Tuesday Night Bloggers: Sayers Against the Yard

Six Against the Yard 3To conclude the Tuesday Night Bloggers month long look at Sayers I decided to put the spotlight on another of Sayers’ less well-known works (having looked at her salesman sleuth Montague Egg last week). The work in question is Sayers’ contribution to the collaborative work, Six Against the Yard (1936), which involved a number of writers from the Detection Club. Each writer wrote a short story which attempted to produce the perfect crime i.e. one the police couldn’t solve or prove. After each of the stories Superintendent George W. Cornish (a real policeman) briefly suggests how these are not such perfect crimes after all and how the criminal may have been tracked down. Other contributors to the collection were Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Father Ronald Knox and Russell Thorndike.

Blood Sacrifice

Sayers’ story is set within the theatre milieu and I think like Ngaio Marsh she is comfortable with describing this setting in a familial manner. Outside the King’s Theatre there is an ex-actress called Old Flossie, who is has become a permanent fixture selling matches, after she gave up her former profession due to an accident involving fire. Her new job seems slightly ironic in that light.

The King’s Theatre is a huge success now that it is run by actor-manage Garrick Drury, who looks ‘forty-two in the daylight, thirty-five in the lamplight and twenty-five or what you will in a blond wig and spotlight.’ He is currently running and starring in the play Bitter Laurel, which was originally written by John Scales, but due to the terms in his contract, Drury has been allowed to change it from a ‘cynical and disillusioned play,’ with questionable morality to a much more conventional play full of trite sentimental emotions. Throughout the start of the story Scales aligns himself with Judas describing the loose change he gives to Florrie as, ‘thirty pieces of silver… the price of blood,’ which suggests that he feels like he has betrayed his own artistic integrity for financial gain, an idea mooted by his friends albeit jokingly. Moreover, because he did the rewrites he can’t perceive himself like Pontius Pilate and say he ‘washed his hands of the whole beastly thing.’ I think Sayers builds up this guilt ridden atmosphere, with an emphasis on blood Six Against the Yard 2and sacrifice to fit in with the subsequent death.

All in all Scales blames Drury for his current mental despair and wishes he were dead. A car accident outside the theatre, which flings Drury through a shop window seems to be an answer to this very wish. Well not quite, as timely help seems to suggest that Drury will pull through, despite his loss of blood. Scales feels he was so close to being free, as Drury’s death would end the show. However, a call for a blood donation opens up the possibility of Scales’ wish being answered after all…

Thoughts

I think Cornish has a point when he suggests that Sayers has ‘been too clever’ and that although:

‘It is…true that, on the facts as… Dorothy L. Sayers has given them, [it] … could not to a jury’s satisfaction… [be proven] that John Scales was guilty of the crime of murder,’

Sayers has in fact ‘failed to establish the fact of murder.’ Consequently it seems that the story can’t be classed as a perfect murder, as it is not certain it is murder. I think Sayers needed to make Scales more directly responsible for the death as within her existing story he only has a ‘degree of moral guilt attache[d] to him.’ At what point does silence or negligence become convictable, especially when the facts are not certain? From a readers’ experience point of view I definitely found it an enjoyable short story, but I can see where Cornish is coming from. The narrative style and psychological aspect of the story are strong, but the lack of definiteness in the case makes it hard to pin down whether a crime has taken place or not.

Over to you

Typing in the phrase perfect murder scenarios comes up with a lot of results, some of them just a bit disturbing to be honest. It is certainly a fertile field for mystery writers with other short story collections devoted to committing that perfect crime. The old icicle as weapon trick features a lot, but other than that there aren’t a lot of methods suggested, more just general principles for a successful murder. So I thought since this post has been looking at the perfect murder I thought I would ask my readers if they had any perfect murder scenarios, from a theoretical, not experiential point of view hopefully). Is a set up like Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train the way to go forward? Or should the killer always act alone? Or do you know of any other novels or short stories which take on the idea of the perfect murder? Two others I have noted are Arthur Upfield’s novel The Sands of Windee (1931) where a means of removing all evidence from crime scene is developed and H. R. F. Keating plays around the word perfect in his debut Inspector Ghote novel The Perfect Murder (1964).

Six Against The Yard

See also:

Curtis Evans on Six Against the Yard

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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5 Responses to Tuesday Night Bloggers: Sayers Against the Yard

  1. Noah Stewart says:

    I’ve always maintained that if anyone of my acquaintance is ever found murdered in a locked room having been stabbed with a disappearing weapon, the police won’t even bother to question me before they charge me. From that point of view, my idea of the “perfect murder” is hitting someone over the head in the guise of a robbery, using a blunt instrument I find in the vicinity, and providing myself with no alibi whatsoever.
    I remember years ago reading a funny story called “The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr” by one Bill Brittain that you may find worthwhile in this context.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The no alibi thing is certainly an unusual approach as I wouldn’t have thought of doing that, not that I have given the subject much thought. I haven’t heard of that story by Bill Brittain before – sounds intriguing so I may have to track it down.

      Like

    • JJ says:

      Reminds me of the Leo Bruce novel Case for Sergeant Beef in which a man intends to commit an entirely unmotivated and spontaneous murder so as to leave no possible evidence or motive trail back to himself. Of course, being a Beef novel, things don’t quite go along the lines one would anticipate…

      Not only is “The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr” a fantastic story, I believe there was a response of sorts called “The Man Who Read ‘The Man Who Read John Dickson Carr'”. In fact, a quick search has just revealed that it’s contained in a Swedish locked room compendium; might have to get that…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carol M. says:

    I can do no better than to quote the great Hercule Poirot. I can’t remember which book it’s in, but when he’s asked how he would cover up a murder, he simply replies, ‘probably you would not even be aware that a murder had been committed’. A chilling thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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