Though the past couple of days have been quite busy, Strong Poison is quite short. This is the first Wimsey-Vane book; Harriet Vane is a mystery novelist on trial for poisoning her former lover—doubly scandalous in 1930. Peter Wimsey has fallen in love at first sight, and, when the jury deadlocks, determines to solve the case and prove her innocent.
Of course Harriet, being in prison, doesn't get much screen time, though some of her personality comes through. But the real surprise in re-reading this is Peter, who is barely recognizable as the same person from Gaudy Night. Consider this passage, when Peter goes to propose both marriage and assistance to Harriet (in their first conversation):
"Oh, by the way—I don't positively repel you or anything like that, do I? Because, if I do, I'll take my name off the waiting-list at once."
"No," said Harriet Vane, kindly and a little sadly. "No, you don't repel me."
"I don't remind you of white slugs or make you go gooseflesh all over?"
"I'm glad of that. Any minor alterations, like parting the old mane, or growing a tooth-brush, or cashiering the eye-glass, you know, I should be happy to undertake, if it suited your ideas."
"Don't," said Miss Vane, "please don't alter yourself in any particular."
"You really mean that?" Wimsey flushed a little. "I hope it doesn't mean that nothing I could do would make me even passable. . . . You—er—you'll think it over, won't you, if you have a minute to spare. There's no hurry. Only don't hesitate to say if you think you couldn't stick it at any price. I'm not trying to blackmail you into matrimony, you know. I mean, I should investigate this for the fun of the thing, whatever happened, you see. . . . Well, cheer-frightfully-ho and all that. And I'll call again, if I may."
"I will give the footman orders to admit you," said the prisoner, gravely; "you will always find me at home."
I mean, it's almost Miles Vorkosigian in full sexual panic mode, but with an English accent. (You might miss the full effect because I cut out some of the babbling, but the quote was feeling too long. [We take a very scientific approach to posting here at Outside of a Dog.])
Compare that to this passage from Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet meet on the street and decide to go for a drive to discuss the latest happenings in the Poison-Pen mystery:
"We'll dawdle along the lanes and have tea somewhere," he added, conventionally, as he handed her in.
"How original of you, Peter!"
"Isn't it?" They moved decorously down the crowded High Street. "There's something hypnotic about the word tea. I am asking you to enjoy the beauties of the English countryside, to tell me your adventures and hear mine, to plan a campaign involving the comfort and reputation of two hundred people, to honour me with your sole presence and bestow upon me the illusion of Paradise—and I speak as though the pre-eminent object of all desire were a pot of boiled water and a plateful of synthetic pastries in Ye Olde Worlde Tudor Tea-Shoppe."
Obviously someone easily intoxicated by words, but still capable of coherence—and I didn't even pick one of the more emotionally charged conversations, feeling obscurely that it would be unfair, the difference being so great.
I like the Peter of Gaudy Night far better.
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