdale Mystery with a Report of the Trial of the Duke of Denver before the House of Lords for Murder

The inimitable stories of Tong-King never have any real ending, and this one, being in his most elevated style, has even less end than most of them. But the whole narrative is permeated with the odour of joss-sticks and honourable high-mindedness, and the two characters are both of noble birth.

--The Wallet of Kai-Lung


Of His Malice Aforethought

"O, who hath done this deed?"--Othello

LORD PETER WIMSEY stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice. After his exertions in the unravelling of the Battersea Mystery, he had followed Sir Julian Freke's advice and taken a holiday. He had felt suddenly weary of breakfasting every morning before his view over the Green Park; he had realised that the picking up of first editions at sales afforded insufficient exercise for a man of thirty-three; the very crimes of London were over-sophisticated. He had abandoned his flat and his friends and fled to the wilds of Corsica. For the last three months he had forsworn letters, newspapers, and telegrams. He had tramped about the mountains, admiring from a cautious distance the wild beauty of Corsican peasant-women, and studying the vendetta in its natural haunt. In such conditions murder seemed not only reasonable, but lovable. Bunter, his confidential man and assistant sleuth, had nobly sacrificed his civilised habits, had let his master go dirty and even unshaven, and had turned his faithful camera from the recording of finger-prints to that of craggy scenery. It had been very refreshing.

Now, however, the call of the blood was upon Lord Peter. They had returned late last night in a vile train to Paris, and had picked up their luggage. The autumn light, filtering through the curtains, touched caressingly the silver-topped bottles on the dressing-table, outlined an electric lamp-shade and the shape of the telephone.

A noise of running water near by proclaimed that Bunter had turned on the bath (h. & c.) and was laying out scented soap, bath-salts, the huge bath-sponge, for which there had been no scope in Corsica, and the delightful flesh-brush with the long handle, which rasped you so agreeably all down the spine. Contrast, philosophised Lord Peter sleepily, is life. Corsica--Paris--then LondonÖ. Good morning, Bunter.

Good morning, my lord. Fine morning, my lord. Your lordship's bath-water is ready.

Thanks, said Lord Peter. He blinked at the sunlight.

It was a glorious bath. He wondered, as he soaked in it, how he could have existed in Corsica. He wallowed happily and sang a few bars of a song. In a soporific interval he heard the valet de chambre bringing in coffee and rolls. Coffee and rolls! He heaved himself out with a splash, towelled himself luxuriously, enveloped his long-mortified body in a silken bathrobe, and wandered back.

To his immense surprise he perceived Mr. Bunter calmly replacing all the fittings in his dressing-case.

Another astonished glance showed him the bags--scarcely opened the previous night--repacked, relabelled, and standing ready for a journey.

I say, Bunter, what's up? said his lordship. We're stayin' here a fortnight y'know.

Excuse me, my lord, said Mr. Bunter, deferentially, "but, having seen The Times (delivered here every morning by air, my lord; and very expeditious I'm sure, all things considered), I made no doubt your lordship would be wishing to go to Riddlesdale at--"

Riddlesdale! exclaimed Peter. What's the matter? Anything wrong with my brother?

For answer Mr. Bunter handed him the paper, folded open at the heading:



Lord Peter stared as if hypnotised.

I thought your lordship wouldn't wish to miss anything, said Mr. Bunter, so I took the liberty----

Lord Peter pulled himself together.

When's the next train? he asked.

I beg your lordship's pardon--I thought your lordship would wish to take the quickest route. I took it on myself to book two seats in the aeroplane Victoria. She starts at 11.30.

Lord Peter looked at his watch.

Ten o'clock, he said. Very well. You did quite right. Dear me! Poor old Gerald arrested for murder. Uncommonly worryin' for him, poor chap. Always hated my bein' mixed up with police-courts. Now he's there himself. Lord Peter Wimsey in the witness-box--very distressin' to feelin's of a brother. Duke of Denver--the dock--worse still. Dear me! Well, I suppose one must have breakfast.

Yes, my lord. Full account of the inquest in the paper, my lord.

Yes. Who's on the case, by the way?

Mr Parker, my lord.

Parker? That's good. Splendid old Parker! Wonder how he managed to get put on to it. How do things look, Bunter?

If I may say so, my lord, I fancy the investigation will prove very interesting. There are several extremely suggestive points in the evidence, my lord.

From a criminological point of view I daresay it is interesting, replied his lordship, sitting down cheerfully to his café au lait, but it's deuced awkward for my brother, all the same, havin' no turn for criminology, what?

Ah, well-- said Mr. Bunter, they say, my lord, there's nothing like having a personal interest.


The inquest was held to-day at Riddlesdale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, on the body of Captain Denis Cathcart, which was found at three o'clock on Thursday morning lying just outside the conservatory door of the Duke of Denver's shooting-box, Riddlesdale Lodge. Evidence was given to show that deceased had quarrelled with the Duke of Denver on the preceding evening, and was subsequently shot in a small thicket adjoining the house. A pistol belonging to the Duke was found near the scene of the crime. A verdict of murder was returned against the Duke of Denver. Lady Mary Wimsey, sister of the Duke, who was engaged to be married to the deceased, collapsed after giving evidence, and is now lying seriously ill at the Lodge. The Duchess of Denver hastened from town yesterday and was present at the inquest. Full report on p. 12.

Poor old Gerald! thought Lord Peter, as he turned to page 12; and poor old Mary! I wonder if she really was fond of the fellow. Mother always said not, but Mary never would let on about herself.

The full report began by describing the little village of Riddlesdale, where the Duke of Denver had recently taken a small shooting-box for the season. When the tragedy occurred the Duke had been staying there with a party of guests. In the Duchess's absence Lady Mary Wimsey had acted as hostess. The other guests were Colonel and Mrs. Marchbanks, the Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot, Mr. and Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, and the dead man, Denis Cathcart.

The first witness was the Duke of Denver, who claimed to have discovered the body. He gave evidence that he was coming into the house by the conservatory door at three o'clock in the morning of Thursday, October 14th, when his foot struck against something.

He had switched on his electric torch and seen the body of Denis Cathcart at his feet. He had at once turned it over, and seen that Cathcart had been shot in the chest.

He was quite dead. As Denver was bending over the body, he heard a cry in the conservatory, and, looking up, saw Lady Mary Wimsey gazing out horror-struck.

She came out by the conservatory door, and exclaimed at once, O God, Gerald, you've killed him! (Sensation.) [This report, though substantially the same as that read by Lord Peter in The Times, has been corrected, amplified and annotated from the shorthand report made at the time by Mr. Parker.]

The Coroner: Were you surprised by that remark?

Duke of D.: Well, I was so shocked and surprised at the whole thing. I think I said to her, 'Don't look,' and she said, 'Oh, it's Denis! Whatever can have happened? Has there been an accident?' I stayed with the body, and sent her up to rouse the house.

The Coroner: Did you expect to see Lady Mary Wimsey in the conservatory?

Duke of D.: Really, as I say, I was so astonished all round, don't you know, I didn't think about it.

The Coroner: Do you remember how she was dressed?

Duke of D.: I don't think she was in her pyjamas. (Laughter.) I think she had a coat on.

The Coroner: I understand that Lady Mary Wimsey was engaged to be married to the deceased?

Duke of D.: Yes.

The Coroner: He was well known to you?

Duke of D.: He was the son of an old friend of my father's; his parents are dead. I believe he lived chiefly abroad. I ran across him during the war, and in 1919 he came to stay at Denver. He became engaged to my sister at the beginning of this year.

The Coroner: With your consent, and with that of the family?

Duke of D.: Oh, yes, certainly.

The Coroner: What kind of man was Captain Cathcart?

Duke of D.: Well--he was a Sahib and all that. I don't know what he did before he joined in 1914. I think he lived on his income; his father was well off. Crack shot, good at games, and so on. I never heard anything against him--till that evening.

The Coroner: What was that?

Duke of D.: Well--the fact is--it was deuced queer, He---- If anybody but Tommy Freeborn had said it I should never have believed it. (Sensation.)

The Coroner: I'm afraid I must ask your grace of what exactly you had to accuse the deceased.

Duke of D.: Well, I didn't--I don't exactly accuse him. An old friend of mine made a suggestion. Of course I thought it must be all a mistake, so I went to Cathcart, and, to my amazement, he practically admitted it! Then we both got angry, and he told me to go to the devil, and rushed out of the house. (Renewed sensation.)

The Coroner: When did this quarrel occur?

Duke of D.: On Wednesday night. That was the last I saw of him. (Unparalleled sensation.)

The Coroner: Please, please, we cannot have this disturbance. Now, will your grace kindly give me, as far as you can remember it, the exact history of this quarrel?

Duke of D.: Well, it was like this. We'd had a long day on the moors and had dinner early, and about half-past nine we began to feel like turning in. My sister and Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson toddled on up, and we were havin' a last peg in the billiard-room when Fleming--that's my man--came in with the letters. They come at any old time in the evening, you know, we being two and a half miles from the village. No--I wasn't in the billiard-room at the time--I was lockin' up the gun-room. The letter was from an old friend of mine I hadn't seen for years--Tom Freeborn--used to know him at the House----

The Coroner: Whose house?

Duke of D.: Oh, Christ Church, Oxford. He wrote to say he'd seen the announcement of my sister's engagement in Egypt.

The Coroner: In Egypt?

Duke of D.: "I mean, he was in Egypt--Tom Freeborn, you see--that's why he hadn't written before. He engineers. He went out there after the war was over, you see, and, bein' somewhere up near the sources of the Nile, he doesn't get the papers regularly. He said, would I 'scuse him for interferin' in a very delicate matter, and all that, but did I know who Cathcart was? Said he'd met him in Paris during the war, and he lived by cheatin' at cards--said he could swear to it, with details of a row there'd been in some French place or other. Said he knew I'd want to chew his head off--Freeborn's, I mean--for buttin' in, but he'd seen the man's photo in the paper, an' he thought I ought to know."

The Coroner: Did this letter surprise you?

Duke of D.: Couldn't believe it at first. If it hadn't been old Tom Freeborn I'd have put the thing in the fire straight off, and, even as it was, I didn't quite know what to think. I mean, it wasn't as if it had happened in England, you know. I mean to say, Frenchmen get so excited about nothing. Only there was Freeborn, and he isn't the kind of man that makes mistakes.

The Coroner: What did you do?

Duke of D.: Well, the more I looked at it the less I liked it, you know. Still, I couldn't quite leave it like that, so I thought the best way was to go straight to Cathcart. They'd all gone up while I was sittin' thinkin' about it, so I went up and knocked at Cathcart's door. He said, 'What's that?' or 'Who the devil's that?' or somethin' of the sort, and I went in. 'Look here,' I said, 'can I just have a word with you?' 'Well, cut it short, then,' he said. I was surprised--he wasn't usually rude. 'Well,' I said, 'fact is, I've had a letter I don't much like the look of, and I thought the best thing to do was to bring it straight away to you an' have the whole thing cleared up. It's from a man--a very decent sort--old college friend, who says he's met you in Paris.' 'Paris!' he said, in a most uncommonly unpleasant way. 'Paris! What the hell do you want to come talkin' to me about Paris for?' 'Well,' I said, 'don't talk like that, because it's misleadin' under the circumstances.' 'What are you drivin' at?' says Cathcart. 'Spit it out and go to bed, for God's sake.' I said, 'Right oh! I will. It's a man called Freeborn, who says he knew you in Paris and that you made money cheatin' at cards.' I thought he'd break out at that, but all he said was, 'What about it?' 'What about it?' I said. 'Well, of course, it's not the sort of thing I'm goin' to believe like that, right bang-slap off, without any proofs.' Then he said a funny thing. He said, 'Beliefs don't matter--it's what one knows about people.' 'Do you mean to say you don't deny it?' I said. 'It's no good my denying it,' he said; 'you must make up your own mind. Nobody could disprove it.' And then he suddenly jumped up, nearly knocking the table over, and said, 'I don't care what you think or what you do, if you'll only get out. For God's sake leave me alone!' 'Look here,' I said, 'you needn't take it that way. I don't say I do believe it--in fact,' I said, 'I'm sure there must be some mistake; only, you bein' engaged to Mary,' I said, 'I couldn't just let it go at that without looking into it, could I?' 'Oh!' says Cathcart, 'if that's what's worrying you, it needn't. That's off.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'Our engagement.' 'Off?' I said. 'But I was talking to Mary about it only yesterday.' 'I haven't told her yet,' he said. 'Well,' I said, 'I think that's damned cool. Who the hell do you think you are, to come here and jilt my sister?' Well, I said quite a lot, first and last. 'You can get out,' I said; 'I've no use for swine like you.' 'I will,' he said, and he pushed past me an' slammed downstairs and out of the front door, an' banged it after him.

The Coroner: What did you do?

Duke of D.: I ran into my bedroom, which has a window over the conservatory, and shouted out to him not to be a silly fool. It was pourin' with rain and beastly cold. He didn't come back, so I told Fleming to leave the conservatory door open--in case he thought better of it--and went to bed.

The Coroner: What explanation can you suggest for Cathcart's behaviour?

Duke of D.: None. I was simply staggered. But I think he must somehow have got wind of the letter, and knew the game was up.

The Coroner: Did you mention the matter to anybody else?

Duke of D.: No. It wasn't pleasant, and I thought I'd better leave it till the morning.

The Coroner: So you did nothing further in the matter?

Duke of D.: No. I didn't want to go out huntin' for the fellow. I was too angry. Besides, I thought he'd change his mind before long--it was a brute of a night and he'd only a dinner-jacket.

The Coroner: Then you just went quietly to bed and never saw deceased again?

Duke of D.: Not till I fell over him outside the conservatory at three in the morning.

The Coroner: Ah yes. Now can you tell us how you came to be out of doors at that time?

Duke of D. (hesitating): I didn't sleep well. I went out for a stroll.

The Coroner: At three o'clock in the morning?

Duke of D.: Yes. With sudden inspiration; You see, my wife's away. (Laughter and some remarks from the back of the room.)

The Coroner: Silence, pleaseÖ. You mean to say that you got up at that hour of an October night to take a walk in the garden in the pouring rain?

Duke of D.: Yes, just a stroll. (Laughter.)

The Coroner: At what time did you leave your bedroom?

Duke of D.: Oh--oh, about half-past two, I should say.

The Coroner: Which way did you go out?

Duke of D.: By the conservatory door.

The Coroner: The body was not there when you went out?

Duke of D.: Oh, no!

The Coroner: Or you would have seen it?

Duke of D.: Lord, yes! I'd have had to walk over it.

The Coroner: Exactly where did you go?

Duke of D. (vaguely): Oh, just round about.

The Coroner: You heard no shot?

Duke of D.: No.

The Coroner: Did you go far away from the conservatory door and the shrubbery?

Duke of D.: Well--I was some way away. Perhaps that's why I didn't hear anything. It must have been.

The Coroner: Were you as much as a quarter of a mile away?

Duke of D.: I should think I was--oh, yes, quite!

The Coroner: More than a quarter of a mile away?

Duke of D.: Possibly. I walked about briskly because it was cold.

The Coroner: In which direction?

Duke of D. (with visible hesitation): Round at the back of the house. Towards the bowling-green.

The Coroner: The bowling-green?

Duke of D. (more confidently): Yes.

The Coroner: But if you were more than a quarter of a mile away, you must have left the grounds?

Duke of D.: I--oh, yes--I think I did. Yes, I walked about on the moor a bit, you know.

The Coroner: Can you show us the letter you had from Mr. Freeborn?

Duke of D.: Oh, certainly--if I can find it. I thought I put it in my pocket, but I couldn't find it for that Scotland Yard fellow.

The Coroner: Can you have accidentally destroyed it?

Duke of D.: No--I'm sure I remember putting it---- Oh--here the witness paused in very patent confusion, and grew red--I remember now. I destroyed it.

The Coroner: That is unfortunate. How was that?

Duke of D.: I had forgotten; it has come back to me now. I'm afraid it has gone for good.

The Coroner: Perhaps you kept the envelope?

Witness shook his head.

The Coroner: Then you can show the jury no proof of having received it?

Duke of D.: Not unless Fleming remembers it.

The Coroner: Ah, yes! No doubt we can check it that way. Thank you, your grace. Call Lady Mary Wimsey.

The noble lady, who was, until the tragic morning of October 14th, the fiancée of the deceased, aroused a murmur of sympathy on her appearance. Fair and slender, her naturally rose-pink cheeks ashy pale, she seemed overwhelmed with grief. She was dressed entirely in black, and gave her evidence in a very low tone which was at times almost inaudible. [From the newspaper report--not Mr. Parker.]

After expressing his sympathy, the Coroner asked, How long had you been engaged to the deceased?

Witness: About eight months.

The Coroner: Where did you first meet him?

Witness: "At my sister-in-law's house in London.''

The Coroner: When was that?

Witness: I think it was June last year.

The Coroner: You were quite happy in your engagement?

Witness: Quite.

The Coroner: You naturally saw a good deal of Captain Cathcart. Did he tell you much about his previous life?

Witness: Not very much. We were not given to mutual confidences. We usually discussed subjects of common interest.

The Coroner: You had many such subjects?

Witness: Oh, yes.

The Coroner: You never gathered at any time that Captain Cathcart had anything on his mind?

Witness: Not particularly. He had seemed a little anxious the last few days.

The Coroner: Did he speak of his life in Paris?

Witness: He spoke of theatres and amusements there. He knew Paris very well. I was staying in Paris with some friends last February, when he was there, and he took us about. That was shortly after our engagement.

The Coroner: Did he ever speak of playing cards in Paris?

Witness: I don't remember.

The Coroner: With regard to your marriage--had any money settlements been gone into?

Witness: I don't think so. The date of the marriage was not in any way fixed.

The Coroner: He always appeared to have plenty of money?

Witness: I suppose so; I didn't think about it.

The Coroner: You never heard him complain of being hard up?

Witness: Everybody complains of that, don't they?

The Coroner: Was he a man of cheerful disposition?

Witness: He was very moody, never the same two days together.

The Coroner: You have heard what your brother said about the deceased wishing to break off the engagement. Had you any idea of this?

Witness: Not the slightest.

The Coroner: Can you think of any explanation now?

Witness:Absolutely none.

The Coroner: There had been no quarrel?


The Coroner: So far as you knew, on the Wednesday evening, you were still engaged to deceased with every prospect of being married to him shortly?

Witness:Ye-es. Yes, certainly, of course.

The Coroner: He was not--forgive me this very painful question--the sort of man who would have been likely to lay violent hands on himself?

Witness:Oh, I never thought--well, I don't know--I suppose he might have done. That would explain it, wouldn't it?

The Coroner: Now, Lady Mary--please don't distress yourself, take your own time--will you tell us exactly what you heard and saw on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Witness:I went up to bed with Mrs. Marchbanks and Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson at about half-past nine, leaving all the men downstairs. I said good night to Denis, who seemed quite as usual. I was not downstairs when the post came. I went to my room at once. My room is at the back of the house. I heard Mr. Pettigrew-Robinson come up at about ten. The Pettigrew-Robinsons sleep next door to me. Some of the other men came up with him. I did not hear my brother come upstairs. At about a quarter past ten I heard two men talking loudly in the passage, and then I heard someone run downstairs and bang the front door. Afterwards I heard rapid steps in the passage, and finally I heard my brother shut his door. Then I went to bed.

The Coroner: You did not inquire the cause of the disturbance?

Witness (indifferently):I thought it was probably something about the dogs.

The Coroner: What happened next?

Witness:I woke up at three o'clock.

The Coroner: What wakened you?

Witness:I heard a shot.

The Coroner: You were not awake before you heard it?

Witness:I may have been partly awake. I heard it very distinctly. I was sure it was a shot. I listened for a few minutes, and then went down to see if anything was wrong.

The Coroner: Why did you not call your brother or some other gentleman?

Witness (scornfully):"Why should I? I thought it was

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762 évaluations / 46 Avis
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Avis des lecteurs

  • (3/5)
    Clouds of Witness was chosen as the book for the month for my mystery book club. This book is the first one that I have read by Sayers, and while the story was all right it was not a favorite of mine. However hearing other opinions at our meeting, it was said that there were other books in the series that were better and not to base this series on this one book. The mystery in the book was one the reader would definitely have trouble solving. There are many twists and turns however the ending came out of left field for me. I enjoyed the characters of Bunter and Parker and found Peter to be the most enjoyable of his family members. Clouds of Witness was a nice read however I am not sure I would have chosen it on my own.
  • (3/5)
    I enjoyed this more than 'Whose Body', maybe because I liked Lord Peter Wimsey better here (he was too flippant and silly in the other one for my taste). The characters were intriguing and one felt interested in their fates; the unfolding of the story and clues were good and I enjoyed much of the book. Unfortunately, I personally didn't feel very satisfied at the conclusion/solution--there were so many threads and possibilities, that what turned out to be the truth seemed anticlimactic.
  • (3/5)
    Holds up better than the first book in the series. The characters are getting more depth to them now. The first couple of chapters are a bit dry as they're done in the form of court reporters. Once we get into first person viewpoints, it works a lot better.
  • (4/5)
    It was an unexpected pleasure to discover that there was a Wimsey novel I hadn't read yet - rather like finding the last bottle of the '47 lurking dust-covered at the back of the cellar. The book - the second full-length Wimsey novel - isn't up to the standard of some of the later ones, but it does have quite a lot to entertain and interest the reader. The Yorkshire setting is nicely observed, with dialect characters who are portrayed as individuals and manage to avoid becoming stereotypes. The scene where Wimsey goes astray on the moors on a foggy night is pure melodrama (Wilkie Collins at his most wuthering), but Sayers defuses the tension with neat irony by tying it into the song "On Ilkley Moor baht'at"What is most interesting about the book, seen as part of the Wimsey "canon", is the way it establishes the relationships between Lord Peter, his brother the Duke, his sister Lady Mary, their mother the Dowager, and Chief Inspector Parker. The Duke is accused of murdering Mary's fiancé: we know, of course, that Wimsey will be able to get him off the hook (any other outcome would pretty much rule out any further Lord Peter novels), but it's an interesting challenge for him, not least because the Duke refuses to explain where he was on the night in question, while Mary's evidence at the inquest conflicts with the other witnesses.
  • (5/5)
    This is probably my second favorite of the Wimsey novels, after Murder Must Advertise, particularly for the trial before the House of Lords --a tradition now ended by later legal reform.
  • (4/5)
    Lord Peter Wimsey’s brother Gerald is arrested and accused of the murder of his sisters boyfriend. Wimsey hurries home from his vacation on Corsica and goes to work - with his “partner”, detective Palmer and his manservant Bunter. Mary, Peter’s sister, is also under suspicion as her story doesn’t hold water - a lot is at stake here for Peter - and there’s more action in this one - Wimsey is shot at (twice), are in severe danger in a swamp and have to endure a lot before the case is closed.
  • (5/5)
    The plot is absurdly complicated, amusingly so. There are no end of intrigues in the country house where the murder takes place.

    But that's not the joy of reading a Sayers' novel: the pleasure is all in the humor. Wimsey acting a fool, Bunter's magical ability to produce anything needed, Mary's good heart, and the Dowager's formidable control of everything. It's Downton Abbey written by Oscar Wilde.

    Personal copy
  • (3/5)
    I continue to stumble my way through Golden Age mysteries in an attempt to understand what so many other readers enjoy in them. So far, my only real success has been with Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley, but I am determined to emerge triumphant with Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey. I have to admit that it's been a bit of a hard slog. Perhaps I should just jump ahead to the book in which Harriet Vane makes her appearance?The largest part of Lord Peter's investigation in Clouds of Witness seemed to be crawling around on the floor staring at the carpet, and I was about ready to admit defeat when Wimsey's sister finally decided to tell the truth. Then the mystery really began to get somewhere. I am glad that I soldiered on to the end because I do see glimmers of what this series will be in snippets of conversation between characters, and that "lost in the fog in the bog" scene is marvelous. I do enjoy historical mysteries, but I am most definitely a 21st-century reader, so I do sometimes doubt the wisdom behind my dabbling into these fabled waters... but it is for the very reason that these mysteries are fabled that I can't leave them alone!
  • (3/5)
    I fear I might have been really lucky with Gaudy Night (which I think is a masterpiece). Sayers has been disappointing ever since I started to read Peter in order. Oh well. I'll keep on reading and see if it gets better.
    The story's fairly good but the writing is incredibly heavy and the pacing is wrong - it's way too slow. I also was relatively indifferent to all the characters, which didn't help. Some funny moments mostly to do with Peter's personality but all in all frankly a bit of a bore.
  • (5/5)
    Every now and then I have to have a visit with Lord Peter Wimsey. He is my favorite, bar none, detective. Archie Goodwin is second, for when I'm not feeling so refined.Read this book recently with a group and found it interesting how much character growth there is, and yet the characters are well established. We just get to know them better. Mostly the Wimsey family, but Parker, Bunter and Mr. Murbles, some of my favorite characters are given good play here.
  • (4/5)
    Lord Peter's family is thrown into suspicion when his brother is accused of murder. The Duke of Denver is obstinate in his refusal to defend himself. Lord Peter tries to unravel the case. He finds multiple infidelities and secret affairs. Much of this book shows Wimsey interacting with his family. The book takes place at the family estate. Wimsey is delightfully snarky when dealing with his relations. Several of the chapters of this book are written as transcripts of newspaper articles or courtroom testimony, and I found that format to be somewhat tedious. I definitely prefer straight narrative. This is not my favorite Wimsey book, but lesser Sayers is still greater than many other options.
  • (5/5)
    While this, the second of Sayers’ Wimsey books, is a longer and more discursive volume than the first, its greater length is not due to padding. In fact what the reader is presented with is a fine and nuanced examination of English society and culture in the decade after the end of the “Great War” and before the onset of worldwide depression. England is changing and yet England has not yet changed. The class system is not what it once was and yet the class system still functions. Education is no longer solely the privilege of the upper and monied classes and yet markers of education are still evident in interactions among people. The story itself is structured much like an onion with layers that must be peeled away in order to discover what lies at the center. The reader will find, especially upon subsequent readings, that the nature of the center is not what they thought it to be and that each layer deserves to be carefully examined upon removal.Warning: beyond here lie spoilers.The opening of the book seems simple and straightforward. Lord Peter Wimsey discovers, while in Parisian hotel returning from a “get away” holiday on Corsica, that his brother, the Duke of Denver, has been charged with murder. Wimsey dashes to his brothers’ side in England only to find that Denver is no more willing to explain to Lord Peter his mysterious behaviour on the night in question than he was to his lawyer. Wimsey, even if he had not previously done work as amateur detective, would no doubt have done everything he could to free his brother. The reader is, however, gently and wittily reminded by Sayers, that his efforts might not have been received in the same fashion were it not for his social ranking, “[t]he Police Superintendent at Ripley received Lord Peter at first frigidly, and later, when he found out who he was, with a mixture of the official attitude to private detectives and the official attitude to a Duke's son.”Sayers provides us with many examples of the ways in which Lord Peter, and his family, exist in a world that fundamentally differs from that of most people living in England at the time. For example, Wimsey had been unaware of his brother’s plight because Lord Peter was on holiday in Corsica. He rushes back to England and then returns to Paris to track down evidence of Denver’s innocence. He is then able to expedite travel to the United States because of his access to important people:"His next appearance was at the American Embassy.The Ambassador, however, was not there, having received a royal mandate to dine. Wimsey damned the dinner, abandoned the polite, horn-rimmed secretaries, and leapt back into his taxi with a demand to be driven to Buckingham Palace. Here a great deal of insistence with scandalised officials produced first a higher official, then a very high official, and, finally, the American Ambassador and a Royal Personage while the meat was yet in their mouths."Finally, in order to return in a timely manner from America with the evidence to prove his brother’s innocence, Wimsey takes to the air. The unusualness of this is underlined in Denver’s legal representative announcement to the House of Lords. Wimsey, he tells them:"[is] at this moment . . . cleaving the air high above the wide Atlantic. In this wintry weather he is braving a peril which would appall any heart but his own and that of the world-famous aviator whose help he has enlisted so that no moment may be lost in freeing his noble brother from this terrible charge."Contrast Lord Peter’s ability to travel and get access to people and information with Wimsey showing off London to Mrs. Grimethorpe as if it was a foreign land and with Mr. Watchett not having been back to London in the 35 years he had tended bar in Yorkshire. Working class English men and women at that time seldom traveled for pleasure and certainly could not have afforded to holiday in Corsica, stay in Parisian hotels and dash across the Atlantic.Sayer’s provides many other contrasts between the lives of the working and upper classes in England. Wimsey travels to Corsica, “admiring from a cautious distance the wild beauty of Corsican peasant-women, and studying the vendetta in its natural haunt. In such conditions murder seemed not only reasonable, but lovable.” He returns to England to almost lose his life in a bog in Yorkshire and to have his life threatened by a Yorkshireman who felt he had a right to kill any man who stepped on his property or looked at his wife. What Wimsey found lovable in “wilds of Corsica” he found anything but when it happened at home and to him. Mrs. Grimethorpe, threatened, beaten and living her life in fear is terrified to leave her husband because she knows that even if she is able to sue for divorce the legal system will not offer her adequate protection. Lady Mary Wimsey, on the other hand, is protected by her family from the consequences of her bad choices in men. The jeweled mascot given to Cathcart by his mistress, Simone, was worth 5000 francs (which would roughly translate into between 45 and 50 pounds sterling in 1925) while Mr. Groyles was willing to elope with Lady Mary on between 6 and 7 £s a week. Sayers builds her story around the fact that all of us lie for reasons that seem important to us. Lady Mary lies to her brother about Cathcart in order to gain independence from her family. She lies to the police to protect Groyles when she thought he might have committed murder. Denver lies about his affair with another woman to protect that woman from her husband. Mrs. Grimethorpe lies in order to protect her own life. In fact, the only crimes that would have taken place had so many individuals not lied would have been Cathcart’s suicide (if that is to be considered a crime) and the inevitable, and likely deadly, assault that Grimethorpe would have made on his wife had he had more proof that she was being unfaithful to him. Sayers draws a picture, in this book, of the vast gulf between the classes in England and of the grim circumstances faced by so many women of the time. Mrs. Grimethorpe is not rescued from the brutality of her married life by the intervention of the law but by the accidental death of her husband without which there was little any legal power in England could do save her. Lady Mary was willing to sell herself into a marriage without love in order to gain some independence from her family. Simone was willing to sell herself to the highest bidder in order to have physical luxury and a chance to lay a bit aside for the days when her beauty no longer paid her way. Sayers, herself, could not legally be awarded a degree when she finished her time studying at Oxford in 1915 and was among the first to be awarded a degree when that rule was changed. In Clouds of Witness she took the opportunity to witness to the world through the medium of a cozy mystery novel the difficult realities of life for women and the working class in the England of 1926.
  • (4/5)
    When Lord Peter Wimsey finds out his brother the Duke has been accused of murder, he hightails it over to try to sort it out. Who really killed his sister's fiance, Denis Cathcart? Lord Peter may find out a few family secrets by the time he's finished detecting...This entertaining second book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series could easily be read as a standalone. Lord Peter reminds me a lot of Bertie Wooster with his prattling and his valet. The twists and turns of the plot kept me guessing until quite close to the end. The adventures of Lord Peter as he gets to the bottom of things generally kept me amused, and sometimes provoked a laugh. I didn't fall head-over-heels in love with it, but I'd be willing to keep reading the series.
  • (2/5)
    Way too much writing in dialect. I recognize the urge to represent speech as an extension of character, but: why not leave some room for the imagination? Obviously an early entry in the series, Sayers still finding her feet as a mystery writer and possibly tossing off however many pages of hyperactive/manic camp because mysteries are what she wrote to make money. Happy for her gradual move away from preciousness and towards thoughtfulness in her later writing. The contrast between Clouds of Witness and Gaudy Night is almost shocking.
  • (5/5)
    Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle. A re-read. [I find LibraryThing's method of handling editions confusing - I would never buy the CreateSpace version listed here. The Wimsey series just cries out for a really good boxed-set edition, but failing that, the one to collect, if you can, is the Gollancz hardcover.]One thing I always appreciate about the Wimsey stories is that each book has a distinct character. In Clouds of Witness the pace is fast and frenetic, with a wildly confusing murder mystery at the center, and yet Sayers does more to develop her characters here than in some of the other books. The mystery itself almost takes second place to the doings of Wimsey's family, placing Wimsey himself very firmly in a distinct social setting, his home turf where he seems more real than in many of the other books. He doesn't show off nearly as much when he's in the countryside, either; I can't help feeling that, titles aside, this is a depiction of the sort of society Sayers was raised in before she went off to London.I also enjoy the sketch of Wimsey's sister Lady Mary Wimsey, who turns up in later novels but only as a cardboard cutout (his brother Gerald never gets his character developed, which is a great shame). Watching Parker go all chivalrous and defensive of her is always amusing, albeit out of character. Mary is real in this book: later on, the Wimsey family becomes more and more a caricature of a noble English household, and Mary becomes a boring housewife, alas. Plenty happens to Wimsey in this book: he gets chased by dogs, shot, falls into a bog, and flies across the Atlantic (in the 1920s that was a noteworthy adventure). I have never seen a bullet wound heal with such great speed and thoroughness.There is an absolutely priceless little cameo of two writers talking about the trends of the day, something Sayers is able to pick up in the later novels once she writes herself in as Wimsey's love interest when Harriet Vane comes along.I absolutely zipped through this novel (which was supposed to be strictly a post-workout cool down read but ended up as a Main Book) despite having read it several times before. And that really defines the enduring success of the Wimsey novels; they're downright entertaining, and despite (or because of?) being set so firmly in a lost era, never seem to age.
  • (3/5)
    Still good fun, although I found the pace and complexity a little much after Whose Body? and the ending not entirely satisfactory - it seemed like it was all red herrings until the clue was produced literally in the nick of time that changed everything. Not bad, but not my favorite so far.
  • (3/5)
    Once more Dorothy Sayers brings forth an admirable cast of characters including Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur sleuth; Bunter, his excellent manservant; Lord Peter's brother, the Duke of Denver, who has been accused of murder; Lord Peter's indomitable mother, the Dowager Duchess; Inspector Parker, whose investigating is hampered by his falling in love with Lady Mary Wimsey, Lord Peter's sister who is withholding information about the case, and a host of colorful local villagers. Wonderful window into the life of the nobility in 1920s England with fortunes still intact and servants to care for every need. One must have some French and be well-read in Shakespeare and other great writer's of the past to catch the asides of this most intelligent, witty and insightful writer of mystery.
  • (3/5)
    *I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*When Lord Peter Wimsey hears the news of the tragedy that has happened to his family he does not hesitate to return immediately to England, nor does he rests before unfolding the whole truth about what happened that fatal night. The case seems fairly simple to the police: Gerald, Peter's brother, is accused of murdering Denis Cathcart, their sister's Mary fiancé. Peter doesn't believe his brother is guilty, but the fact that he had had a previous fight with Cathcart and the fact that he has been found by Mary lying over the dead man's body when the body was discovered seem to reinforce his culpability.But certainly Mary does not believe her own brother is guilty, right? And what is wrong with her? Why is she permanently indisposed and incapable of giving statement? And why does Gerald refuse to tell where he was at the time of the murder? What secrets was the murdered fiancé keeping and who else had a reason to want him dead? These are some of the questions Lord Peter sets out to respond, counting with the always precious help of Inspector Parker.I really liked the puzzle and its resolution, but I have to admit the resolution process was a bit tedious. That's perhaps why it took me almost a month to finish it. Also the way the author chose to tell us the story, resorting to a newspaper story to describe the crime inicially and a letter to unveil the ending, is not one of my favorites, I much prefer to have the action described as it's happening because I'm able to live it more intensely.This doesn't mean I'm going to give up on this series because I intend to keep following the cases of this charming amateur detective.
  • (3/5)
    Clouds of Witness opens with Lord Peter returning from a vacation in Corsica, on the advice of Sir Julian Freke in the wake of the "Battersea Mystery" (ie, the events in Whose Body?). His leisurely stopover in Paris turns into a rush home because his brother, the Duke of Denver has been arrested for the murder of Captain Denis Cathcart, who was engaged to their younger sister, Lady Mary Wimsey. The three of them, along with some additional guests (2 couples and Freddy Arbuthnot, a frequent supporting character) were staying at Riddlesdale Lodge in Yorkshire, supposedly for a hunting holiday. This is the closest view we get of Lord Peter’s family, and the book where Charles and Mary meet. The events leading up to the death of Captain Cathcart are a collision course of hidden agendas on the parts of Gerald, Duke of Denver, Captain Cathcart, and Lady Mary. Both Gerald and Mary have something to hide, leading to confusion, suspicion, perjury, stonewalling, and false confession, not to mention misunderstandings, mistaken assumptions, and misperceptions of the various bystander witnesses. Lord Peter and Charles must go to great lengths to follow the case: the wild moors of Yorkshire, Captain Cathcart’s apartment in Paris, the Soviet Club in London. Mr Murbles and Sir Impey Biggs are both frustrated with the lack of cooperation by their ducal client. The case goes all the way to trial in the House of Lords, with all of the archaic pageantry and tabloid headlines. It’s played for maximum melodrama, including a secret witness and an eleventh hour overseas flight in a two-seater airplane during a thunderstorm to secure the critical evidence and the courtroom denouement.
  • (4/5)
    The second in Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey series. He's still clever, yet Woosterish at times, and he comes to the wrong conclusion more than once before hitting on the solution. To begin, Lord Peter's future brother-in-law is found dead of a gunshot wound to the chest on the family premises; Peter's brother, the Duke, is suspected and arrested, but will say nothing in his own defense. Their sister, the dead man's fiance, begins acting very strangely, shuts herself in her room, and refuses all attentions. There is evidence at the scene that another person, identity unknown, was present on the night in question. Theoretically, this being a Golden Age mystery and Sayers being very particular about the fairness doctrine, the reader should be able to pick up all the necessary clues to solve the case. I quibble. When Lord Peter takes off for Paris, and then for America, to follow up his brainstorm (which is NOT totally shared with the reader), I could certainly see how he came to his deduction, but I could not make the deduction myself. Maybe I just need more practice. I enjoyed this one very much up to a point, and then I got a bit impatient for the reveal. I think there was one too many red herrings in the pot.
  • (4/5)
    Another excellent Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. As usual, it has a good mix of humor and seriousness, and I particularly enjoyed Parker in this one. There's a tendency in fiction about private detectives to portray the police as idiots, and there's a certain amount of that even in the Sayers mysteries, but I've always appreciated Inspector Parker. Parker is, of necessity, more stolid than Lord Peter and of course slightly less brilliant, but he's a very good, honest cop and often keeps Lord Peter from flying off into fantastical scenarios. I also got a huge giggle out of the chapter where Lord Peter meets his sister's "radical" friends.
  • (4/5)
    Clouds of Witness is one of Dorothy Sayers’s earlier Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. It’s definitely not as good as Murder Must Advertise, or The Nine Tailors, but it certainly shows some promise.Having just spent time abroad in Corsica, Lord Peter Wimsey returns to find that his brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver, has been accused of the murder of one of his houseguests at Riddlesdale Lodge, a house rented for the hunting season. The murdered man was Lord Peter and the Duke’s brother-in-law-to-be—so Lord Peter intervenes in what promises to be a sticky mess. It turns out that a lot of people are guilty of a lot of things, and it’s up to Wimsey to sort things out. What I love about this book is that you know who didn’t do it—the fun is in figuring out who did.This book (the second Sayers wrote about Lord Peter, actually) isn’t as strong as some of her later books, but it’s pretty good nonetheless. The identification of the murderer isn’t as important here, though, as is a major twist that’s revealed near the end. Lord Peter himself, with his unusual manner of speaking and varied pursuits, is an endearing character, and it’s easy to see why Peter might have inspired many other gentleman-detectives in fiction (Inspector Linley from Elizabeth George’s books). I thought that Lady Mary was one of the weaker characters (way too many dramatics for me). Clouds of Witness may be the second book in this series (after Whose Body?), but if you’re new to the series, you may want to start with this one—there’s a lot more character development, as well as the introduction of some characters who make recurring appearances throughout the series.
  • (4/5)
    A re-read, probably several times over. In this, Peter is called upon to investigate another murder, although this one involves his brother as suspect. The body of Lady Mary's fiance is found in the conservatory of the shooting lodge, with the duke bending over him, Mary leaps to the obvious (and wrong) conclusion, that Gerald did it. From there, it all goes downhill fast for Gerald, who refuses to say what he was doing. It all falls on Peter and Charles Parker to unravel the various mysteries that have enmeshed themselves around the 3 am discovery. Some fabulous side characters in this, although the level of co-incidence is markedly high. Peter discovers who did what and how, as usual, but it's a close run thing.
  • (3/5)
    Another fun British murder mystery, the second I've read with Lord Peter Wimsey. Getting to be familiar with the characters, most of whom are pretty likeable, even though they are British aristocrats. This was a good plane ride book!
  • (4/5)
    Another great one. Beautiful language!
  • (4/5)
    The second in the series, with a much better paced plot and clues. Lord Peter's brother, Gerald, is charged with the murder of Denis Cathcart, who is engaged to marry Lady Mary, sister to Gerald and Peter. Gerald and Mary appear to have discovered the body at the same moment in the middle of the night, but each seems to have something to hide which prevents them from telling the truth. More of a detective story, with less humour and sadly less of Bunter than the first, but a satisfactory ending.
  • (4/5)
    Clouds of Witness, the second Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, brings the action close to home for the amateur detective. Peter’s elder brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver, has been indicted for the murder of Denis Cathcart, who had been engaged to Peter’s and Gerald’s younger sister, Lady Mary. And that young woman isn’t telling everything she knows, not by a long shot. Nor is Gerald, for that matter. Even the dead man has his secrets.Mysterious accomplices, ducal discretion, a brush with death in the peat bog, a final solution discovered by the most coincidental (providential?) means — this is a Dorothy Sayers mystery and the characters all play up to their roles. Peter is, as always, the witty and disarming peer whom everyone underestimates. Parker is his faithful sidekick, willing to take on the drudge work but also quite a keen thinker himself. And don’t forget the efficient Bunter, whose resemblance to Jeeves grows more and more pronounced every time I meet him.I’m reading the series hopelessly out of order, and it is fun to see the early developments of later events (like in this book, the beginning of Parker’s admiration of Lady Mary). Interesting too is Lord Peter’s own development; his look of benign idiocy isn’t quite perfected yet in this early story. But the Lord Peter/Parker partnership is well in hand, and the Dowager Duchess’s brief appearances confirm her as one of the more delightful minor characters ever penned.Though this was an entertaining and well-written mystery, I didn’t find it quite up to the best of the Lord Peter stories. But Sayers’s average effort is another author’s masterpiece, and there are few detectives I enjoy more than the intelligent and charming Lord Peter Wimsey. Recommended.
  • (3/5)
    This mystery with Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet, Bunter, has them working diligently to clear Lord Peter's brother (the Duke of Denver) of a murder charge. The characters include not only the Duke of Denver, but Peter's sister Lady Mary, his Mother the dowager Duchess, colorful villagers, and a few political malcontents.Again this mystery was written in the early part of the 20th century but it was still entertaining and challenging for the reader.
  • (4/5)
    The second book in her Lord Peter Wimsey series, Clouds of Witness has Lord Peter trying to clear his brother of a murder charge. Aided by his faithful valet, Bunter, and his police Chief Inspector friend, Parker, they embark on witness interviewing and clue gathering, knowing full well that Lord Denver is incapable of murder, even though he refuses to alibi himself.With their ingenious detective skills they wade through the evidence, and realize that Lord Denver is not the only one who is not telling the exact truth, Lord Peter’s sister Mary, who was the fiancée of the murder victim, is also bending the facts and evading the truth.With great skill Dorothy L. Sayers weaves a delightful mystery with multiple storylines and a few red herrings to keep the reader on their toes. Lord Peter is a intriguing character, and one that I definitely want to continue to follow. I particularly love the brittle, humorous dialogue that puts an upper crust edge to this story of clearing the family name.
  • (5/5)
    Another wonderful title by Sayers and not to be missed.