Although I am normally a fan of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, The Five Red Herrings is exactly the novel I’m talking about when I say that I don’t care for the Golden Age mysteries full of railway timetables. This type of novel boils down to a puzzle designed to confuse the reader with a lot of detail. I do like Lord Peter, but I like him better when I have to keep track of fewer things.
Lord Peter is visiting an artists’ colony in Scotland when a painter is found dead. He is Sandy Campbell, a talented artist but one who also has a talent for getting drunk and picking fights. He is found in a stream with his half-finished painting on the bank high above, and the reasonable explanation is that he accidentally fell to his death. However, Lord Peter immediately notices inconsistencies that make it impossible for Campbell to have painted the picture.
Whoever the murderer is, he or she must also have been a talented painter, for the picture is exactly in Campbell’s style. Six other artists in the area who had quarrels with Campbell have enough ability to be the killer. Some of them have convincing alibis, and the solution revolves around–yes–railway timetables.
As usual, Lord Peter is entertaining. His man Bunter is not as much in evidence as in other novels, which is a little disappointing, but Sayers capably depicts a group of colorful suspects.