Reposting my 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is free today only. The audiobook is $2.99 with the purchase of the free kindle book.
Summary: An amateur detective (and younger brother to a Duke) helps a Scotland Yard officer solve a murder.
In my ongoing quest to read more old literature, I picked up the first book in Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series. Generally the reviews were mediocre. Most people agreed that this isn’t her best book and not the best of the series. The Audiobook review (which is how I read this) were even less kind. There are two copies of this at Audible, both are narrated by middle aged British women. (I listened to the sample for the one I didn’t get and both sound very similar.)
Maybe it was the very low expectations that I had coming in, but this was an enjoyable mystery. I am not a huge mystery fan, I don’t really like the traditional Sherlock Holmes style detective who is just so much smarter than everyone and figures things out. But Sayers is intentionally writing Lord Wimsey to be an anti-Holmes. There are several passages about how Holmes is not real and how real police work different than Holmes or most other books.
Although it is a bit of a stretch, this feels more like the TV show Castle than anything else (without the sexual chemistry between the police detective and the amateur sleuth). Peter Wimsey is a relatively young, single, carefree man that is part of the Nobility, but does not have a particular role to fill. He is a younger brother, so he is not the Duke, he has not gone into politics or law. He is well educated, but not a professional. So he has made a hobby of being a detective.
His mother, although pretending to not like his hobby, assists in getting connection and she seems like a kind woman that is very tolerant. So the story opens with her tipping him off about a dead body being found in the home of the architect that is working on a church restoration project that she is on the board of.
A man was found in a bathtub, completely naked except for a pair of glasses. It was in an upper floor bathroom and no one can identify the body, or how he got there. Wimsey’s Scotland Yard friend, Parker, also has a case of a missing person, so Parker and Wimsey connect to see if the missing person and the unidentified man are the same.
As the mystery unfolds, Wimsey’s position allow him to go places and make connections that Parker would be unable to make. And Parker does the footwork that Wimsey is uninterested in doing. In addition to Wimsey and Parker, Wimsey’s valet, Mervyn Bunter, assists by being the CSI, taking fingerprints, photographs and working on some of the background.
The mystery is, of course, solved. And there is a long epilogue where the criminal explains himself. Wimsey figures out who did it, but without fully knowing how he did it until the criminal explains.
There is also a revelation about Wimsey background. He served in World War I and came back ‘shell shocked’ (post-tramatic stress as we now would call it.) A doctor suggests that he continue a carefree life-style and avoid regular society pressures of going into law or politics. This gives Wimsey an excuse to continue his detective work for future books.
Whose Body (and I think Clouds of Witness) is in the public domain. So the Kindle version is only $0.99 and you might be able to find a free copy. The Audible.com Audiobook is only $2.99 with purchase of the Kindle book first (which is what I did.) Clouds of Witness is $1.99 for kindle, but there is not a corresponding Audiobook. Open Road Media has the digital rights and has good Kindle editions of the rest of the series that are fairly frequently on sale. (Right now #4 is $2.99, but the rest of the series is $6.83 to $9.99).
I enjoyed the book. It is relatively light book. And given the reviews I will keep reading the series. I hate reading books out of order, so I will pickup #2 soon.
For those that do not know, Dorothy Sayers, was a very well known Christian author of the 20th Century. (These facts are mostly adaptation of her Wikipedia page.) In addition to her crime fiction, she was also an essayist and translator. She considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy her greatest work. She was probably best known in Christian circles for her books Mind of the Maker (looking at God as creator through the idea of a human writer of novels and plays) or Creed or Chaos (about Christian doctrine). Her essay The Lost Tools of Learning is very influential in the modern classical education movement and the home schooling movement. She was also a friend of CS Lewis and several of other other Inklings although was never a part of the group. (She is not related to George Sayer that is best known as a biographer of Lewis.)