Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Have His Carcase: Review
Dorothy L Sayers is always a comfort read for me. I've had a love affair going on with Lord Peter for about 30 years now. And I return to his stories whenever I need a pick-me-up. And, boy, did I need a pick-me-up after making my way through Middlemarch!
Have His Carcase was just the tonic that the doctor would have ordered (had I consulted him). We have Harriet Vane, mystery writer and recently acquitted of murdering her former lover, on a walking tour to shake off the horrors of having been on trial for her life. She takes a break from walking to have lunch on a beach and discovers a body on a local rock formation--known as the Devil's Flat Iron. The man's throat has been cut and the blood has not even begun to clot and there are no footprints in the sand except Harriet's and the man's. It's obvious that the tide is coming in quickly and there will be no time to fetch help before the body will be washed away into the sea. Harriet, using her detective novelist skills, notes as much about the man as possible, gathers up various items (shoe, hat, etc) and takes a whole roll of film on her travel camera to record the scene. She then makes her way to the nearest phone (after much travail) to report the incident to the police.
Enter Lord Peter Wimsey. Who comes "as a bird to its mate"--to the body, Harriet, to the body. His friend Salcombe Hardy has tipped him the wink about Harriet's adventures and Peter is all set to get to the bottom of the mystery (and, incidentally, ask Harriet to marry him). And mystery there is--what looks to be a simple suicide soon becomes very complicated. Why did the man sit on the rock for over two hours before killing himself? Why did he wear gloves...and buy a return train ticket...and take his door key when he didn't take anything else with him? Where did he get the razor--a man who never shaves certainly doesn't need one. Matters become even more mysterious--with Bolsheviks and communist school teachers, jealous lovers (of the man's former girlfriend), and a future step-son who was none too keen on having "a lounge lizard" papa. There's the suspicious camper in Hink's Lane and the mare that got loose and the fisherman who was in a boat in sight of the beach at the relevant times--and who is definitely not telling all he knows. And an itinerant barber who has an odd little tale to tell. There are 300 pounds (British pounds, not weight) of gold coins to be found and a secret code to be broken. Things certainly aren't dull in the watering hole at Wilvercombe.
I just plain love reading the Sayers novels. There is so much wit and humor throughout that it really is a comfortable sort of book to sink into. Especially since this is the umpteenth reread and I really didn't have to use up brain power trying to follow all that "decipher the code" business. That would be one of my quibbles with this particular story (with the previous book, Five Red Herrings, it was the time tables)--way too much time spent on the intricate methods of deciphering this particular cipher. I have to confess that I skimmed right through that part this time 'round. I think the filmed version with Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter does an excellent job of condensing this scene down--although, it may make it seem a little too easy.
My favorite bits are when Peter finally gets to dance with Harriet, their stroll along the beach looking for clues, and when she thinks she may have been kissed by a murderer. I also like the wrap-up at the end when Harriet begins offering up various other fictional detectives (Roger Sheringham, Dr. Thorndyke, etc) and their methods as possible ways to find the solution. Exciting stuff all around and an excellent read. Four stars.
Darling, if you danced like an elderly elephant with arthritis, I would dance the sun and the moon into the sea with you. I have waited a thousand years to see you dance in that frock. (Lord Peter to Harriet)
When I kiss you it will be an important event--one of those things which stand out among their surroundings like the first time you taste li-chee. (Lord Peter to Harriet)
Like all male creatures Wimsey was a simple soul at bottom.