Book Review: Whose Body?

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers is the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. The book opens with Wimsey’s mother, the Dowager Duchess, calling on behalf of a Mr. Thipps, as there is a dead body in Mr. Thipps’ bathtub. The dead body is to be investigated by an Inspector Sugg, who, as his name suggests, is not the best the Met have to offer. Lord Peter has a look around and realizes Sugg is on the completely wrong track, as Sugg suspects Mr. Thipps, Mr. Thipps’ elderly and deaf mother or the housemaid and her boyfriend, and doesn’t let anything like a lack of evidence get in his way.

Meanwhile, Wimsey’s friend on the Force, Chief Inspector Parker, is looking into a missing persons case of a financier, Mr. Reuben Levy, who has disappeared into thin air sometime during that same night. As this is a novel and not collection of fictional newspaper articles, it turns out the cases are linked. Gasp. Wimsey and Parker look at each others cases, tut at Sugg’s ignorance, and decide to swap cases.

Through a series of interviews, red herrings and charging about town the main baddy is discovered, the identity of the dead body is established and motive uncovered. Along the way we are introduced to the Hon. Freddy, Peter’s dim, but financially genius friend; Bunter, Peter’s imperturbable and slightly insolent valet; and Peter’s hobbies; fine wines, collecting rare books and playing piano. Peter has a PTSD episode as the enormity of what he is doing crashes down on him the day before the murderer is cornered. The main baddy attempts to murder Parker and Wimsey and delivers his Hannibal Lecture on the nature of conscience and guilt in the form of a suicide note when Sugg goes to arrest him.

It was a short book, but entertaining. I am not a good judge of whether or not the mystery part is good, because I never try to guess whodunit, that’s not why I read whodunits. I read them to watch the interactions of the characters. The book bears striking similarities to other Golden Age detective fiction. I had a hard time not imputing Campion’s personality onto Wimsey. And, despite everything, Parker is not Inspector Alleyn or Inspector Oates.

As I had only read the Harriet Vane novels by Sayers I found Whose Body? to be surprisingly light on the philosophical bits. There was plenty of authorial opinion on “modern” psychology and detective fiction, however. I have no doubt that there are more sly jabs at contemporaneous thinking that went over my head. And I can only assume it is because it was Wimsey’s first book that he, rather annoyingly, kept dropping his ‘g’s at the end of his gerunds. I’m glad he grew out of that habit.

The book is in the public domain in the US (probably, God only knows what Disney and Congress are doing to screw us over from day to day) and readily available in the usual places you get your public domain ebooks.

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