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The five red herrings, p.1
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       The Five Red Herrings, p.1

         Part #6 of Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers
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The Five Red Herrings

  Five Red Herrings

  Dorothy L. Sayers

  First published in Great Britain in 1931 by Victor Gollancz Ltd

  Hodder and Stoughton: a division of Hodder Headline

  Introduction © Susan Elizabeth George 2003

  The right of Dorothy L. Sayers to be identified as the Author

  of the Work has been asserted in accordance with the

  Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

  stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

  means without the prior written permission of the publisher,

  nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other

  than that in which it is published and without a similar

  condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  All characters in this publication are fictitious

  and any resemblance to real persons,

  living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  A CIP catalogue record for this title

  is available from the British Library

  Epub ISBN 9781848943711

  Book ISBN 9780450012488

  Hodder and Stoughton

  A division of Hodder Headline

  338 Euston Road

  London NW1 3BH


  To my friend Joe Dignam,

  kindliest of landlords

  Dear Joe, –

  Here at last is your book about Gatehouse and Kirkcudbright. All the places are real places and all the trains are real trains, and all the landscapes are correct, except that I have run up a few new houses here and there. But you know better than anybody that none of the people are in the least like the real people, and that no Galloway artist would ever think of getting intoxicated or running away from his wife or bashing a fellow-citizen over the head. All that is just put in for fun and to make it more exciting.

  If I have accidentally given any real person’s name to a nasty character, please convey my apologies to that person, and assure him or her that it was entirely unintentional. Even bad characters have to be called something. And please tell Provost Laurie that though this story is laid in the petrol-gas period, I have not forgotten that Gatehouse will now have its electric light by which to read this book.

  And if you should meet Mr. Millar of the Ellangowan Hotel, or the station-master at Gatehouse, or the booking-clerks at Kirkcudbright, or any of the hundred-and-one kindly people who so patiently answered my questions about railway-tickets and omnibuses and the old mines over at Creetown, give them my very best thanks for their assistance and my apologies for having bothered them so.

  Give my love to everybody, not forgetting Felix, and tell Mrs. Dignam that we shall come back next summer to eat some more potato-scones at the Anwoth.

  Dorothy L. Sayers.


  I came to the wonderful detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers in a way that would probably make that distinguished novelist spin in her grave. Years ago, actor Ian Carmichael starred in the film productions of a good chunk of them, which I eventually saw on my public television station in Huntington Beach, California. I recall the host of the show reciting the impressive, salient details of Sayers’ life and career – early female graduate of Oxford, translator of Dante, among other things – and I was much impressed. But I was even more impressed with her delightful sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and I soon sought out her novels.

  Because I had never been – and still am not today – a great reader of detective fiction, I had not heard of this marvellous character. I quickly became swept up in everything about him: from his foppish use of language to his family relations. In very short order, I found myself thoroughly attached to Wimsey, to his calm and omnipresent manservant Bunter, to the Dowager Duchess of Denver (was ever there a more deliciously alliterative title?), to the stuffy Duke and the unbearable Duchess of Denver, to Viscount St. George, to Charles Parker, to Lady Mary . . . In Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels, I found the sort of main character I loved when I turned to fiction: someone with a ‘real’ life, someone who wasn’t just a hero who conveniently had no relations to mess up the workings of the novelist’s plot.

  Dorothy L. Sayers, as I discovered, had much to teach me both as a reader and as a future novelist. While many detective novelists from the Golden Age of mystery kept their plots pared down to the requisite crime, suspects, clues, and red herrings, Sayers did not limit herself to so limited a canvas in her work. She saw the crime and its ensuing investigation as merely the framework for a much larger story, the skeleton – if you will – upon which she could hang the muscles, organs, blood vessels and physical features of a much larger tale. She wrote what I like to call the tapestry novel, a book in which the setting is realised (from Oxford, to the dramatic coast of Devon, to the flat bleakness of the Fens), in which throughout both the plot and the subplots the characters serve functions surpassing that of mere actors on the stage of the criminal investigation, in which themes are explored, in which life and literary symbols are used, in which allusions to other literature abound. Sayers, in short, did what I call ‘taking no prisoners’ in her approach to the detective novel. She did not write down to her readers; rather, she assumed that her readers would rise to her expectations of them.

  I found in her novels a richness that I had not previously seen in detective fiction. I became absorbed in the careful application of detail that characterized her plots: whether she was educating me about bell ringing in The Nine Tailors, about the unusual uses of arsenic in Strong Poison, about the beauties of architectural Oxford in Gaudy Night. She wrote about everything from cryptology to vinology, making unforgettable that madcap period between wars that marked the death of an overt class system and heralded the beginning of an insidious one.

  What continues to be remarkable about Sayers’ work, however, is her willingness to explore the human condition. The passions felt by characters created eighty years ago are as real today as they were then. The motives behind people’s behavior are no more complex now than they were in 1923 when Lord Peter Wimsey took his first public bow. Times have changed, rendering Sayers’ England in so many ways unrecognizable to today’s reader. But one of the true pleasures inherent to picking up a Sayers novel now is to see how the times in which we live alter our perceptions of the world around us, while doing nothing at all to alter the core of our humanity.

  When I first began my own career as a crime novelist, I told people that I would rest content if my name was ever mentioned positively in the same sentence as that of Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m pleased to say that that occurred with the publication of my first novel. If I ever come close to offering the reader the details and delights that Sayers offered in her Wimsey novels, I shall consider myself a success indeed.

  The reissuing of a Sayers novel is an event, to be sure. As successive generations of readers welcome her into their lives, they embark upon an unforgettable journey with an even more unforgettable companion. In time of dire and immediate trouble, one might well call upon a Sherlock Holmes for a quick solution to one’s trials. But for the balm that reassures one about surviving the vicissitudes of life, one could do no better than to anchor onto a Lord Peter Wimsey.

  Elizabeth George

  Huntington Beach, California

  May 27, 2003


  If one lives in Galloway, one either fishes or paints. ‘Either’ is perhaps misleading, for most of the painters are fishers also in their spare time. To be neither of these things is considered odd and almost eccentric. Fish is the standard topic of
conversation in the pub and the post-office, in the garage and the street, with every sort of person, from the man who arrives for the season with three Hardy rods and a Rolls-Royce, to the man who leads a curious, contemplative life, watching the salmon-nets on the Dee. Weather, which in other parts of the Kingdom is gauged by the standards of the farmer, the gardener, and the weekender, is considered in Galloway in terms of fish and paint. The fisherman-painter has the best of the bargain as far as the weather goes, for the weather that is too bright for the trout deluges his hills and his sea with floods of radiant colour; the rain that interrupts picture-making puts water into the rivers and the lochs and sends him hopefully forth with rod and creel; while on cold dull days, when there is neither purple on the hills nor fly on the river, he can join a friendly party in a cosy bar and exchange information about Cardinals and March Browns, and practise making intricate knots in gut.

  The artistic centre of Galloway is Kirkcudbright, where the painters form a scattered constellation, whose nucleus is in the High Street, and whose outer stars twinkle in remote hillside cottages, radiating brightness as far as Gatehouse-of-Fleet. There are large and stately studios, panelled and high, in strong stone houses filled with gleaming brass and polished oak. There are workaday studios – summer perching-places rather than settled homes – where a good north light and a litter of brushes and canvas form the whole of the artistic stock-in-trade. There are little homely studios, gay with blue and red and yellow curtains and odd scraps of pottery, tucked away down narrow closes and adorned with gardens, where old-fashioned flowers riot in the rich and friendly soil. There are studios that are simply and solely barns, made beautiful by ample proportions and high-pitched rafters, and habitable by the addition of a tortoise stove and a gas-ring. There are artists who have large families and keep domestics in cap and apron; artists who engage rooms, and are taken care of by landladies; artists who live in couples or alone, with a woman who comes in to clean; artists who live hermit-like and do their own charing. There are painters in oils, painters in water-colours, painters in pastel, etchers and illustrators, workers in metal; artists of every variety, having this one thing in common – that they take their work seriously and have no time for amateurs.

  Into this fishing and painting community, Lord Peter Wimsey was received on friendly and even affectionate terms. He could make a respectable cast, and he did not pretend to paint, and therefore, though English and an ‘incomer’, gave no cause of offence. The Southron is tolerated in Scotland on the understanding that he does not throw his weight about, and from this peculiarly English vice Lord Peter was laudably free. True, his accent was affected and his behaviour undignified to a degree, but he had been weighed in the balance over many seasons and pronounced harmless, and when he indulged in any startling eccentricity, the matter was dismissed with a shrug and a tolerant, ‘Christ, it’s only his lordship.’

  Wimsey was in the bar of the McClellan Arms on the evening that the unfortunate dispute broke out between Campbell and Waters. Campbell, the landscape painter, had had maybe one or two more wee ones than was absolutely necessary, especially for a man with red hair, and their effect had been to make him even more militantly Scottish than usual. He embarked on a long eulogy of what the Jocks had done in the Great War, only interrupting his tale to inform Waters in parenthesis that all the English were of mongrel ancestry and unable even to pronounce their own bluidy language.

  Waters was an Englishman of good yeoman stock, and, like all Englishmen, was ready enough to admire and praise all foreigners except dagoes and niggers, but, like all Englishmen, he did not like to hear them praise themselves. To boast loudly in public of one’s own country seemed to him indecent – like enlarging on the physical perfections of one’s own wife in a smoking room. He listened with that tolerant, petrified smile which the foreigner takes, and indeed quite correctly takes, to indicate a self-satisfaction so impervious that it will not even trouble to justify itself.

  Campbell pointed out that all the big administrative posts in London were held by Scotsmen, that England had never succeeded in conquering Scotland, that if Scotland wanted Home Rule, by God, she would take it, that when certain specified English regiments had gone to pieces they had had to send for Scottish officers to control them, and that when any section of the front line had found itself in a tight place, its mind was at once relieved by knowing that the Jocks were on its left. ‘You ask anybody who was in the War, my lad,’ he added, acquiring in this way an unfair advantage over Waters, who had only just reached fighting age when the War ended, ‘they’ll tell you what they thought of the Jocks.’

  ‘Yes,’ said Waters, with a disagreeable sneer, ‘I know what they said, “they skite too much.”’

  Being naturally polite and in a minority, he did not add the remainder of that offensive quotation, but Campbell was able to supply it for himself. He burst into an angry retort, which was not merely nationally, but also personally abusive.

  ‘The trouble with you Scotch,’ said Waters, when Campbell paused to take breath, ‘is that you have an inferiority complex.’

  He emptied his glass in a don’t-careish manner and smiled at Wimsey.

  It was probably the smile even more than the sneer which put the final touch to Campbell’s irritation. He used a few brief and regrettable expressions, and transferred the better part of the contents of his glass to Waters’ countenance.

  ‘Och, noo, Mr. Campbell,’ protested Wullie Murdoch. He did not like these disturbances in his bar.

  But Waters by this time was using even more regrettable language than Campbell as they wrestled together among the broken glass and sawdust.

  ‘I’ll break your qualified neck for this,’ he said savagely, ‘you dirty Highland tyke.’

  ‘Here, chuck it, Waters,’ said Wimsey, collaring him ‘don’t be a fool. The fellow’s drunk.’

  ‘Come away, man,’ said McAdam, the fisherman, enveloping Campbell in a pair of brawny arms. ‘This is no way to behave. Be quiet.’

  The combatants fell apart, panting.

  ‘This won’t do,’ said Wimsey, ‘this isn’t the League of Nations. A plague on both your houses! Have a bit of sense.’

  ‘He called me a –,’ muttered Waters, wiping the whiskey from his face. ‘I’m damned if I’ll stand it. He’d better keep out of my way, that’s all.’ He glared furiously at Campbell.

  ‘You’ll find me if you want me,’ retorted Campbell, ‘I shan’t run away.’

  ‘Now, now, gentlemen,’ said Murdoch.

  ‘He comes here,’ said Campbell, ‘with his damned sneering ways—’

  ‘Nay, Mr. Campbell,’ said the landlord, ‘but ye shuldna ha’ said thae things to him.’

  ‘I’ll say what I damn well like to him,’ insisted Campbell.

  ‘Not in my bar,’ replied Murdoch, firmly.

  ‘I’ll say them in any damn bar I choose,’ said Campbell, ‘and I’ll say it again – he’s a –.’

  ‘Hut!’ said McAdam, ‘ye’ll be thinkin’ better of it in the morning. Come away now – I’ll give ye a lift back to Gatehouse.’

  ‘You be damned,’ said Campbell. ‘I’ve got my own car and I can drive it. And I don’t want to see any of the whole blasted lot of ye again.’

  He plunged out and there was a pause.

  ‘Dear, dear,’ said Wimsey.

  ‘I think I’d best be off out of it too,’ said Waters, sullenly. Wimsey and McAdam exchanged glances.

  ‘Bide a bit,’ said the latter. ‘There’s no need to be in sic a hurry. Campbell’s a hasty man, and when there’s a wee bit drink in him he says mair nor he means.’

  ‘Ay,’ said Murdoch, ‘but he had no call to be layin’ them names to Mr. Waters, none at all. It’s a verra great pity – a verra great pity indeed.’

  ‘I’m sorry if I was rude to the Scotch,’ said Waters, I didn’t mean to be, but I can’t stand that fellow at any price.’

  ‘Och, that’s a’richt,’ said McAdam. ‘Ye meant n
o harm, Mr. Waters. What’ll ye have?’

  ‘Oh, a double Scotch,’ replied Waters, with rather a shamefaced grin.

  ‘That’s right,’ said Wimsey, ‘drown remembrance of the insult in the wine of the country.’

  A man named McGeoch, who had held aloof from the disturbance, rose up and came to the bar.

  ‘Another Worthington,’ he said briefly. ‘Campbell will be getting into trouble one of these days, I shouldn’t wonder. The manners of him are past all bearing. You heard what he said to Strachan up at the golf-course the other day. Making himself out the boss of the whole place. Strachan told him if he saw him on the course again, he’d wring his neck.’

  The others nodded silently. The row between Campbell and the golf-club secretary at Gatehouse had indeed become local history.

  ‘And I would not blame Strachan, neither,’ went on McGeoch. ‘Here’s Campbell only lived two seasons in Gatehouse, and he’s setting the whole place by the ears. He’s a devil when he’s drunk and a lout when he’s sober. It’s a great shame. Our little artistic community has always gotten on well together, without giving offence to anybody. And now there are nothing but rows and bickerings – all through this fellow Campbell.’

  ‘Och,’ said Murdoch, ‘he’ll settle down in time. The man’s no a native o’ these parts and he doesna verra weel understand his place. Forbye, for all his havers, he’s no a Scotsman at a’, for everybody knows he’s fra’ Glasgow, and his mother was an Ulsterwoman, by the name of Flanagan.’

  ‘That’s the sort that talks loodest,’ put in Murray, the banker, who was a native of Kirkwall, and had a deep and not always silent contempt for anybody born south of Wick. ‘But it’s best to pay no attention to him. If he gets what is coming to him, I’m thinking it’ll no be from anybody here.’

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