Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Whose Body?  (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #1)Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola."

This cool sentence appears on the first page of Dorothy L. Sayers' Whose Body? (1923), but overall the novel has been quite a disappointment. I have had some trouble staying focused on reading as neither the story nor the writing - which is quite a surprise - captivated my attention. The novel is the first entry in the author's acclaimed series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey as well as my first contact with the famous amateur sleuth.

The body of a naked man with a golden pince-nez has been found in the bathroom of a house that belongs to an architect employed by Lord Wimsey's mother. Lord Peter, well known for his "hobby of criminal investigation" and his talent for solving crimes, rushes to the scene. Coincidentally (or not?) an important financier has vanished the same morning. Are the two cases connected? Police investigation led by rude and incompetent inspector Sugg is predictably on the wrong track; we follow Lord Wimsey's inquiry in which he is aided by Bunter the Butler and his acquaintance, detective Parker of the Scotland Yard.

I am wondering if Ms. Sayers is the first author who uses the trick - now a complete cliché - with the detective being aware of a fleeting thought that would solve the mystery if only it could be remembered:
"He pursued an elusive memory for some minutes, till it vanished altogether with a mocking flicker of the tail."
Luckily, on the next page:
"It happened suddenly [...] He remembered - not one thing, nor another thing, nor a logical succession of things, but everything - the whole thing, perfect, complete, in all its dimensions as it were and instantaneously; as if he stood outside the world and saw it suspended in infinitely dimensional space."
The good lord has an epiphany - by the way, this mathematician-turned-reviewer loves the "infinitely dimensional space" reference - and suddenly he understands everything. Soon the reader will also be privy to the solution via a well-constructed and slightly dramatic scene that features Wimsey talking to the guilty party. Alas the scene is followed by the lengthy confession - quite boring and a poor literary device.

To me the best scene in the novel is the inquest conducted by the coroner in the presence of a jury: I found it very interesting to learn the details of court practice from almost a hundred years ago. All in all, while I may reach for one more Wimsey novel, it does not hold much promise based on this one.

Two-and-a-quarter stars.

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