Category: Fiction/Mystery – Paperback: 214 pages – Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton (Hachette) – Source: Public Library
First Published: 1923
So, I was nervous collecting this from the library after reserving it. When it came up as my January book jar pick the comments some of you lovelies left on my post suggested that I possibly shouldn’t get my hopes up too high as you preferred later books in the Lord Peter Wimsey series of mysteries rather than the detective’s debut in this novel… And I guess I’m going to read on to find out if you’re right about the series overall – I finished this within four hours of checking it out from the library. I’m hooked.
Which is a little surprising as mysteries really aren’t my usual reading fare.
It’s not exactly flawless as a novel either, it’s fairly obvious early on who is the murderer and the two mysteries of where a wealthy financier has disappeared to and how an obviously staged, naked body turns up in a complete stranger’s bathtub in the middle of the night aren’t actually that taxing. But the mysteries are secondary to the set up Sayers is creating here and I really did love the characters and background she was introducing.
Wimsey, an aristocrat with an obsession for rare medieval folios, lingering nightmares of World War One and love of the intellectual chase, shimmers with restless, nervous energy and intelligence. And yes, he won my heart fairly quickly. I can understand why so many readers list him as a literary crush, he has that glow of the damaged but brilliant about him that is so very appealing.
‘The gutter’s only a couple of feet off the top of the window. I measured it with my [walking] stick – the gentleman-scout’s vade mecum, I call it – it’s marked off in inches. Uncommonly handy companion at times. There’s a sword inside and a compass in the head. Got it made specially. Anything more?’
(Page 26, Lord Peter Wimsey exploring the crime scene armed with only a magnifying glass strength monocle and walking stick…)
His deliciously adventurous mother, the Dowager Duchess, copes admirably with awkward situations and strange guests turning up in the middle of the night. His snarky butler, Bunter, who drools over new camera lenses, is a dab hand at interviewing himself and ‘never offers to do his job when you’ve told him to do somethin’ else’, made me grin from ear to ear. I also liked the friendly, smart Inspector Parker who debates cases with Wimsey over brandy and contrasts nicely with the bumbling Inspector Sugg who dislikes Wimsey intensely and arrests two obviously innocent people in the opening chapters just because they’re there.
‘I looked for any footprints of course, but naturally, with all this rain, there wasn’t any sign. Of course, if this was a detective story, there’d have been a convenient shower exactly an hour before the crime and a beautiful set of marks which could have only come there between two and three in the morning, but this being real life in a London November, you might as well expect footprints in Niagara.’
(Page 43, Inspector Parker contemplating the inconvenience of London weather)
And then there’s the affectionate digs at Conan Doyle and Sherlock and the interesting kink in Wimsey’s sense of fair play that sees him struggle to seize his murderer because he enjoys the hunt but not the conclusion or consequences. I was fairly startled when Wimsey tipped off the villain (I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say he does because the surprise lies in how he does it) but it did make a peculiar kind of sense. It also made the ‘confession’ aspect of the ending slightly more believable.
I now need to buy my own copy of Whose Body? and track down the next book in the series especially since most of my earlier commenters said the series gets better and I’m curious to see where Sayers takes these characters. I’ve got that glinty-eyed look about me. You know, the one that suggests a new bookish love affair has begun? Expect to see more Sayers here shortly. :)
This book counts for 1923 in my 20th Century of Books.
Buy the book: Book Depository