Well, the first book to be read and reviewed in 2014 happens to be a Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) novel. Whose Body? was first published in 1923; I read the 1988 New English Library edition, which I picked up used for $1.80. This novel is the first of Sayers’ novels, therefore it is also the first in her series starring the private amateur detective Lord Peter Whimsey.
I have been reading older books rather than freshly published ones. I am trying to especially bulk out the 1920s and 1930s. Why? Absolutely no reason whatsoever. Random idea. And I am not really serious about it, just something I am in the process of doing. Hence, Sayers falls into this category. She also falls into the category of early detective mysteries. But beyond that, one of the last things that a very old professor (Emeritus and with a lecture series named after them) was working on before they really retired [this can be taken in several senses] was commenting on the religious and philosophical ideas found in Sayers. This may seem totally non-academic, but I must gently remind you this was more so busywork and senior-minded hobbying; the years for true academic research long past. At the time I witnessed this work, the professor was 80 years old. I was always slightly curious about their interest in the author/works.
Well, so, I started reading this novel with zero expectations. I did not know what to expect and I did not demand anything from the novel. It starts off a little jarringly, I have to say. The main character, Lord Peter Whimsey, is en route somewhere – but we join the story as he is requesting the cab driver to turn around and return to his house. At first I was not sure what to make of the character or the story. I was really not sure that I would get through this novel in one piece. But Whimsey grew on me. And then I realized why I was becoming so fond of him….. he reminds me of me.
Seriously. I didn’t realize it at first, but then I couldn’t help but notice. He’s not a dandy or a fop. He’s this eccentric, extremely witty, aristocrat. A bon vivant, which is more or less…..well… me. He is an expert in foods and wines and wardrobe and he LOVES BOOKS and folios and incunabula. Whimsey is 100mph and is a lot of excitement. Maybe this likeness tainted my enjoyment of the novel just slightly. But also, his mother reminds me of my mother a bit, too.
“You see, Lady Swaffham, if ever you want to commit a murder, the thing you’ve got to do is to prevent people from associatin’ their ideas. Most people don’t associate anythin’ – their ideas just roll about like so many dry peas on a tray, makin’ lot of noise and going nowhere, but once you begin lettin’ ’em string their peas into a necklace, it’s goin’ to be strong enough to hang you, what?” – Lord Whimsey, Chapter 7
Here’s the story sans spoilers: a body is found in the bathtub of a certain simple-minded little man named Thipps. Thipps has no idea who this is or how the body got into his bathtub. Also, a self-made man of some repute has seemingly gone missing, wearing nothing but his birthday suit. Lord Whimsey investigates with the help of his friend in the police, Detective Charles Parker and his totally awesome butler/valet Mervyn Bunter. I suspect if I had a butler, he would have to be exactly like Bunter. And, really, Bunter is as much to credit for the resolution of the case as is Parker and Whimsey.
Sayers writes this novel utilizing lots of dialogue. You have to follow along with discussions more so than descriptive prose. This is okay because the majority of the characters say witty, interesting things. One of the difficulties, though, is that Sayers does include dialect and slang and such. So, unless you are British and/or reading aloud, it can slow your reading down just slightly until you get used to the “sound” of the voices. I can see how this might drive some readers batty. I got used to it and pressed onward without incident.
Sayers was criticized for the novel having a slightly anti-semitic tone. Well, I am not going to really get into that – I do see how the criticism came about – certain characters do make some typically obnoxious statements, but I do feel it is par for the course with the setting and times of the novel. It does not affect the novel in any major way, though. Also, there is another detective that is investigating the case (Inspector Sugg) and it is hysterical whenever Whimsey and Parker mock him. They obviously do not bear him ill-will, but they do get a kick out of mocking him. So, the reader probably should take most of this novel on that level.
Anyway, I am definitely going to read more of Lord Whimsey’s series. I am glad I read this one and I did have fun with it. Wrote down three quotes and laughed aloud a couple of times. Also, I might start shouting for Bunter.