on September 13, 2000
If "Whose Body?" is the only Lord Peter Wimsey novel you've read, don't judge the rest by it. And if, like me, you read the later ones first, you may be amused to see how different this one is. I wonder whether Dorothy L. Sayers was still unsure, when she wrote this, whether she wanted to write a detective story or a parody of a detective story. There are wonderful comic touches, oddly mixed with some fairly gruesome scenes. The characters are broadly satirical, like the caricatured upper-class twits in P.G. Wodehouse. Lord Peter is frivolous and eccentric, a sort of smarter cousin to Wodehouse's amiable fop Bertie Wooster; the Dowager Duchess, his mother, is endearingly ditsy, like Aunt Dahlia of Wodehouse fame. As a mystery, the story fails -- I knew who the murderer was at once, not because of any clues but because there wasn't any other reason to introduce that character. However, it's interesting to examine the early, rough work that preceded Dorothy L. Sayers later, more polished mysteries. In this book, she was just beginning to learn her craft. Aspiring writers can probably learn a lot by comparing this with the much more successful "Clouds of Witness," written 4 years later.
on November 9, 2000
This was the first of Dorothy L. Sayers' detective novels, but 70-odd years after publication it's not the best introduction to Sayers or to her most successful hero, Lord Peter Wimsey. If that's what you're looking for, try Nine Tailors, Murder Must Advertise, or one of the books that include Harriet Vane (my personal favourite is Gaudy Night).
"Whose Body" is something of an apprentice work. Lord Peter is here more a bundle of characteristics than a character: a collector of rare books and incunabula, facile with quotations, fluent in French and probably in Latin, a skillful and sensitive pianist who never needs to practise, slightly built but possessed of "curious" strength and speed which he maintains without exercise. Over subsequent books, this caricature smooths and deepens into one of the most interesting and attractive detectives in fiction.
In spite of its awkwardness, Whose Body is worth reading. The plot is clever, the villain is believable and sadistic, and most of the supporting characters are a delight. Some of these characters are further developed in later novels: Bunter, Parker, the Dowager Duchess, Freddy Arbuthnot. Others fortunately are not. Sayers is much better with people she might recognise as "like us" then with people from other social groups.
Sayers developed into a powerful writer of fiction whose technique was imperceptible. Here she has less mastery of technique, so that the scenes that work have disproportionate impact. The encounter between the Dowager Duchess of Denver and the American millionaire Milligan is a tiny classic.
In summary, interesting and entertaining for existing fans, but a hurdle for newcomers to the world of Wimsey.
on June 1, 2010
Please publish more Sayers books on Kindle! This one is notable for being the first entry to my knowledge in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, but as soon as you finish it, you are ready for the next one. Hurry, Kindle!
on September 9, 2004
In Lord Peter Wimsey's debut novel, Dorothy L. Sayers provides her detective with quite the conundrum: a known missing body as well as a found unknown one. While the modern reader won't likely be puzzled by whodunit for long, the story is still an enjoyable read. While the class distinctions seem anachronistic - at least in 21st Century America - I can see that the story could have easily been a sensation for the time and place it was written.
In addition to introducing Lord Peter, we also meet his mother, the Dowager Duchess, and his brother, Gerald, the Duke (sadly, his sister, Lady Mary and nephew, Gherkins, don't make an appearance in this book), as well as his future brother-in-law, Parker, the Honorable Freddy Arbuthnot, and, of course, the indispensable manservant, Mervyn Bunter. While all of the characters have some growing to do as the novels progress, Lord Peter's relationship with Bunter is firmly established here. There's little wonder Sayers' series became a hit and has continued to be enjoyed down the years.
While the "mystery" portion of the book isn't the most challenging, Sayers includes a few entertaining tangents, like the one about the future of mankind's vestigial conscience (which includes an aside about "backwards individuals" like myself who can wiggle their ears). I enjoyed her philosophical/theological musings here (and moreso in her non-Wimsey mystery, Documents in the Case), and wish she had included more of them in her later novels.
If you've never read any of the Wimsey novels, this is a great place to start. The villain is well-constructed, if insufficiently hidden, and the story has a charm that, while old-fashioned, is charming nonetheless.
If you are unfortunate enough to be taken in by the least-expensive option & purchase this edition(No publisher listed, but the last page details that its publication date is 21 February 2012 & it hails from Lexington, KY), then you will be severely disappointed. This edition is FULL of typos and type-setting incompatibilities - for any foreign word requiring an accent mark, the letter over which that mark would usually reside is replaced with something similar,but not quite right- c.f., p. 56 "aegis" appears as "3/4gis". Seriously.
This is highly distracting & bespeaks very shoddy workmanship. I am hugely disappointed by this edition. The book itself is entertaining (my first foray into DLS) and the plot has been well-described in other reviews. However,buyer,please find another edition - and Amazon, you should be ashamed to offer such poorly-executed editions!
on May 13, 1999
I count myself as a devoted fan of Lord Peter Wimsey. The first book I read in the series was "Unnatural Death" which I would highly recommend, but only after reading "Whose Body?" first. It is a most entertaining introduction to Lord Peter, the impeccable Bunter, his policeman friend Parker, and Peter's family, including the spirited and hilarious Dowager Duchess of Denver and Peter's elder brother, the present Duke, who is disgruntled at his younger brother's being mixed up in police business (a trait, he will however find very useful in "Clouds of Witness"). The mystery itself is genuinely gripping and although Sayers deliberately makes the reader aware of the identity of the killer halfway through the book (a similar tactic she used in "Unnatural Death"), the real pleasure lies in the carefully orchestrated revealing of further details, and the way Lord Peter's hypothesis is gradually confirmed in every respect. No blood and gore and car chases here, just a great intellectual exercise and a fascinating novel. Highly recommended for readers who love the period!
One of the most famous detectives of the British Golden Age of Mystery is not a policeman, but the brother of the (fictitious) Duke of Denver, Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey. He is wealthy enough to do what he wants with his life, and has devoted himself to oenology, bibliophily, and criminology, i.e. wine, antiquarian books, and murderers.
Since "Whose Body" is the very first book in this mystery series, the reader is gently introduced to Lord Peter. He is physically unimposing with a rather beaky nose, primrose-colored hair, and Sayers mentions several times his appearance of unfocused vacuity. People tend to underestimate him, possibly because of his loquacity and a propensity to wander off-topic into obscure quotations and song (I think this is one of his more endearing traits). Nowadays he might be diagnosed as lodged in the manic phase of a bipolar disorder. He most definitely suffers from PTSD, or as it was called back then, shell-shock. His valet, Mervyn Bunter spent WWI in the trenches with his more highly-strung master and knows how to care for him when Lord Peter hallucinates that he's back on the front line, being shelled by the Boche.
As "Whose Body" begins, Wimsey's mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, telephones to relate that one of her acquaintances has just found a corpse wearing nothing but a pince-nez in the bathtub of his London flat. Coincidentally, Wimsey's friend, Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard is investigating the mysterious disappearance of Reuben Levy, a rich financier, who bears a striking resemblance to the man in the bathtub.
Even though the corpse in the bathtub turns out not to be Levy, Lord Peter is certain that the two men are somehow linked.
This first Wimsey mystery isn't so much of a whodunit--the villain is obvious--but a how-the-heck-are-we-going-to-prove-whodunit. I don't read these mysteries for the plots, but for the wonderful characterizations. Lord Peter is a living, breathing human being with many flaws, including a tendency to revert to Bertie Wooster at his most vacuous. But I love his imitations of the dogged Watson bumbling along behind the Great Detective. I really do think Wimsey is the most lovable of all the British Golden Age Detectives.
When Lord Peter Wimsey is called in by Her Grace the Dowager Duchess (AKA Mother) to help extricate the timid Mr. Thipps from a case of body in the bathtub he finds himself embroiled in for far more than he has bargained. For one thing, the church architect's excess body, naked except for a Gold pince-nez, appears to be inexplicable. When it turns out that Sir Reuben Levy, an important financier is missing, the police become convinced that the body is that of Levy, and seize Thipps and the maid as the guilty party, despite all evidence to the contrary. Now Wimsey must work quickly with his friend Inspector Parker to solve both crimes and save both Thipps and the leaking church roof.
Thus begins Dorothy Sayer's first novel in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. Partly a satire of the British upper class, partly a comedy of manners, and mostly the first of a time honored series of detective novels that very nearly reinvented the British mystery story in the 1920's. Lord Peter is the second son of the current generation of the Dukes of Denver, his rather stuffy brother currently holding the title. Lately recovered from some harrowing war experiences and a badly ended relationship, he has come to be an amateur detective as a way to gain a new focus in life. Wimsey is intelligent, only occasionally serious, and a perfect image of the English gentleman.
Accompanying Lord Peter is his most excellent manservant Bunter, who served with him in the war and has become a loyal and true companion. Bunter is the straight man for many of Wimsey's quips and quotes, but has a wry wit of his own, and is probably the first forensic photographer in detective fiction. Lord Peter's other aide in this and ensuing tales is Inspector Parker who is of the same age and equally bright in his own right. A man after my own heart, Parker reads theology for entertainment. While the detection style has much of the same cerebral quality which mark many of Holmes' adventures, Wimsey and his companions are far more accessible than the 'Consulting Detective.'
Sayer's has a unique ability to do caricature, creating little gemlike performances for each of the people who parade through her stories. Be they somewhat dull policemen to distinguished surgeons, nobody is unmemorable. The wonderful characters, and Wimsey's own unique charms are very much the reasons that ''Whose Body' and the rest of the tales remain rereadable long after the plot has been completely memorized. Hopefully, you are a reader newly come to the world of Lord Peter and can look forward to the delights of this discovery. Dorothy Sayers is very much in a class by herself, both in terms of her own achievements and because of the history of her most remarkable invention, Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey.
on May 31, 2000
I began this series because one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth George, cites D.L. Sayers as a major influence on her work. I always start series books with the first one, so "Whose Body?" was the obvious choice. I'm glad there are more of this series because this one is not worthy of the praise that has been bestowed upon the author. "Whose Body?" was too predictable; I knew right away who did it. And it was quite tedious. But Lord Peter is eccentric to a fault, and I'm sure that is his charm. If you are a series reader, I think you will find the value of this book is the background information about Lord Peter himself, his way of approaching life and crime, and his relationships with other recurring characters. So my advice is read it anyway. You will learn something and get a good start on what is known as a remarkable body of work (no pun intended...)
I must add that I am currently reading "Clouds of Witness" which I am thoroughly enjoying.
on October 16, 2010
Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming was a scholar, a theologian, and a mystery writer. That is not an extremely common constellation. This is her first mystery, and it is a winner from the first word. The only possible complaint is that Lord Peter is somewhat more skittishly playful in this one than in the rest of the series, but the fault is forgivable. I hope that the entire series is soon available from Kindle; that will clear another two feet of my rapidly dwindling collection of tree books, to which I am allergic.