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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Whose Body?

One of the most renowned mystery writers of all time was Dorothy L. Sayers, who wrote ten novels and a number of stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, whom she described as a "cross between Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster." I certainly got the Bertie Wooster part, as Wimsey is a great private detective but also something of a classic British twit, dressing idiosyncratically--"presently Lord Peter roamed in, moist and verbena-scented, in a bathrobe cheerfully patterned with unnaturally variegated peacocks"--and surrounding himself with antiquities and the niceties of life. In fact, the last line of the book, after the case is solved, is Wimsey calling on his somewhat robotic valet, Bunter--"The Napoleon brandy."

Whose Body? was the first Wimsey novel, published in 1923. We are introduced to Wimsey by some great metaphors, such as "His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola." He's the kind of guy who seems a pleasure to hang around with, an eccentric who is also comfortable with the lower classes. I was interested that he doesn't speak poshly, constantly dropping g's in his gerunds.

The case involves a corpse found in a bathtub, naked except for a pair of pince-nez. The bathtub belongs to a man named Thipps, who has no idea who the man is or how he got there. Wimsey's friend Parker, of Scotland Yard, is investigating the disappearance of a man named Reuben Levy, who bears a resemblance to the corpse, but is not him. Are they connected? (Of course they are).

Wimsey figures everything out, but there is a bit of regret in his ways, because he looks on it as a game. “That’s what I’m ashamed of, really,” said Lord Peter. “It is a game to me, to begin with, and I go on cheerfully, and then I suddenly see that somebody is going to be hurt, and I want to get out of it.”

Smart mystery readers who have read a lot of this may figure it out, but I didn't (I usually don't attempt to figure these out, as I would rather be surprised) but the British drollness is a pleasure to read. I would be glad to read the rest of the Wimsey novels.

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