During her court trial, Lord Peter Wimsey finds himself falling head over heels in love with defendant Harriet Vane who is charged with murdering her former lover, Philip Boyes, with arsenic. At their first meeting, he proposes to her - but will she accept? And even more important, can he prove her innocent of all charges when all evidence is pointing at her?
"Strong Poison" is my first foray into the world of Lord Peter Wimsey. This book came highly recommended and despite its slow start I can see why. And perhaps I'm so taken with it because there are certain obvious similarities to my favourite series of books, the Vorkosigan-saga by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Like Miles, Wimsey appears to be the sort of person that only has two settings: full throttle - or full stop, there's nothing in between. He was convinced of Harriet's innocence from the start, and followed through on his hunch no matter what. Of course, it helped having a ready cast of supporters available that he could persuade to not stand in his way or to do the menial work of actually gathering the concrete proof supporting his hunch. He certainly has a hand in picking the right persons for these jobs, if nothing else.
Let's just take Miss Climpson, who's asked to procure the will of Boyes' great-aunt which might just put a new spin on the whole question of motive. Her seances with the old aunt's nurse had me in stitches, the absolute highlight of this story - but who, other than a real pro at these spiritual things, could have influenced these sessions in such a way to achieve her goal? Miss Climpson was the right person in the right place at the right time. And that again, says something about Wimsey's ability to judge people and situations.
The other example is Miss Murchison who was planted in Peter's prime suspect's office. And last but not least, you need a police officer who's willing to overlook the way just *how* the evidence was procured but who's nevertheless willing to act on it. I guess, it doesn't hurt all that much that said police officer is Peter's future brother-in-law...
I said in the beginning that this novel starts quite slowly, and frankly, considering that the first 20-30 pages just consist of a recounting of Vane's trial, I was on the verge of putting this book down. I'm glad I didn't, and my reward was that the way to expose the real perpetrator was quite a unique one and, thus, slowly managed to grip my attention. I can't even say exactly why, because the result was clear from the start, but the setting and consequently the moral opinion and prejudice involved in the trial, and of course, all the twists and turns, as well as Peter's ideas and his handling and manipulating of people... and his ultimately losing the fight closest to his heart (at least at this stage), i.e. Harriet's refusal to marry him... simply had me on the edge of my seat. To have the woman, who he saved from the gallows, refuse him adds a very humble and human touch to a character who appears to be handed everything on a silver platter, including the devotion of the people around him.
I'm certainly looking forward to reading more of Lord Peter Wimsey's adventures - and whether he'll finally get the woman of his dreams. Granted, it's more of a question of *when* rather than of *whether*...