Just as with Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, posterity has seen Dorothy L. Sayers become a prisoner of her finest creation. In the case of this intensely gifted British author, the fictional detective is Lord Peter Wimsey. Doyle ached to be known for something other than Holmes and urged readers to look to his historical romances, non-fiction and volumes on spiritualism. Sayers was less frustrated, but always insisted that at the heart of her writing and her life was Christ Jesus and her faith in God.

She was born in Oxford in 1893, daughter of an Anglican vicar and chaplain of Christ Church College. She herself was educated at Oxford and was one of the first women to receive a full degree. After university, she worked as a writer in an advertising company and also began a relationship with an unemployed salesman named Bill White. The affair was sexual, rather than loving, and Sayers became pregnant.

White abandoned mother and child when he heard the news and Sayers, anxious not to shock her aged parents, hid herself away and disguised her pregnancy. She told her employers that she was suffering from exhaustion and asked for an extended vacation. Young, alone and frightened, she went to what was known as a “mother’s hospital” where, in January 1924, John Anthony was born. She nursed him for three weeks and then arranged for the boy to be raised by her cousin. In 1926, Sayers fell in love with and married Atherton Fleming. They adopted John Anthony but, submitting to social pressures, Sayers never admitted to being the boy’s biological mother.

She began her writing career before her marriage and before her affair. As early as 1921, she wrote to a friend that, “My detective story begins brightly, with a fat lady found dead in her bath with nothing on but her pince-nez. Now, why did she wear pince-nez in her bath? If you can guess, you will be in a position to lay hands upon the murderer, but he’s a very cool and cunning fellow …”

This was the foundation for the novel Whose Body, published in 1923. It was the introduction of Lord Peter Wimsey to the world and he was to entertain for 10 books and two volumes of short stories. An aristocrat with a monocle, a pedigree and an accent with which to cut the finest of glass, he was a decorated soldier, a gifted pianist and, most of all, a consummate sleuth. With his faithful butler and helper, he re-appeared in Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Lord Peter Views the Body.

In 1930, Sayers published Strong Poison, the debut of Harriet Vane. She was a detective novelist and, inevitably, the object of Wimsey’s love. They would marry and in the 1937 Busman’s Honeymoon, set off on their, yes, honeymoon where they discover, as of course do so many newly married couples, a mysterious corpse.

The Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night, The Five Red Herrings and Have His Carcase, amongst others, completed the Wimsey and Vane canon and they are still read by millions and televised on a regular basis.

But it was Sayers the Christian whom we need to remember, and the triumph of Wimsey and Vane had often obscured the very real faith of their creator. Sayers always argued that her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia was her finest work and she was also justifiably proud of her radio drama, The Man Born to be King, which C.S. Lewis re-read every Easter. Indeed, Sayers made some appearances at the Socratic Club in Oxford with Lewis.

Based on the life of Christ, the play is a cycle of 12 stories presenting various incidents in Scripture. It was originally broadcast on the BBC over a 10 month period and provoked opposition from atheist groups. It also led to opposition from some Christians who were offended by Jesus being played by any actor. Yet, it was an enormous success and was turned into a book with accompanying notes from the author.

Sayers also wrote a pageant about the Emperor Constantine, a nativity play entitled He That Should Come, a collection of essays, Creed Or Chaos, and an extraordinary analysis of the Christian creative spirit called The Mind of the Maker.

In 1943, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a special doctorate in divinity because of her contributions to Christian apologetics and literature. She declined. Seven years later, however, she did accept an honourary doctorate of letters from Durham University, an institution founded, perhaps ironically, by the 17th-century Puritan dictator Oliver Cromwell.

Sayers was also concerned with the decline of Christian and classical education and her essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which is still used by many, especially in the home-schooling movement, was a structural guide to classical education.

Sayers died in December 1957, seven years after her husband. Almost 40 years earlier, she had written, “Christ walks the world again, his lute upon his back, his red robe worn to tatters, his riches gone to rack. The wind that wakes the morning blows his hair about his face and his arms and legs are ragged with the thorny briar’s embrace.”

Remembered mostly and mainly for being one of the greatest of detective writers, she was also a timeless Christian author and a woman for all ages. Her life on earth is over, her words speak on down the ages.

Michael Coren can be seen on the Crossroads Television System every weekday evening from 6-7 p.m. and read each Saturday in the Toronto Sun.