Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers

published 1933  chapter 1








Miss Rossiter tucked her note-book under her arm and tripped smartly down the corridor. Peeping through another glass-panelled door, she observed Mr Ingleby seated on a revolving chair with his feet on the cold radiator, and talking with great animation to a young woman in green, perched on the corner of the writing-table…




[in another office] A plump girl in glasses, with head tilted back and brows twisted to keep the smoke of a cigarette out of her eyes, was rattling off the names of Derby runners on her typewriter, assisted by a bosom friend who dictated the list from the columns of the Morning Star. A languid youth in shirt-sleeves was cutting the names of sweep-subscribers from a typed sheet, and twisting the papers into secretive little screws. A thin eager young man…. was turning over the flimsies in Miss Rossiter’s tray and making sarcastic comments upon the copy to a bulky dark youth in spectacles immersed in a novel by PG Wodehouse and filching biscuits from a large tin…



observations: A second murder story set in a London advertising agency in the 1930s, and it couldn’t be more different from yesterday’s effort by CS Forester.

Lord Peter Wimsey goes to work at Pym’s to investigate the death of Victor Dean, who died falling down a staircase. In the Forester book, details are sparse: this one must be twice as long, and the life of the office is described to the full and with the utmost conviction: doing the sweepstake (above), arguing over the tea money (‘He hinted that I made money out of the teas. I suppose he thinks that’s funny. I don’t.’) The reference books being shoved from office to office, lost and found. The scene where Wimsey demonstrates cricket bowling (with a tobacco tin) down the corridor – ‘Gosh! It’s a Googly’.

This book then culminates in a cricket match, and a miraculous throw by a fielder. And a conclusion drawn. The plot kind of hangs together, though it all seems very unlikely, but you don’t read this book for the details of the telephone book code, you read it for a picture of what London office life probably was like in 1933.

Verdict: Plain Murder is short spare and desperate. Murder Must Advertise is detailed, leisurely, and rolls along nicely. Both enjoyable. But, if you had to choose an agency to work at, definitely go for Sayers’: it sounds a lot more fun, once you’ve taken the danger of being murdered out of both, and they have cakes with their tea.

The top picture shows Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday - Russell, playing Hildy Johnson, is the ultimate role model for women who want to perch on the corners of office desks wearing hats and wisecracking with their male colleagues.

The second picture is of the offices of Moxie Sozo, a modern-day advertising agency in Boulder Colorado. The photo is on Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

  1. I just worked briefly in an office with a real iron spiral staircase of the right date: http://www.flickr.com/photos/37553027@N02/9264773220/in/photolist-f7Goij-8rZaRK-6y4xYy

    Love Murder Must Advertise for the reasons you state.

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  2. Lucky you! Someone told me once that DLS worked at Benson's and that until comparatively recently the iron staircase (which was exactly as in the book) was still in existence - I wonder if it is tucked away somewhere to this day? Well, the office certainly stays real in this book - it will live forever.

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    1. Also, really great pic, love the colours.

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  3. Moira - A great look at this book - Thanks :-). I think one of the things that works best in it is the look it gives one at life in a London office of the day. In that sense I'm glad Sayers opted for some detail about office life. And I do love the way Lord Peter develops a winner of an advertising campaign - even if it is for cigarettes...

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    1. Yes - it's quite long, and with a lot of apparently irrelevant detail, but I never find those details boring, or too much.

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  4. Agree with Lucy, all the things you point out are why I love this book so much. I have probably reread it the most of the Sayers books and am thinking I should do that now. Lovely pictures to illustrate. His Girl Friday is also a favorite movie in this house; we think Cary Grant can do no wrong... at least in movies.

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    1. Yes Tracy I'm another Cary Grant fan, and this film is one of my absolute favourites, so fast and so funny.

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  5. Ahh. My favourite Wimsey book. I could read this one over and over again.

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    1. Right with you there Sarah, I was just going to read a few bits to write this blog entry (after reading yesterday's book) but ended up re-reading the whole thing for the umpteenth time...It never fails you.

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  6. Another of my favourites too... I love all the cloak and dagger drug running as well as the office scenes, still so familiar to us today.

    Sarah

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    1. I think this is a real survivor of hers, because the subject matter and office setting are both beautifully historical and yet contemporary at the same time.

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  7. It's the mixture of timeless (all the stuff about the teas!) and very much of it's time that charms me, I think. Busman's Honeymoon might be interesting to do in a blog - the gold wedding dress, the comments from the vile Helen etc.

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    1. Yes to all. I think I learned what office life would be from this book, and given that I went out working 50 years later, in all essentials it was the same! Busman's Honeymoon: I did do the groom's gift to the bride http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/book-busmans-honeymoon-by-dorothy-l.html - but yes, the gold wedding dress if I could find it, with the bridesmaids in their best suits and furs!

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