Alex In Leeds

(Book Reviews and Adventures…)

Review: Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers

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Whose Body by Dorothy L Sayers

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.

Further Reading: I posted my favourite long quote from the book, The Sleepless Reader’s review, A piece on Open Letters Monthly about Sayers and the Golden Age of detective fiction

Buy the book: Book Depository

List of books read in 2014 / Index of Fiction

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Author: Alex in Leeds

Book reviewer, blogger, photographer and adventuress who completed 101 goals in 1001 days. I can be found on Twitter as @AlexInLeeds.

8 thoughts on “Review: Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers

  1. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed this, and that you properly appreciate Peter :) Not to mention Bunter, Charles Parker & the delightful Dowager. For me it’s definitely the people who make these books so compulsively readable, rather than the mysteries. And Clouds of Witness is great fun.

  2. Yay! I’m *so* delighted you’re hooked. The Wimsey stories are some of my favourites and you have such joys to come. Sayers was a great writer IMHO and her books are not *just* murder mysteries, they’re ‘proper’ novels. Can’t wait to hear what you think of the rest! (and yes – you really *do* need to possess your own set of these lovelies!)

  3. Mysteries are my favorite fiction genre – I’m always looking for a new series! Awesome recommendation!

  4. Excellent! I do love her books so much. :-)

  5. I’m so relieved that you liked it. Having someone read a book by one of your favorite authors with a plan to review it in a public forum is akin to having your children spending the weekend with the boss’s family. You’re hoping, hoping. I’m rereading /i/Have His Carcase/i/ right now, doing a complete reread of the Harriet/Lord Peter series. I had forgotten that the romantic element was so strong in this book. Not in its portion of pages, but in the depth of the psychological insight into their characters. Later, in another book, Harriet apologizes for being so savage to Peter, and he, being the gentleman that he is, blames it on the watering-place setting. It is easy to see, though, how deeply wounded he is by her words. I had nearly forgotten what it is to read about the delicate flowering of love between two adults, real people, with real vulnerabilities, both of them suffering from severe PTSD. That she is able to bring them together is a literary triumph. I would love to have seen more of the dowager duchess in the series. What a love she is, and what a contrast to the current Duchess of Denver, Peter’s annoying sister-in-law. Poor duke.

    Happy to find out my children behaved themselves, said ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ ate everything on their plate, didn’t chew with their mouth open, and are welcome back.

  6. Pingback: Weekend Miscellany: Good Reading and Common Pursuits » Novel Readings - Notes on Literature and Criticism

  7. I feel like sayng “Phew! You liked it!” – such a worry when a favourite author is being assessed. ;-) I love his mother so much. I hope you’ve got Strong Poison on your list soon, as I’d love to know what you think about, among other things, its sexual politics. (I’m being tantalising now…)

  8. Pingback: Nautical naughtiness – Classic crime in the blogosphere, January 2014 | Past Offences

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