Murder Must Advertise
|Author||Dorothy L. Sayers|
|Series||Lord Peter Wimsey|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Preceded by||Have His Carcase|
|Followed by||The Nine Tailors|
Murder Must Advertise is a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, published in 1933. Most of the action takes place in an advertising agency, a setting with which Sayers was very familiar. One of her advertising colleagues, Bobby Bevan, was the inspiration for the character Mr Ingleby.
Wimsey accepts an offer from the highly respectable management of Pym's Publicity, Ltd. (a light disguise for S. H. Bensons, where Sayers worked) to investigate a mystery and avert a scandal. Copywriter Victor Dean has died in a fall down the spiral iron office staircase, but he left a half-finished letter to the management hinting that something potentially scandalous is going on at Pym's.
Under the pseudonym of "Death Bredon" (actually his middle names), Wimsey goes to work at Pym's. He takes over Dean's office and learns his trade while investigating the office staff. He discovers a talent for copywriting and promotion, and produces a campaign which will become one of the firm's most successful.
He also investigates Dean's social life. Dean, for a short time, socialised with "the De Momerie crowd": the cronies of dissolute socialite Dian de Momerie, most of them heavy cocaine users. He met De Momerie's companion, Major Milligan, who appears to be the cocaine supplier for the group. Milligan is linked to a big cocaine-selling ring which Wimsey's friend and brother-in-law Chief Inspector Parker is investigating. Milligan, hearing that Dean worked at Pym's, spoke to him assuming that Dean was the ring's man at Pym's. Dean was surprised, and Milligan shut up – but Dean guessed that someone else at Pym's was involved. Hence the letter to management.
Wimsey plays multiple roles. By day he is Bredon, a distant, impoverished Wimsey cousin who works for a living. Most evenings, he is himself. But on some evenings, "Bredon" dresses up as a masked harlequin, and by various wild stunts draws the attention and company of Dian de Momerie – annoying Major Milligan.
Junior newspaper reporter Hector Puncheon has a beer in a pub, and discovers later that someone put a bag of cocaine in his coat pocket. He must have blundered into a distribution operation, but there's no further sign of anything at that pub. Apparently the ring holds each week's distribution at a different location.
Wimsey continues his probing at Pym's, and learns that one of the senior copywriters, Tallboy, seems to have large amounts of cash.
Puncheon recognises a man who was in the pub the night he was given the cocaine, and follows him. Puncheon gets knocked out, and the man "accidentally" falls in front of a moving train. The dead man (Mountjoy) had money but no job or assets, which fits a drug dealer. His effects include a telephone book with the names of many pubs ticked off. One of the marked pubs is the one where Puncheon was given the cocaine. Other clues turn up: a scarab in Dean's desk, a large pebble in the stairwell, a "catapult" (slingshot) belonging to office boy Ginger Joe, who is recruited by "Bredon" to help in the investigation.
Finally Wimsey makes the connection. One of Pym's major clients runs a large newspaper advertisement every Friday morning. The text is approved a few days earlier. The first letter of the advertisement's text indicates the pub to be used that week. Tallboy supplies the letter to the ring as soon as the text is approved.
A final clue turns up during a company social outing, in the course of a cricket match between Pym's and Brotherhood's, a soft-drink company and Pym's client. Most of the players are middle-aged and flabby. But Wimsey, provoked by a ball which clips his elbow, shows off the form which made him a first-team star at Eton and Oxford. Tallboy too shows a surprising talent, when he knocks down a wicket with a perfect throw from deep in the field. Wimsey wins the match for Pym's, which is about to expose his cover when the police, led by Parker, arrest "Bredon" for the murder of Dian de Momerie.
Milligan is dead too – killed in yet another "accident" as the ring covers its tracks. But the ring is still operating, and the police want to nab the whole gang at their next distribution. With Mountjoy's phone book, all they need is the letter for the week – which is provided by Ginger Joe. While "Bredon" supposedly sits in jail, "Lord Peter" is much seen about town for the next few days.
The roundup comes off as planned, but the death of Victor Dean remains unsolved. That night, Tallboy comes to Wimsey's flat and confesses. He was sucked into the scheme with an innocent-sounding story and the offer of money he needed. But soon he was trapped. Then Dean found out and blackmailed him. Tallboy shot him in the head with Ginger Joe's catapult on the staircase, so it would look like an accident. Tallboy cannot escape, and suggests suicide, which would save his family from the shame of his trial and conviction for murder. Wimsey, after looking out of the window, has an alternative: Tallboy must go home, on foot, and never look behind him. Both know that the gang's killers are waiting in ambush.
Literary significance and criticism
"A superb example of Sayers' ability to set a group of people going. The advertising agency is inimitable, and hence better than the De Momerie crowd that goes with it. The murder is ingenious and Wimsey is just right ..."
"Sayers herself disliked the novel, which she wrote quickly in order to fulfill her publisher's contract, and was unsure whether it would ring true with the reading public." Her biographer Barbara Reynolds quotes a letter she wrote to publisher Victor Gollancz on 14 September 1932:
The new book is nearly done. I hate it because it isn't the one I wanted to write, but I had to shove it in because I couldn't get the technical dope on The Nine Tailors in time. Still, you never know what people will fancy, do you? It...deals with the dope-traffic, which is fashionable at the moment, but I don't feel that this part is very convincing, as I can't say "I know dope". Not one of my best efforts.—Dorothy L Sayers quoted by Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Murder Must Advertise was adapted for television in 1973 as a mini-series starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, Mark Eden as Chief Inspector Charles Parker, Bridget Armstrong as Dian de Momerie, Peter Bowles as Major Milligan, and Paul Darrow as Mr. Tallboy. Rachel Herbert appeared as Lady Mary, Gwen Taylor as Pamela Dean, Christopher Timothy as Mr. Willis, John Hallam as Mr. Ingleby, and Fiona Walker as Miss Meteyard.
- Obituary on Natalie Bevan. The Independent. 29 August 2007.
- Barzun, Jacques and Taylor, Wendell Hertig. A Catalogue of Crime. New York: Harper & Row. 1971, revised and enlarged edition 1989. ISBN 0-06-015796-8
- Reynolds, Dorothy (1993). Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 238. ISBN 0-340-58151-4.