BOOK REVIEW: Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Blurb (from Goodreads) Whose Body?:

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.

The Blurb (from Goodreads) Clouds of Witness:

Rustic old Riddlesdale Lodge was a Wimsey family retreat filled with country pleasures and the thrill of the hunt -- until the game turned up human and quite dead. He lay among the chrysanthemums, wore slippers and a dinner jacket and was Lord Peter's brother-in-law-to-be. His accused murderer was Wimsey's own brother, and if murder set all in the family wasn't enough to boggle the unflappable Lord Wimsey, perhaps a few twists of fate would be -- a mysterious vanishing midnight letter from Egypt...a grieving fiancee with suitcase in hand...and a bullet destined for one very special Wimsey.

My Thoughts:

Every year I set myself some kind of reading challenge, and this year I’ve decided to re-read as many Golden Age detective novels as I can. This is partly because I’m writing a novel set during the 1940s, and so I want to immerse myself in the language and attitudes of the times. And it’s partly because I’ve not read them for absolute ages, and I want to treat myself.

I’ve decided to begin with the work of Dorothy L. Sayers. She was born in Oxford and studied there just before the First World War, and her detective-hero Lord Peter Wimsey is known both for his cleverness and his insouciance. I am reading the books in order of publication, and so began with Whose Body? -  first published in 1923.

Lord Peter Wimsey is called to view the body of an unknown dead man found in the bathtub of – in his mother, the Duchess’s words – ‘the little architect man who is doing the church roof.’ The body is wearing nothing but a pair of gold pince-nez, which is a type of spectacles popular in the early 20th century.

The murder case then intersects with the case of the disappearance of a wealthy Jewish financier. With the help of Bunter, his valet, Wimsey sets out to solve the interlocked puzzles with a great deal of humour and panache. Whose Body? is quite slight in comparison with some of the later books in the series, but nonetheless a very clever and readable mystery.

Clouds of Witness was published three years later, in 1926, and shows her style developing. The puzzle is again quite masterful – I didn’t guess a thing – and Lord Peter Wimsey’s clever, whimsical personality shines through even more brightly. The story follows his desperate attempts to save his stodgy and very proper brother, the Duke of Denver, from the hangman’s noose after he is accused of murdering his brother-in-law-to-be. Most of the action takes place on the atmospheric Yorkshire moors, and there’s a tragic beauty, a French temptress, a brutal husband, and many other fascinating characters. I’m going to enjoy reading the rest in the series, methinks!


You might also like to read my review of Tombland by C J Sansom:

Kate Forsyth
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