Friday, March 25, 2011
Whose Body? Review
With Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers, I went back to the very beginning of the Lord Peter Wimsey stories and fell in love with Lord Peter and Bunter and the Dowager Duchess all over again. Of course, there's nothing like the experience of discovering these delightful characters for the first time, but Sayers writes so wonderfully that it's pretty darn close. I loved every minute from the opening: "Oh, damn!" said Lord Peter Wimsey at Picadilly Circus. "Hi, driver!" to the very ending: "Bunter!" "My lord?" "The Napoleon brandy."
In this first of Lord Peter's exploits we have two mysterious circumstances. First, there is the rather odd appearance of a dead body found in an architect's bathtub...found wearing nothing but a pair of gold pince-nez. As the frontispiece says: "The stark naked body was lying in the tub. Not unusual for a proper bath, but highly irregular for murder--especially with a pair of gold pince-nez deliberately perched before sightless eyes." Then there's the disappearance of a prominent financier from his home. A financier who apparently took off in the middle of the night in nothing but his birthday suit. "...one is forced to suppose that a respectable middle-aged Hebrew financier either went mad between twelve and six a.m. and walked quietly out of his house in his birthday suit on a November night, or else was spirited away like the lady in the 'Ingoldsby Legends,' body and bones, leaving only a heap of crumpled clothes behind him." At first, the police suspect that the body in the bath must be the missing man, but this is soon proved to be wrong.
Lord Peter is called into the case on behalf of the architect who soon finds himself suspected of disposing of the man in his bath (though why he wouldn't go all the way and dispose of the body entirely never occurs to the slow-witted Inspector in charge of this one). Meanwhile, his friend, Inspector Parker, is given the task of tracking down the unclothed businessman. The two share information on their individual cases, compare notes, and even exchange missions. After interviewing everyone from an American railroad tycoon to a respectable lawyer in Salisbury to the great nerve specialist Sir Julian Freke, Lord Peter soon has all the clues at hand and it isn't long before he is able to hand Parker the solution to both mysteries on a silver platter.
Although it is always a delight to read the Lord Peter stories for his character alone, this time I was particularly taken with his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver. Her interactions with Mr. Milligan, the American tycoon, and her recital of the events of the inquest on the body in the bath are absolutely exquisite. She attends the inquest in order to support the aged, near-deaf mother of Mr. Thipps, the poor architect suspected of the murder. Here's the opening bit of her impersonation of Mrs. Thipps being interrogated by the Coroner:
" 'Did you hear anything unsual in the night?' says the little man, leaning forward and screaming at her, and so crimson in the face and his ears sticking out so--just like a cherubim in that poem of Tennyson's--or is a cherub blue?--perhaps it's a seraphim I mean--anyway, you know what I mean all eyes, with little wings on its head."
Wonderful, just wonderful. And the scene with the young medical student towards the end is also not to be missed. I'm so glad I joined up for the Wimsey Challenge giving me a valid excuse for rereading the Sayers mysteries and I definitely needed this little bit of comfort reading after the exertion of reading Lair of the White Worm. As usual, Sayers earns a full five stars.