Dorothy L. Sayers: Murder Must Advertise

Murder Must Advertise
Dorothy L. Sayers
First published in the UK 1933, Gollancz
This edition 1953, Gollancz
Score 4/5

I bought this unassuming edition for £2 from the excellent Dormouse Bookshop on Elm Hill, Norwich – where there is a great crime selection if you’re ever passing. It’s a Gollancz ‘cheap edition’, 21st impression from May 1953.

I like this book, largely because Sayers downplays the over-educated, over-moneyed, over-civilised aspects of her characters. Frankly I do find much of her work smug, but this is a refreshing change.

New copywriter Mr Death Bredon (‘like Bertie Wooster in horn-rims’) joins London ad agency Pym’s Publicity, replacing a Mr Victor Dean who recently died in an apparently accidental fall downstairs.

The eccentric Mr Bredon, with his ‘marvellous shirts’, silk socks, and ‘shoes from Rudge in the Arcade’, doesn’t quite fit the impoverished copywriter mould, but he soon establishes himself as an office favourite.

It quickly becomes clear that Mr Bredon has a keen interest in Mr Dean and the circumstances of his death. Murder Must Advertise tells the story of his investigation.

Soon Bredon has infiltrated ‘the de Momerie crowd’, the set of Bright Young Things befriended by Dean before his death and is on his way to uncovering the secret at the heart of Pym’s.

This isn’t a simple crime novel, though. Sayers uses it to explore advertising and its place in society. Ad-speak (1930s-style) permeates the text. Bredon’s fellow copywriter Ingleby keeps a satirical eye on the industry.

‘”We spend our whole time asking intimate questions of perfect strangers and it naturally blunts our finer feelings. ‘Mother! Has your Child Learnt Regular Habits?’ ‘Are you Troubled with Fullness after Eating?’ ‘Are you Sure that your Toilet-Paper is Germ-free?’ ‘Do you ever ask yourself about Body-Odour?'”

But the examination of advertising goes beyond light satire as Bredon considers the industry’s place in (and responsibility for) the consumer society, and also draws direct parallels with drug-dealing.

‘”Suppose you push up the smoking of every man and woman in the Empire till they must either stop or die of nicotine poisoning?”
“We’re a long way off that.” replied Mr Pym seriously. “And that reminds me. This scheme should carry a strong appeal to women. ‘Give your children that seaside holiday by smoking Whifflets.’ That sort of thing. We want to get women down to serious smoking. Too many of them play about with it.”‘

Dorothy L. knew what she was about. For much of the 1920s she was a copywriter at a London ad agency, and amongst other jingles worked up ‘Guinness is good for you’.

If he can say as you can
Guinness is good for you
How grand to be a Toucan
Just think what Toucan do

She even cheekily mentions one of her own campaigns in Murder Must Advertise -‘It’ll be the biggest advertising stunt since the Mustard Club.’ See more on the Mustard Club here.

Final destination: A keeper

Creative Commons License Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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12 Responses to Dorothy L. Sayers: Murder Must Advertise

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Rich – Oh, just reading that Whifflets passage again made me laugh. Can you imagine an advertisement campaign like that in today’s world? I’m very glad you liked this one. It’s a good solid mystery as well as having that nice thread of humour in it. I like the cricket scenes too.


  2. Sarah says:

    I must have read this book about 10 times and I like it because it is missing Harriet Vane, i like Vane’s character but I think Wimsey is so much better when not in her presence. The insight into an advertising agency is very interesting and i think Sayers must have had a jolly time working in an agency in the 1920s.


    • westwoodrich says:

      I’m just about to start Strong Poison for the first time, so I’ll see how Wimsey and Harriet get on in that, but I’ve always found Gaudy Night pretty tough going.

      I’ve been doing a bit of detective work into Sayers and advertising, more of which later…


  3. I’m a big fan of the Wimsey as you know, despite the smugness, and particuarly liked this one for the advertising agency scenes. The ad people were surprisingly literate & high-brow if I remember right. Currently enjoying ‘Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club’, especially the period/London details (gentlemen’s clubs, seedy lodgings in Finsbury Park, armistice day etc).


  4. Maxine says:

    I enjoyed this book a lot when I read it, as usual very young. It passed me by at the time, but I believe it contains anti-semetism, totally unacceptable. But a lot of people were like that then, in a certain sector of England, I believe.


  5. Pingback: Murder Must Advertise: The Mustard Club | Past Offences

  6. This has always been one of my favourites of the Wimseys, and you have reminded me of it! (Might be good for clothes in books too, with those silk shirts). I always thought it was immensely good on atmosphere – made you feel that WAS what it was like to work in an office in London in the 1930s – much more convincing than her scenes set in the high life of the aristocracy.


  7. Pingback: Dorothy L. Sayers: Strong Poison | Past Offences

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  11. Pingback: Review: Murder Must Advertised (1933) by Dorothy L. Sayers | A Crime is Afoot

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