Crime Novels and Human Nature

Someone could and probably has written a dissertation or hundreds on crime novels and human nature. Re-reading Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series, I thrill to the keen perception she shows, primarily in the character of Lord Peter, concerning people’s motivations, urges, ambivalences, rivalries, and so on.

(And who couldn’t love a man who says, “I always have a quotation for everything — it saves original thinking.”)

A few examples:

“Parker shook himself free from his tormentors [children], and advanced, breathing threatenings and slaughter, to which the enemy responded by a derisive blast of the horn [of Wimsey’s car].

“‘They’ll run those batteries down,’ said Wimsey.

“‘You can’t do anything with the little devils,” growled Parker.

“‘Why don’t you treat them as human beings”‘ retorted Wimsey. ‘Children are creatures of like passions with politicians and financiers. Here, Esmeralda!’ he added, beckoning to the ringleader.

“The young woman put her tongue out and made a rude gesture, but observing the glint of coin in the outstretched hand, suddenly approached and stood challengingly before them.

“‘Look here,’ said Wimsey, ‘here’s a half-crown — thirty pennies, you know. Any use to you?’

“The child promptly proved her kinship with humanity. She became abashed in the presence of wealth, and was silent, rubbing one dusty shoe upon the calf of her stocking. ”

(Unnatural Death)


“Like all rich men, he had never before paid any attention to advertisements. He had never realized the enormous commercial importance of the comparatively poor. Not on the wealthy, who buy only what they want when they want it, was the vast superstructure of industry founded and built up, but on those who, aching for luxury beyond their reach and for a leisure for ever denied them, could be bullied or wheedled into spending their few hardly won shillings on whatever might give them, if only for a moment, a leisured and luxurious illusion.”

(Murder Must Advertise)


“‘I never let him get close enough to study details.’

“‘That ought to have made him suspicious.’

“‘No, because I was rude to him about it. Everybody suspects an eager desire to curry favour, but rudeness, for some reason, is always accepted as a guarantee of good faith. The only man who ever managed to see through rudeness was St. Augustine, and I don’t suppose Milligan reads the Confessions. Besides, he wanted to believe in me. He’s greedy.”

(Murder Must Advertise)


“‘They’re all alike,’ he said to Bredon, not meaning the cigarettes but the manufacturers. ‘They follow each other like sheep. If Whifflets use large heads of film-stars, Puffins want to come out with still larger heads of still more important stars. If Gasperettes give away timepieces, Puffins follow on with grandfather clocks and Whifflets with chronometers. If Whifflets announce that they don’t damage the lungs, Puffins claim that they strengthen the pulmonary system and Gasperettes quote doctors who recommend them in cases of tuberculosis. They will try to snatch each other’s thunder — and what happens? The public smoke them all in turn, just as they did before.'”

(Murder Must Advertise)


“‘Do you really believe that the head of this particular dope-gang is on Pym’s staff? It sounds quite incredible.’

“‘That’s an excellent reason for believing it. I don’t mean in a credo qula impossible sense, but merely because the staff of a respectable advertising agency would be such an excellent hiding-place for a big crook. The particular crookedness of advertising is so very far removed from the crookedness of dope-trafficking.’

“Why? As far as I can make out, all advertisers are dope-merchants.’

“‘So they are. Yes, now I come to think of it, there is a subtle symmetry about the thing which is extremely artistic.'”

(Murder Must Advertise)


“The firm of Brotherhood believed in ideal conditions for their staff. It was their pet form of Christianity; in addition to which, it looked very well in their advertising literature and was a formidable weapon against the trade unions. Not, of course, that Brotherhood’s had the slightest objection to trade unions as such. They had merely discovered that comfortable and well-fed people are constitutionally disinclined for united action of any sort — a fact which explains the asinine meekness of the income-tax payer.”

(Murder Must Advertise)


Peter was “a bonhomous soul, with the insatiable curiosity of a baby elephant …”

(Murder Must Advertise)


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