Crime Writing

Since a friend of mine got me into Dorothy L. Sayers recently, I have been reading through her final novels which feature Harriet Vane. I have just finished Busman’s Honeymoon. I did enjoy the fact that Harriet and Peter were finally married – what an old romantic I am – and, goodness me, Sayers even writes about sex (fairly obliquely, but the narrative certainly doesn’t stop at the bedroom door).

The ending was powerful as the murderer is given the death sentence and we see what effect this has on Wimsey as he struggles with knowing that it was he who brought the perpetrator to justice. Interestingly his psychological state is revealed as fragile because of (what we would now term) PTSD from his service in WW1. All this was completely lost on me when I watched the TV adaptation in the 1970s (or perhaps such subtleties weren’t included?)

Another thing that struck me was Sayers’ use of accents. She really goes for it, especially with the ‘working class’ characters. It is sometimes a bit hard to roll on through, though I could certainly hear the voices in my head, I think she was accurate enough. It is my understanding that in modern novels writers fight shy of representing accents. There’s the concern about getting it right. And also the question about what is an accent? Is there something slightly patronising or disrespectful about representing, say, a Yorkshire accent with ‘t’s instead of ‘the’s while leaving all other characters to parley in ‘received English’? Sayers did make some effort to replicate the upper class talk of Wimsey et al. However, it is the speech of the country folk which definitely comes over as being of the ‘other’.

It has made me wonder, however, whether I could make more of speech patterns in my novel for my characters. Rather than just describing tone or pitch, consider more emphasis placement and the odd dropped letter?

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