Grandpa Felicius: We first met the foppishly brilliant Lord Peter Wimsey in Dorothy L. Sayers’ 1923 debut, ”Whose Body?” There, an inexplicable corpse on a bathtub causes our affluent detective to pop on his monocle for the cause of justice. In the 1926 follow-up, “Clouds of Witness,” the ever brilliant Lord fought for his family’s honor, while living up to the fantastical expectations of this biographical account:
“To Lord Peter the world presented itself as an entertaining labyrinth of side-issues. He was a respectable scholar in five or six languages, a musician of some skill and more understanding, something of an expert in toxicology, a collector of rare editions, an entertaining man-about-town, and a common sensationalist. He had been seen at half-past twelve on a Sunday morning walking in Hyde Park in a top-hat and frock-coat, reading the News of the World. His passion for the unexplored led him to hunt up obscure pamphlets in the British Museum, to unravel the emotional history of income-tax collectors, and to find out where his own drains led to.”
Sayer’s creation truly congeals into a likable Woosterish human in the third book of the series, 1927’s “Unnatural Death,” where the connection to P. G. Wodehouse’s most famous non-butler creation is explicitly confessed to by the authoress. And of course Lord Wimsey has a Jeeves-like assistant in the person of wise, dutiful Bunter.
Cousin Franz: “Unnatural Death” confronts Lord Peter with two mysteries in one death. The first is a medical mystery: Has ailing Miss Dawson died for natural reasons, or has she been hurried into the beyond by her closest living relative, a great-niece called Miss Daisy Whittaker? The second is a legal mystery: Does Mrs. Dawson’s will- or lack thereof- have any bearing in the matter? Here, Dorothy L. Sayers finally strikes a truly pleasing balance between humor, crime, and religious contemplation. A writer of apologetics and a life-long High Anglican, she and G. K. Chesterton may be the only two great Golden Age whodunit writers to dedicate serious thought to their own Christianity, counterparts to C. S. Lewis and Tolkien in the fantasy genre. As with those, Sayers’ merits are so abundant that one tolerates the occasional Churchy moralizing. If one is pressed for time, or oppressed by time, and decided to start the Lord Peter Wimsey series with this volume, it would be the ideal first impression.
Tracey: Some of the social attitudes about race, sex, and class show their age. Few white males can get more privileged than blue-blooded Peter, after all! Also, there’s *cough cough* use of the N-word! But the racists and sexists in this novel are shown to be on the meaner side of history. ( Can’t say the same for the classists, though; clearly Sayers did not relish visiting the East End of London). Anyway, it gets a Cherry based on a pre-Miss Marple character, a spinster called Miss Climson, who’s more competent at police work than any Scotland Yarder!
Beatricia: Thanks to Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Unnatural Death,” I learned quite a lot about the Administration of Estates Act of 1925, and the most efficient, most untraceable method to dispose of unwanted relatives who are taking much too long to modify their wills to my benefit. Cherry!
Grandpa Felicius: ACTUALLY, the murder method used in the novel is medically incorrect, not to mention quite ineffective in practice.
Beatricia: We will see.
Hank: Intriguing read, but I’m a little confused by some of the more intricate details of the mystery, like, “how exactly does Lord Peter Wimsey keep his monocle from falling out all the time?” I drop my contacts, like, twice a day!
Granda Felicius: It is a matter of expertise, nobility, and exceptional eye-socket power.
Trent: I tried reading this but I’m just gonna hold my reading horses until someone translates it into American.
Grandpa Felicius: Quite understandable, old thing; Wimsey’s solipsistic yet erudite ejaculations can be sometimes confounding to the untrained auricle, and there’s of course other, baser characters who do slip into exasperating, H-aspirating Cockney dialects.
Trent: Hahahaha!!! COCK KNEE!!! Hahahaha!!!
Tracey: Ugh. Trent, whatever horrible visual is floating on your head right now, I guarantee that’s not what a “Cockney” means.
Blurbarella: “Lord Petyr– Baelish– Is He Still Alive? He’s Not, Is He.– I Have Not– Caught Up– With GoT.”
4 out of 6 Cherries