An aristocratic sleuth tries to learn the identity of a corpse in a London bathtub
Whose Body? The Singular Adventure of the Man With the Golden Pince-Nez. A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery. By Dorothy Sayers. HarperPaperbacks, 212 pp., $7.99, paperback.
By Janice Harayda
Anyone who has come away from the British phone-hacking scandal convinced of the ineptitude of Scotland Yard will find much to support that view in Dorothy Sayers’s first novel about the high-born amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. The dim Inspector Sugg reaches the crime scene first when a body clad only in gold-rimmed pince-nez turns up in the bathtub of a mild-mannered London architect. But Scotland Yard’s man on the spot fails to ask a pertinent question that occurs immediately to Wimsey, and he never retakes the lead from his rival.
As Sugg tries to catch up, Sayers serves up a plot in the style of her contemporary, Agatha Christie: She fires clues at you so rapidly that you hardly notice that they tend to come at the expense of plausibility – at least until the killer confesses to so much with so little provocation that it snaps the thin rubber band of logic holding the story together. Even then, a mystery remains: Why does the Oxford-educated Wimsey so often speak in solecisms like “ain’t” and “he don’t”?
Best line: No. 1: Lord Peter Wimsey says: “Even idiots occasionally speak the truth accidentally.” No. 2: “… Bunter had been carefully educated and knew that nothing is more vulgar than a careful avoidance of beginning a letter with the first person singular …”
Worst line: Wimsey says: “It’s awfully entertainin’ goin’ and pumpin’ him with stuff about a bazaar for church expenses, but when he’s so jolly pleased about it and that, I feel like a worm. … It ain’t my business.” It’s hard to reconcile this with the language of a man also given to quaint expressions like “By Jove!”
Published: 1923 (first edition), 1995 (HarperPaperbacks).
Read an excerpt from Whose Body? and more about the book.
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© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.