When I began a year-long project of reading and re-reading my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey saga in chronological order in January, I resolved not to write about the Sherlock Holmes references. But with Strong Poison, the fifth novel, my resolution has crumbled.
Author Dorothy L. Sayers was, of course, a notable Holmes devotee and scholar who figured out that Dr. Watson’s middle name is Hamish. It’s not surprising that most of her books show the influence of the Baker Street. In Strong Poison, that's true to a glaring degree.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned before his most famous creation, however. Wimsey’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, is speaking in her roundabout way in Chapter III: “I don’t suppose detective writers detect much in real life, do they, except Edgar Wallace of course, who seems to be everywhere, and dear old Conan Doyle . . .”
She goes on to allude to the cases of Oscar Slater and George Edalji, whose innocence “dear old Canon Doyle” had worked to establish. She might also have mentioned ACD's speculations in the disappearance of her fellow mystery writer, Agatha Christie! Conan Doyle died in 1930, the year Strong Poison hit the shelves.
Later in the novel, one of the other characters describes her method of amateur sleuthing by saying: "I merely proceed on the old Sherlock Holmes basis, that when you have eliminated the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be true."
That's clearly Holmes's favorite axiom, uttered on at least four occasions. But Wimsey, rather pettishly, observes that, "Dupin said that before Sherlock." Later, though, he himself paraphrases another of Holmes's signature lines:
"I see nothing at all," said Freddy."That, as Sherlock Holmes would say, is what you may expect to see when there is nothing there," said Wimsey kindly.
Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey, whose literary careers overlapped although their sleuthing careers did not, are very different sorts of detectives. But Lord Peter walked in the footsteps of the Master - and his creator knew it.