Sunday, 29 November 2020

Book: 'Whose Body?' (Lord Peter Wimsey) (1923) by Dorothy L Sayers

The first Lord Peter Wimsey novel doesn't feel like the first. It feels like the second or third. That's a good thing. We don't get the exposition of the various characters' backgrounds, but learn by example. Lord Peter already knows his police partner Parker, Bunter is already his valet and confidante, and the mystery is the thing.

The first time I read through the Wimsey series I was both impressed and a little deterred by its core strength: Its sheer intellectual power. Sayers was a reasoning machine in her writing, and what flashes of emotion we get are brief and powerful. 'Whose Body?' is excellent and impressive while still being disposable in some strange way, but it was more appealing the second time through. The crime, a classic case of corpse switching, is one that takes a while to unravel in the reader's mind. In my case, I didn't work out until a short while after Wimsey did, despite having read the story before.

The curious nature of the Wimsey series is difficult to really articulate. In this book, you might perhaps be reading about people while looking through a stainless steel shield, held by a reverent knight intent on guarding their little universe. Or is that too fanciful? Perhaps it's all in my mind. The notion of post traumatic stress disorder was barely developed in the years following the Great War, but here we have a nobleman, an ex-officer of the battle line, stranded in a now peaceful land and looking for excitement to fill up his life and incidentally help his recovery from what was then called 'shell shock'. We never really get to know Wimsey, but we do know of him.

'Whose Body?' is not the best in the series (you might need the character of Harriet Vane to qualify for that distinction), but it is a very solid opener. This read through will continue...



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