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Title: Whose Body?
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #1
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3 of 5 Stars
Thipps, an architect, finds a dead body wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez in the bath of his London flat. Lord Peter Wimsey—a nobleman who has recently developed an interest in criminal investigation as a hobby—resolves to investigate the matter privately. Leading the official investigation is Inspector Sugg, who suggests that the body may be that of the famous financier Sir Reuben Levy, who disappeared from his bedroom in mysterious circumstances the night before. Sir Reuben’s disappearance is in the hands of Inspector Charles Parker, a friend of Wimsey’s. Although the body in the bath superficially resembles that of Sir Reuben, it quickly becomes clear that it is not him, and it appears that the cases may be unconnected. Wimsey joins Parker in his investigation.
Thipps’s flat is near a teaching hospital, and Wimsey considers the possibility that the unexpected appearance of a body may have been the result of a joke perpetrated by one of the medical students. However, that is excluded by evidence given at the inquest by the respected surgeon and neurologist Sir Julian Freke, who states that there was no subject missing from his dissecting room.
A prostitute’s chance encounter with Levy on the night of his disappearance, on the road leading to the hospital and to Sir Julian Freke’s house next door, provides Wimsey with the clue that allows him to link the two cases. Freke maintains that he was discreetly being consulted by Levy about a medical problem, and that Levy left at about 10pm. Freke’s manservant reports that Freke was inexplicably taking a bath at about 3 o’clock the following morning, judging from the noise of the cistern.
Wimsey ultimately discovers that Freke murdered Sir Reuben after luring him to his house with the promise of some inside financial information. Freke smuggled the body out onto the roof under cover of the cistern noise, took it into the hospital, and substituted it for that of a pauper who had been donated for dissection by the local workhouse. He then visited Sir Reuben’s home to stage his disappearance, returned, carried the pauper’s body over the flat roofs of the nearby houses and placed it in Thipps’ bath, entering via a bathroom window that had been left open. As a joke, he added a pair of pince-nez that had by chance come into his possession. Returning to the hospital, he prepared Sir Reuben’s body for dissection, giving it to his medical students for that purpose the next day.
Freke unsuccessfully attempts to murder both Parker and Wimsey. When it becomes clear that his actions have been discovered, he prepares a written confession of his long-held desire for revenge: many years earlier, he hoped to marry the woman who later became Lady Levy, but she chose Sir Reuben in preference to him. He also intended to substantiate his own theory of mind, in which conscience, a sense of responsibility and so on are merely “surface symptoms” which arise from physical irritation or damage to the tissues of the brain. As he completes the confession the police arrive to arrest him, preventing his suicide just in time.
Back at the tail end of 2018, I wrapped up my read of the Brother Cadfael series, a Medieval Mystery series that I enjoyed for the most part. Since then, outside of my one attempt to read PD James’ Adam Dalgiesh mysteries, my mystery reading has consisted of the Arcane Casebook series and Garrett, PI, both of which are as much fantasy as mystery. Dalgliesh (and James) horrified me with its tawdry revoltingness, Arcane Casebook I’m up to date on and waiting for the next book and the end of Garrett PI is soon approaching. I was therefore on the lookout for another pure mystery series I could get into. I did consider Sherlock Holmes, especially after Savage Dave’s excellent read through semi-recently, but for some reason it just didn’t grab me; maybe because I’m already re-reading so much and wanted something completely new? I don’t know, but Sherlock was out.
Somehow or other, I came across some references to Lord Peter Wimsey. There are a couple of ladies I follow who are into Mysteries and Golden Age stuff (namely, Themis, Brokentune and MurderbyDeath), so I’m sure it was one of them. For all I know it might have even been some offhand reference in the comments. I wish I could track it down. Needless to say, I have started this series and with a 3star start, it is looking quite promising.
This did not feel like a first in a series kind of novel. It is obvious that most of the characters have prior history with each other and Sayers’ doles out the hints like she was a true New England Yankee (ie, miser). But the first it is and you just have to suck it up and soldier on.
Peter is Bertie Wooster, except smart. He even has a butler who is quite competent. Bunter the Butler. Say that 5 times fast. If Jeeves wasn’t quite so smart and had been a sergeant in the British Army, then he’d be Bunter. Peter Wimsey, who I shall try to refer to simply as Wimsey in the rest of my reviews, is obviously suffering from shell shock and nerves and Sayers makes the most out of by making her detective character have a bit of weakness and humanity. He’s no Sherlock Holmes able to bend steel pokers. There’s one scene where Wimsey is having flashback nightmares to the Great War and Bunter has to talk him down. It was refreshing and distracting because it was so out of the ordinary for a mystery novel in my opinion. Does mean that Wimsey has great potential as a character.
The biggest reason this is gettin’ just 3 stars instead of more is because of Sayers makin’ Wimsey, and his older brother the Duke, drop their “g”s when talkin’. Very distractin’ don’t you know, especially when it is ongoin’ for the whole book. It bugged the everlivin’ daylights out of me and I’m really hopin’ Sayers tones it down in later books. Just sayin’…..
which do you like better? The first row of stars or the second?
Personally, I like the second, but the problem is that I can’t copy/paste it into the title bar. Having my star rating visually in the title of my post is now part of my mystique. No way I’m changing that!