HomeReviewsInterviewsStoreABlogsOn Writing
Review: Azteclady does, Dorothy L. Sayers' Whose Body?

Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers

This wonderfully complicated (yet, at its heart, quite straightforward) mystery is the first of the incomparable Lord Peter Wimsey’s novels1 by Dorothy L. Sayers. Since this novel was first published back in the early 1920s2 there have been a number of editions released, with back cover blurbs ranging from awful to adequate. This one, from amazon.com, is much better than most:

The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder—especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before the sightless eyes. What’s more, the face appeared to have been shaved after death. The police assumed that the victim was a prominent financier, but Lord Peter Wimsey, who dabbled in mystery detection as a hobby, knew better. In this, his first murder case, Lord Peter untangles the ghastly mystery of the corpse in the bath.

Indeed, there is a body in the tub, and there is a prominent citizen missing. Wouldn’t it be wonderfully neat if these two were one and the same? Alas, in this case, adding one and one comes up to something in the neighborhood of minus three, and it’s up to Lord Peter to show the police the error of their ways. (more…)

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Have His Carcase is only the second novel by Ms Sayers that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, thanks to the nagg… erm, recommendations of my significant other (thank you, love). While usually I would read all the Lord Peter Wimsey books in order of publication *coughabitanalretentivecough* I am first reading the four novels that focus more on his relationship with Harriet Vane. I can always (read: will) go back and read the rest of the series.

Oh, and for anyone who thought that poorly written, excessively dramatic blurbs afflicted only the romance genre, here’s proof of just how naïve that belief is:

The mystery writer Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach—deserted but for the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut. From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery that might have been suicide, murder, or a political plot. With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds a reason for detective pursuit—as only the two of them can pursue it.

Frankly, the only virtue of such a blurb is its brevity. Who in her right mind would seek solace on a barren beach? The facts are close enough though: Harriet Vane discovers the body and has the presence of mind to take photographs and collect some evidence, as well as taking notice of any and all things about it that she can, before trudging a few miles in search of way to let the police know. Of course, by the time she does, the tide has turned and the body is nowhere to be found for some days. (more…)

Strong Poison, by Dorothy L. Sayers

Even though I’ve had a number of Ms Sayers’ books in my TBR mountain for a while now, this novel is the first of her books that I’ve read. And now that I have, I’ll be sure to remedy the lack in my reading post haste! Strong Poison is actually the sixth Lord Peter Wimsey book published.

Lord Peter is the youngest sibling of the current Duke Denver, and he has developed a few unusual habits as he grows older. He collects first editions and books printed before 1501, and spends the rest of his spare time investigating (and solving) crimes. Most often, Lord Peter works with the police, in the person of his close friend Chief-Inspector Charles Parker, but in this case he has to prove the police made a terrible mistake.

The (very short) back cover blurb gives us the bare bones of the story:

Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiancé died in the manner described in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman’s noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to find her innocent—as determined as he was to make her his wife.

The novel starts, perhaps a bit slowly for some readers, with a judge giving the jury his summation of the evidence in the trial of Ms Harriet Vane for the murder of one Philip Boyes. If the language weren’t enough of an indication of the time during which this novel was written, the tone of the summation would make it clear. The year is 1929, and Harriet Vane is on trial as much on circumstantial evidence as she is on moral grounds—after all, for over a year she lived with the deceased as a married couple without the benefit of a ceremony. Egads, the horror of it all. (more…)