Whose Body?: Lord Peter Wimsey Book 1 (Lord Peter Wimsey Series) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 171 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Mystery aficionados speak of Dorothy Sayers with reverence. She's considered one of the "four queens of the Golden Age of mystery writing". This is a delicious sample of her writing, and the first book I read by her. After finishing this one, I quickly ordered another Sayers mystery Clouds of Witness via my kindle.
Sayers' brilliance (Oxford education) and lively wit infuses this book with charm. What I enjoyed was the social commentary by the characters--you can really get a sense of the esprit of the 1920's and inter-war years through reading a mystery like this by a writer who is from this period. There's no more witty and entertaining observer of contemporary society than Lord Peter Wimsey, the protagonist, who helps Scotland Yard solve this unusual crime. This book has a riveting crime, well-paced plot, charming and eccentric characters, delightful dialog and a London setting. What more can a devoted mystery reader want?
All that's needed is a comfortable armchair and a roaring fire to read by. I enjoyed WHOSE BODY so much I'm recommending to our Library monthly mystery book club that we read it as a selection.
“Yes, my lord.”
“Her Grace tells me that a respectable Battersea architect has discovered a dead man in his bath.” “Indeed, my lord? That’s very gratifying.”
“Very, Bunter. Your choice of words is unerring. I wish Eton and Balliol had done as much for me."
I did not really have any expectations, this book having been my first from Dorothy L. Sayers, just some curiosity of how she compares to my beloved Agatha Christie. Having said that much, I was still pleasantly surprised at how much enjoyed reading it.
I loved the all characters: Lord Peter Wimsey, Bunter, detective inspector Parker & the Dowager Duchess of Denver (Lord Peter's mother).
In the beginning, Bunter read very much like Jeeves to Lord Peter's Bertie Wooster:
Lord Peter Wimsey: "It’s much easier to work on someone else’s job than one’s own—gives one that delightful feelin’ of interferin’ and bossin’ about, combined with the glorious sensation that another fellow is takin’ all one’s own work off one’s hands."
Bunter: "Yes, Mr. Graves, it’s a hard life, valeting by day and developing by night—morning tea at any time from 6.30 to 11, and criminal investigation at all hours."
"I’m off. With a taxi I can just—” “Not in those trousers, my lord,” said Mr. Bunter, blocking the way to the door with deferential firmness. “Oh, Bunter,” pleaded his lordship, “do let me—just this once. You don’t know how important it is.” “Not on any account, my lord. It would be as much as my place is worth.”
Their exchanges are funny and a nice comic relief, but as the story continues both characters -along with DI Parker - gather depth. Nothing too elaborately detailed, but rather through some nice little touches you learn that a seemingly flippant, offhand Lord Peter served in WW I and suffered a nervous breakdown due to shell shock from which he never recovered completely. Sometimes he has relapses, especially if his investigations -like here- lead to someone (even though a murderer) losing their life.
We also learn that Bunter served under Lord Peter's command & during his relapses he takes care of him conscientiously & effectively.
Detective Parker seems to be another sidekick to Lord Peter.
“It affords me, if I may say so, the greatest satisfaction,” continued the noble lord, “that in a collaboration like ours all the uninteresting and disagreeable routine work is done by you.”
He is thorough, cautious, clever & well-educated (reminds me a bit of Lt. Arthur Tragg in the Perry Mason series). He likes reading biblical commentary as a chill-out before going to sleep.
One of the most interesting parts of the book was a conversation between Lord Peter & Parker which highlights their characters even more:
“Look here, Peter,” said the other with some earnestness, “suppose you get this playing-fields-of-Eton complex out of your system once and for all. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt that something unpleasant has happened to Sir Reuben Levy. Call it murder, to strengthen the argument. If Sir Reuben has been murdered, is it a game? and is it fair to treat it as a game?” “That’s what I’m ashamed of, really,” said Lord Peter. “It is a game to me, to begin with, and I go on cheerfully, and then I suddenly see that somebody is going to be hurt, and I want to get out of it.” “Yes, yes, I know,” said the detective, “but that’s because you’re thinking about your attitude. You want to be consistent, you want to look pretty, you want to swagger debonairly through a comedy of puppets or else to stalk magnificently through a tragedy of human sorrows and things. But that’s childish. If you’ve any duty to society in the way of finding out the truth about murders, you must do it in any attitude that comes handy. You want to be elegant and detached? That’s all right, if you find the truth out that way, but it hasn’t any value in itself, you know. You want to look dignified and consistent—what’s that got to do with it? You want to hunt down a murderer for the sport of the thing and then shake hands with him and say, ‘Well played—hard luck—you shall have your revenge tomorrow!’ Well, you can’t do it like that. Life’s not a football match. You want to be a sportsman. You can’t be a sportsman. You’re a responsible person.” “I don’t think you ought to read so much theology,” said Lord Peter. “It has a brutalizing influence.”
When finding out who the murderer is, Lord Peter gets also thrown into a moral dilemma that brings on one of his relapses.
You can guess who the perpetrator is relatively quickly. Sayers places her clues inconspicuously, but they can be discovered without much difficulty and yet it does not really diminish the merits of the book. It stays enjoyable from beginning to end.
Comparisons between Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes are inevitable; so inevitable, in fact, that Lord Peter himself makes them. He is an enthusiast of detective fiction, yet a critic of it as well, often pointing out how the killers in mystery novels don’t behave the way real-life murderers would. Though such meta-commentary pokes fun at the classic detective, it’s clear that Lord Peter admires Holmes and likes to consider himself very much in the same league with the fictional detective. As a literary character, however, he doesn’t quite measure up, yet Lord Peter is likely one of the best post-Holmes British investigators, ranking up there with Agatha Christie’s recurring sleuths.
Even less so than Holmes, Lord Peter is not the sort of man I would take a liking to in real life. He has a rather frivolous attitude toward just about everything, including his cases. Often the main concern on his mind is the wearing of proper trousers. He readily admits that his interest in solving mysteries is driven by intellectual exercise; he has little moral interest in punishing wrong-doers. When it comes to crime, he displays a computer-like intelligence, but in all other matters he seems rather air-headed and flighty. If anything the reader identifies with Parker, who fights crime for a living and takes his role as a lawman seriously. One gets the impression that putting up with Lord Peter’s shallow flippancy is a necessity he willing endures in order to get his man and set things right. On the other hand, two qualities I do enjoy about Lord Peter are his interest in collecting rare books and the fact that he enlists the help of his mother—by all measures a charming character—in solving his cases.
As for the mystery itself: “Very pretty,” as Parker remarks, “a bit intricate, though.” For the most part, Sayers’ writing is quite smart and engaging. The solution to the mystery is revealed a little too early, however, and is not surprising enough. Towards the end of the book, a couple passages written in the second person seem like ostentatious stylistic diversions that distract from the story rather than help it. Overall, however, Sayers tells her story very well. Her prose recalls the solid, traditional storytelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Maurice Leblanc sprinkled with risqué suggestions of sex and violence more suited to the modern reader. Though published over 90 years ago, today’s audience will still find Whose Body? fresh and exciting. Despite my few misgivings mentioned above, I enjoyed this book very much and will certainly seek out the further escapades of Lord Peter.
Most recent customer reviews
A must read for mystery enthusiasts and history buffs.