Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

ImageThis was the first book I read in my shiny new Kobo, which I’ll talk about in another post, and also my first Dorothy L. Sayers book. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of this, maybe a mixture of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes? Which I suppose means high expectations for me. Well, it didn’t quite meet them.

Assigning a motive for the murder of a person without relations or antecedents or even clothes is like trying to visualize the fourth dimension – an admirable exercise for the imagination, but arduous and inconclusive.

Whose Body? is a crime novel, and as such the book starts with a murder. An unknown man is found naked in a bathtub wearing glasses; no one knows who he is or how he got there. In comes Lord Peter Wimsey, a detective by choice and English aristocrat by birth. He gets involved in the solution of this case, but is soon also dragged onto another parallel case: Sir Reuben Levy has gone missing, leaving all his clothes behind, and Inspector Parker has no idea how to find him. And it’s clear from the beginning the man in the tub is not Sir Reuben Levy.

Let’s start with the main character, shall we? Lord Peter Wimsey is definitely not Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, which is not to say he doesn’t have his own unique style of joining all the clues together and discovering the rest. I thought he was funny and although his ‘what?’ were really starting to irritate me, he got over them by the end of the book. Another thing he got over by the end was his flatness and we finally see some layers to his personality, which sadly isn’t that developed. But still, the story is not about him, yes? And I think he was the most complex character.

“You want to be consisted, you want to look pretty, you want to swagger debonairly through a comedy of puppets or else stalk magnificently through a tragedy of human sorrows and things. But that’s childish. If you’ve any duty to society in the way of finding out the truth about murders, you must do it in any attitude that comes handy.”

Regardless of all that I thought he was, rather like the whole book, fun. The book was in third person so we never really knew what he was thinking when he went on one of his tangents or made an off-hand comment to Bunter, his manservant, about something seemingly unrelated to anything. His partners in crime solving, Bunter and Parker, complement each other and become a sort of Watson/Hastings duo. Though Bunter was casually ironic and witty, talking back to Wimsey like nobody’s business and making the other man presentable at the same time. I liked his character a lot, maybe more than any other in this book.

Another flaw with this book is that I figured out who the murderer was long before the end, I don’t know if it was obvious or if simply being allowed a closer look at this person made me realize it. It was a click and suddenly I was like ‘Oh! That’s the murderer!’ and that was that. But that has never stopped me from enjoying the big reveal of crime novels and I really wanted to see how it had been done, if it had been planned or a spur of the moment decision. Also, why those freaking glasses and not, say, a hat? Or a shirt? Or anything else really.

The knowledge of good and evil is a phenomenon of the brain, and is removable, removable, removable. The knowledge of good and evil is removable.

So despite the lack of suspense and in depth characterization, I had fun. It was a light read and something I really wanted to read since I read Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue and the other Dupin tales, who is the inspiration for all this detective characters we have today. Which reminds me: I really need to read more of Poe. Something to think about, but only after I finish Possession and/or The First Man in the Moon by H. G. Wells.



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