Murder Must Advertise

Murder Must Advertise is a 1933 mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, the eighth in her series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.

Murder Must Advertise
First edition
AuthorDorothy L. Sayers
CountryUnited Kingdom
SeriesLord Peter Wimsey
GenreMystery novel
PublisherVictor Gollancz[1]
Publication date
Media typePrint
Preceded byHave His Carcase 
Followed byThe Nine Tailors 


Death Bredon arrives at Pym's Publicity Ltd, a highly respectable advertising agency, to take up the post of junior copywriter. He is assigned the room of his predecessor Victor Dean, who has died in a fall down the office's iron spiral staircase. The doctor states that death was caused either by a broken neck, due to his landing on his head at the bottom of the stair, or by a wound of the right temple. The death appears suspicious, as Dean apparently made no attempt to save himself as he fell. In the dead man's desk Bredon discovers a part-completed letter to the firm's proprietor, Mr Pym, telling him that something 'undesirable' had been going on in the office.

Bredon befriends Pamela Dean, sister of the deceased, and takes her to a cocaine-fuelled fancy-dress party hosted by Dian de Momerie, a dissolute socialite with whom Dean had been associating before his death. Disguised as Harlequin, Bredon attracts the attention of de Momerie and over subsequent evenings meets her several times, always in disguise. His presence annoys de Momerie's companion Major Tod Milligan who is supplying her with drugs.

It is revealed that Death Bredon is in fact Lord Peter Wimsey who has been brought in incognito by Pym to investigate. Various clues turn up: a catapult belonging to 'Ginger' Joe, the office boy; a carved stone scarab belonging to Dean; and £50 in banknotes unexpectedly found in the desk of Mr Tallboy, group manager.

After having a drink in a Covent Garden pub, newspaper reporter Hector Puncheon discovers that someone has slipped a consignment of cocaine into his coat pocket. Chief Inspector Charles Parker, Wimsey's brother-in-law, suspects that Puncheon has stumbled on the drugs gang that Milligan is part of, but finds no further suspicious activity at that pub. It appears that the cocaine is being distributed from a different pub each week, but it is unclear how the location is decided upon.

Puncheon recognises and follows a man from the pub, who soon dies after falling in front of a moving train. A search of his flat discloses a phone book with the names of many pubs ticked off, including the one in Covent Garden. Finally Wimsey realises what has been happening. One of Pym's major clients runs a newspaper advertisement every Friday morning, the headline for which is approved a few days earlier. The first letter of the headline is being used to indicate the pub for that week, with Tallboy covertly supplying the letter to the gang in advance.

Bredon is in danger of being exposed as Wimsey, and to divert attention Lord Peter makes it known that he has a disreputable cousin, Bredon, who looks very much like him. At a company cricket match, Wimsey inadvertently shows off his distinctive first-class form and is about to be exposed when the police, led by Parker, arrive to make a show of arresting Bredon for the murder of Dian de Momerie. While Bredon supposedly languishes in jail, Lord Peter is much seen about town over the next few days, providing the investigators with more time.

Milligan is dead too – killed in an 'accident' as the gang covers its tracks. But the gang is still operating, and the police want to catch the ringleaders during their next weekly drug distribution. Using the phone book, all they need to find the next pub is the letter for the week – as provided by Ginger Joe.

Wimsey is sure that Tallboy killed Victor Dean, but he does not want to act until the gang has been rounded up. On the night of the next drug distribution, Tallboy comes to Wimsey's flat to confess. He says that he was sucked into the scheme with an innocent-sounding story and the offer of money, but he soon became trapped. Dean found out and was blackmailing him. Tallboy then killed Dean using Ginger Joe's catapult and the scarab, making it look like an accident on the stairway. Wanting to spare his wife and child, Tallboy suggests suicide. Wimsey, after looking out of the window, has an alternative: Tallboy must leave, on foot, without looking behind him. Both know that the gang's killers are waiting, and Tallboy is knocked down and killed as he walks home.

Principal characters

  • Lord Peter Wimsey, 42, aristocratic amateur detective
  • Chief Inspector Charles Parker, Wimsey's friend, married to his sister Lady Mary
  • Mr Pym, proprietor of Pym's Publicity
  • Mr Tallboy, group manager
  • 'Ginger' Joe, office boy
  • Hector Puncheon, journalist
  • Pamela Dean, sister of the deceased
  • Dian de Momerie, socialite and drug addict
  • Major Tod Milligan, drug-dealer and de Momerie's companion.

Literary significance and criticism

In their review of Crime novels (revised edition 1989), the US writers Barzun and Taylor called the novel "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".[2]

Writing in 1993, the biographer Dorothy Reynolds noted that "Sayers herself disliked the novel, which she wrote quickly in order to fulfil her publisher's contract, and was unsure whether it would ring true with the reading public". Reynolds quotes a letter that Sayers wrote to her publisher Victor Gollancz on 14 September 1932:[3]

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? 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.

In her 1941 book The Mind of the Maker Sayers wrote: "I undertook (not very successfully) to present a contrast of two 'cardboard' worlds, equally fictitious—the world of advertising and the world of the post-war 'Bright Young People'. (It was not very successful, because I knew and cared much more about advertising than about Bright Youth)". But she went on to quote a reader who pointed out that "Peter Wimsey, who represents reality, never appears in either world except in disguise". She commented, "It was perfectly true; and I had never noticed it. With all its defects of realism, there had been some measure of integral truth about the book's Idea, since it issued, without my conscious connivance, in a true symbolism".[4]


Most of the action of the novel takes place in an advertising agency, a setting with which Sayers was very familiar as she had herself been employed as a copywriter at S. H. Benson's agency, located at Kingsway from 1922 to 1931.[5] In chapter 12 of the novel she quotes the slogan "Guinness is good for you", from her own jingle "If he can say as you can. / Guinness is good for you / How grand to be a Toucan / Just think what Toucan do".[6] Her colleague Bobby Bevan was the inspiration for one of the characters in the novel, Mr Ingleby.[7]


Murder Must Advertise was adapted by Bill Craig for television in 1973 as a BBC TV mini-series starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey.[8] A six-part radio adaptation by Alistair Beaton was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January 1979, again with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey.[9]


  1. "British Library Item details". Retrieved 20 April 2018.
  2. 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
  3. Reynolds, Dorothy (1993). Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul. Hodder & Stoughton. p. 238. ISBN 0-340-58151-4.
  4. Sayers, Dorothy L (1941). The Mind of the Maker. p. 62.
  5. Mansfield, Stephen (2009). The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson. p. 233. ISBN 978-1-59555-269-3.
  6. Mansfield, Stephen (2009). The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-59555-269-3.
  7. Obituary of Natalie Bevan. The Independent. 29 August 2007.
  8. "Lord Peter Wimsey: Murder Must Advertise". BBC TV. 21 December 1973. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  9. "Lord Peter Wimsey: Murder Must Advertise". Radio Times Genome Project. 1 January 1979. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
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