So, I finally got around to listening to the first of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Whose Body? As a lover of vintage mysteries, it’s really a shame that it’s taken me so long to read anything by Sayers, one of the original “Queens of Crime.” I think I need to read a couple more, though, to really appreciate the series; this first novel, while enjoyable, wasn’t outstanding to me.
While this is the first in the series, it’s not Wimsey’s first case. By the time this one opens, his interest in mysteries is well-known, so it’s quite reasonable for Wimsey’s mother, the Dowager Duchess, to call him on behalf of a Mr. Thipps, as there is a dead body in Mr. Thipps’ bathtub. Lord Peter has a look around and realizes the official police force is on the completely wrong track, as an incompetent Inspector Sugg suspects Mr. Thipps or the housemaid and her boyfriend in spite of the evidence. Meanwhile, Wimsey’s friend, Chief Inspector Parker, is looking into the disappearance of a financier, Mr. Reuben Levy, who vanished the same night. As a side note, many of the characters don’t fully understand Judaism and it shows. I don’t feel they’re being anti-Semitic though just aware of some differences. Levy’s wife, for example, not Jewish, is not looked down on for marrying him. Their marriage is shown as being happy and a good choice on her part. Anyway, of course the two cases are connected, and Parker and Wimsey work together to arrive at the solution.
Wimsey’s an interesting character. He’s an aristocrat who has the money and freedom to pursue his hobby of solving crime. He’s a bit flippant and cares about his appearance, but that doesn’t disguise his intelligence. He collects rare books and fine wines, but it’s not only the upper class in Sayers book that are well-educated. Parker certainly is well-read and Bunter, Wimsey’s valet, is quite knowledgeable. Wimsey suffers from PTSD, or shell-shock, as a result of his service in WW1, which a scene later in the book, when the stress starts getting to him, describes quite well. And those around accept it, understand it and help him through. This scene also gives us a glimpse into the closeness between Wimsey and Bunter, who is both slightly insolent and thoroughly invaluable.
The idea of a gentleman detective is certainly not unique to Sayers though, and I personally prefer Marsh’s Alleyn, who also comes from an upper class family, but works for the Yard instead of independently. Maybe it’s just because I’ve known him longer. Isn’t it funny how you come to feel like you know these characters, especially series ones? I did love Wimsey’s mother, though, quite a woman. Bright, charming, she never seems to make a mistake even when thrown into a situation where she doesn’t really know what is going on.
As far as the mystery goes, it was simple, but overcomplicated at the time. I didn’t like the way it was summed up though. The killer, when he realized he was caught, wrote a letter detailing his motive, his planning, his actions, everything, which didn’t work for me. It was rather a let-down really.
I liked the characters, the dialogue was witty, there were several rather literary references sprinkled throughout, along with a little French which lost me. Overall, it was good but not an “omygosh, I need to pick the next one up now.” I will read more in the series, eventually, though. I have a feeling Lord Peter Wimsey will grow on me. If nothing else, it’s a short fun read.
Category: Mystery – Traditional British
3½ out of 5 stars
Lord Peter Wimsey #1
First published 1923
5 hours 56 minutes
Narrated by Nadia May
Book source: Library
March Mystery Madness is hosted by Christina at Reading Thru the Night.
Lord Peter Wimsey Series
- Whose Body?
- Clouds of Witness
- Unnatural Death
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
- Strong Poison
- Five Red Herrings
- Have His Carcase
- Murder Must Advertise
- The Nine Tailors
- Gaudy Night
- Busman’s Honeymoon
- Thrones, Dominations (unfinished manuscript completed by Jill Paton Walsh)
- A Presumption of Death (by Jill Paton Walsh)
- The Attenbury Emeralds (by Jill Paton Walsh)
Short Story Collections
- Lord Peter Views the Body
- Hangman’s Holiday
- In the Teeth of the Evidence
- Striding Folly