Most of us who are addicted to mystery novels have a clear, unswerving picture of what goes on in England. Our research has been done by reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and a handful or more of lesser authors.
Life there is lived out in the country houses and Mayfair flats of aristocrats (or at the very least, the gentry), where most of the plots are advanced in conversation at interminable breakfasts and elegant luncheons.
Occasionally a lowly criminal is brought in for spice, but largely the lineage of our literary companions could not be improved upon. Dorothy L. Sayers gives us the poshest backgrounds in her books featuring Lord Peter Wimsey , nobleman detective extraordinaire.
To celebrate these remarkable books written five and six decades ago, The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook by Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins (Ticknor & Fields, New Haven and New York, $10.95) has appeared with menus and recipes culled from dishes mentioned in the series. Drawings are by Francesca Greene.
The recipes show ''a preference for the simple delights of English cooking'' that the authors assure us was Dorothy Sayer's preference and by extension Lord Peter's.
The book is more for Dorothy Sayers fans than cooks, chockablock as it is with passages from her best books, many of them in the affected, rather silly voice of Wimsey.
In a chapter called ''A Bolt for the Supper Room,'' dinner at the Soviet Club is described in detail. According to Lord Peter, ''Cooking's beastly, the men don't shave, and the conversation gets my goat.''
Then recipes for much of the dubious food encountered at the Soviet Club follows, Red Army Borsch . . . People's Black Bread . . . Comrades' Mutton Stew, and the authors give stage directions for a Soviet Club party of your own.
''For authenticity's sake, try to make the setting in which you serve the food as oppressive as possible. You might, in fact, want to take your guests down to the cellar rather than into the dining room,'' the directions read.
Other chapter headings are deliciously British upper crust of the black-tie-for-Monday-dinner vintage, including ''The Lord at the Breakfast Table'' and ''A Jolly Time at Lunch.'' Within each is a breakdown of specific meals that involved Lord Peter.
Elizabeth Bond Ryan and William J. Eakins coauthored ''The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook,'' obviously a labor of love with a good measure of humor.
According to the book jacket, Mrs. Ryan has spent time following Lord Peter's paths through England and Scotland, talking with residents of the locations Dorothy Sayers used in her Wimsey stories. And Mr. Eakins is a graduate of Oxford University where Lord Peter fictionally spent some of his most halcyon days.
To be truly interested in this book, you should have read the Sayers novels or seen the television shows made in England with Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.
The comestibles in most cases are either cooked or hunted up by Bunter, Lord Peter's man, who is the perfect gentleman's gentleman without blemish of excessive snobbery.
For example in ''Five Red Herrings'' - both the book and the television series - Lord Peter and Bunter motor to Scotland for a spot of fishing, only to become embroiled in a complex plot full of old friends and artists.
Their cottage is primitive, but despite the most basic necessities Lord Peter dresses for dinner and Bunter manages a marvelous menu. Included are a Correct Casserole of Beef with Vegetables, an Admirable Cheese Souffle and Boiled Potatoes which Bunter has washed under an outside tap.
Well, you get the idea, it's a book to keep by the bedside more than on a kitchen shelf.
The food is more to comfort than dismay . . . a treacle tart and potato scones, breakfast curry which is kedgeree, Welsh rarebit, and a parsley sauce for fish.
Neither roast beef nor Yorkshire pudding have been forgotten, so anyone after the best in new English food should look elsewhere.
Although ''The Lord Peter Wimsey Cookbook'' is less serious about food, it manages to re-create the period atmosphere of the '20s and '30s when the principals were wealthy, titled, and said 'jolly' and 'topping' and - I honestly didn't believe it, but it's right there in ''The Busman's Honeymoon'' - ''Oh, frabjous day,'' quoted Lord Peter.
Here's the Souffle Glace chosen by Lord Peter from a restaurant menu to cap a dinner that included such elegance as baked oysters and pheasant, in ''The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.'' Souffle Glace au Citron (Lemon Souffle) 4 eggs 6 egg yolks 11/2 cups superfine sugar Pinch of salt Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons 2 tablespoons (2 packages) unflavored gelatin 11/2 cups heavy cream Candied lemon peel, cut into thin slivers
Make a paper collar for a 1-quart souffle dish as follows: Fold a long piece of waxed paper lengthwise. Brush with vegetable oil. Wrap it around the souffle dish and tie it on with string. The collar should rise about 4 inches above the dish.
Beat together in a mixing bowl the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt until mixture is light and holds its shape. This takes about 10 minutes. Add grated lemon rind. Dissolve gelatin in lemon juice over very low heat.
Fold dissolved gelatin and lemon juice into stiff egg mixture. Whip cream until stiff and fold it into mixture in bowl. Fill souffle dish with mixture and place it to set in freezer, about 1 hour, or in refrigerator, about 21/2 hours.
To serve, remove paper collar and decorate top of souffle with slivers of candied lemon peel. Serves 6.