The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Lord Peter Wimsey, #5)

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

I had intended to read the Wimsey series in order this time round, but I must have misread something, since I went straight from Whose Body? to this. I’ll go back and read the others before continuing, but I don’t feel I missed out. Something that I’ve really come to appreciate in these books is the treatment of the Great War and the experiences of those who fought, especially the frank discussion of the PTSD that many soldiers suffered. There’s also an interesting generational gap between those who fought and those who were too old to. It’s not quite boomers vs millennials, but the obvious lack of understanding of some in the older generation regarding what their children suffered makes for startling reading.

And through all this, Lord Peter Wimsey walks, with his mask firmly on, using an act of mild stupidity and geniality to try to forget about and move on from that past. This time, he’s got a dead body in his club and it turns out that finding out just when it became a dead body is very important. A throwaway line about the dead man has stayed with me: he was an old man, someone for whom “the war” meant the Crimean war, not even the Boer war never mind the Great War. I don’t quite know why that line resonates with me, but it really does.

Despite some dated language, the book feels very fresh. Despite being a world apart, it doesn’t feel nearly a century old by any means, and I blitzed through it. My Queen of Crime has always been Christie, but Sayers is pushing in deep on her flank.

Book details

Publisher: Public Domain
Year of publication: 2009

Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey, #1)

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve read a couple of Peter Wimsey novels but picked this first book up from Project Gutenberg (it’s now available for free, along with the next few Wimsey books) as I’d been told that the Wimsey books are best read in order, as they actually build on each other in terms of character.

Lord Peter Wimsey is introduced to us in whole cloth here, already dabbling in detecting crime, although this book has him dealing with his first murder. The book drip-feeds us other details, eventually disclosing that Peter served in the Great War, along with his valet, Bunter, and that he still has flashbacks – what we today would call PTSD.

Peter is also an amateur detective, solving crimes for fun, and is more introspective of the subject than I was expecting. He has a friend at Scotland Yard, Mr Parker, with whom he works closely throughout the book, and part way through he ends up having a heart to heart about his own involvement in something that could send a man to the gallows, and should he, as someone who’s doing this for a lark, really be involved? There’s much more to Lord Peter than he tries to let on, and although he tries to behave like a scatterbrained Bertie Wooster, there’s much more to him than that, as there is to his man, Bunter. He’s apparently not just followed him home from the war, but he’s also a keen photographer, something that proves invaluable in Peter’s line of work, and he keeps a firm attachment to Peter’s wardrobe, ensuring he’s fit to be seen, in some of the more humorous sections of the book.

The mystery itself is pretty convoluted, although it’s handily explained at the end in a confession from the perpetrator, and unlike the big reveal that Agatha Christie was so fond of, here we get hints of Peter’s working mind and he reveals who the murderer is earlier than I expected, and then deals with getting the evidence to back up his deduction.

A lovely little mystery with a more complicated detective than I was expecting for one invented in the 1920s.

Book details

ISBN: 9780061043574
Publisher: HarperTorch

The Nine Tailors:Changes Rung On An Old Theme in Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

I do enjoy a good classic whodunnit, and this was a lot of fun. It’s very evocative of place, with lush descriptions of the fens of England. And of time as well, although that may be more accidental, given that when it was published, it would have been pretty contemporary. But reading it now, it’s a wonderful window into society of the 1930s, where deference to wealth and titles were still prevalent, and the idea of not duffing up witnesses/suspects to get the answers you wanted was a pretty new concept, that the police were only grudgingly coming around to.

The mystery kept me interested all the way through and I learned more about the art and science of campanology than I ever needed or wanted to! Assuming that Sayers isn’t lying to me and that nine hour peals did (do?) happen, I’m very glad I don’t live near to a church with a rector keen on the subject!

Peter Wimsey is a protagonist I enjoy reading. Between him and Bunter, there’s a bit of Jeeves and Wooster to the pair, although Peter is much more competent than poor old Bertie! A fun story, with a clever solution and great descriptions.

Book details

Publisher: Victor Gollancz, London
Year of publication: 1954

Five Red Herrings

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 2 stars

Lord Peter Wimsey is spending some time hanging around artists in the Scottish Borders when one of them is murdered. It turns out that any of about half a dozen people could have done it and he ends up helping the police with their enquiries.

I must confess that I found this one a bit difficult to wrap my head around. Keeping track of all the suspects, their motives, stories and alibis got quite tricky, and the fact that travel was important made it difficult as well, as the train timetable became central. Not to mention little things that would have been so common as to be barely worth mentioning in Sayers’ day but because train travel has changed so much in the last eighty or so years, it’s confusing when she talks about bicycles being ticketed separately to the person and held in a different compartment, and rather than taking it in, you’re left going, ‘eh’? Oh, and the idea of trains mostly running to timetable as well seems less than credible!

Lord Peter is a fun protagonist, ever cheerful and bimbling about in an inoffensive way that ferrets out information without people even noticing, and yet with an edge that lets him push if he has to. Neither he, nor the rest of the cast, get much in the way of character development – I suppose with six suspects, hangers on and a number of police officials, there just wasn’t room for it. I certainly struggled to keep things clear in my head, even with the handy list near the start and the police recap near the end.

I wasn’t sure about writing the Scottish characters in dialect to start with, but it did grow on me and I was enjoying it by the end. I also laughed out loud at Sayers’ little wink to camera in a section near the start where Wimsey is frantically searching for something to do with the murder and when the policeman asks what it is, the author puts in an insert to the effect that Wimsey tells him, but leaves it hidden from the reader, in a very post-modern way.

So enjoyable enough and it wouldn’t put me off reading more Wimsey stories, but it’s definitely one that needs attention and to be read in reasonable chunks.

Book details

ISBN: 9780450038457
Publisher: New English Library
Year of publication: 1931

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #3)

By Dorothy L. Sayers

Rating: 4 stars

A chance conversation leads Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate a case that the doctor is convinced is murder, but all the evidence points to a natural death. But as he investigates further and the bodies start to rack up, it’s a race to find the murderer before he becomes one of the victims.

Although I’m a bit of a fan of Agatha Christie and like that style of whodunnit, I’ve never read anything by Dorothy L. Sayers, but a mystery-loving friend of mine has talked about her in the past and I found this in a second hand bookshop. Peter Wimsey is an interesting character, more self-doubting than, say, Hercule Poirot but putting on a whimsical face. He’s got his sidekick in the form of his butler Bunter, and the the police inspector Charles Parker as well as Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster who is employed to make the sort of discrete enquiries that only an elderly lady of a certain variety can.

While some casual racism exists in the book, I thought it was interesting to see how Sayers portrayed it as the lower classes who engaged most in it, while the aristocrat Lord Peter and middle class Inspector Parker treat Hallelujah Dawson most sympathetically. It’s difficult to know where the author fell along this axis, but I’m tempted to say that she sided with her protagonist on this. The language, of course, is shocking to modern ears, with the ‘N’ word thrown around quite casually, but of course, it’s a product of its time, and like I say, I think it’s handled well, and in service of the plot, by the author.

I enjoyed the story, the mystery and the writing here and I’ll certainly look out for more of Lord Peter’s[*] adventures

[*] although in my head the ‘Lord’ honorific normally goes along with a title or surname, it seems that Lord Peter isn’t the heir to the family title (the Duchy of Denver), so as second son, the honorific goes with the first name

Book details

Publisher: Four Square Books
Year of publication: 1927

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