Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dorothy Squared

DunnettCentral tweeted this video review of books by two of my favorite authors EVAH:  Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings and Dorothy L. Sayer’s Strong Poison.

She talks about how she was so affected by the end of the sixth volume of Dunnett’s epic series that, with ten pages to go, she had to stop reading and go pull herself together.  I remember that at about 10 pages from the end I threw the book across the room I was so upset and it took me a couple of days to finally read the final ten pages. 

The first time I went to London I was in the middle of reading, for the first time, Dorothy Sayers’ mystery series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.  I remember riding around London in awe that some of the locations featured in the novels were right there in front of me.

I am not (remotely) the first person to note the similarities between the fictional families created by the two Dorothies.   Both feature a beautiful blond man who is smarter than the average bear.  Both men are the favorites of mothers who are smart and witty.  Both men are younger sons in a system where the older brother gets the title.  Both older brothers are …staid.  There is a sister.  Both men like to sprinkle their dialog with quotations in other languages leaving we the readers (and the other characters) to try translating without any assistance.  

Both are too smart for their own good.  As Dorothy Dunnet’s creation, Francis Crawford, says in The Game of Kings:

Versatility is one of the few human traits which are universally intolerable.  You may be good at Greek and good at painting and be popular.  You may be good at Greek and good at sport, and be wildly popular.  But try all three and you’re a mountebank.  Nothing arouses suspicion quicker than genuine, all around proficiency.

Of course, Francis Crawford is much more swashbuckling than Peter Wimsey, partly because he lived in a swashbuckling time and partly because Dorothy Dunnett created him that way.  As others have said, Crawford is more of a cross between Wimsey and a character out of Alexandre Dumas.  But the thing I like about both Peter Wimsey and Francis Crawford is that they grow, they evolve.  And you can’t ask more than that from a recurring character.