Title: Whose Body?
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Genre: mystery, detective story
Publication Date: 1923
When a dead body turns up mysteriously in a bathtub wearing a pair of pince-nez, Lord Peter Wimsey jumps at the chance to investigate. The police soon think they have identified the body, but Wimsey is unconvinced. He thinks the missing person the police have identified the body as is still missing. Excited by his first murder case, Wimsey dives headfirst into intrigue, deceit, and grudges long held.
When I bought this book, I really had no idea what to expect. I’d heard of Lord Peter Wimsey, but have never seen nor read anything of him. I went into this book blind.
Luckily, I was very pleasantly surprised. I love Wimsey. He’s easy-going, light-hearted, funny, sarcastic, and good humored. He pokes fun at others and himself. He’s a gentleman without a profession, so he’s turned his sharp mind to detecting. He also is a veteran of World War I, something that could not fail to leave its scars.
The mystery was well constructed. A body is found in a shared bath of a building. Another man fitting the description has disappeared. It seems like an easy match and the police are happy to rest there, but Wimsey is observant and soon discovers the man in the bath cannot be the missing gentleman. He works very well with a police detective, Charles Parker, and his valet, Bunter, and they soon untangle the mess.
I will say that I was uncomfortable by some period-typical anti-Semeticsm. The missing person is Jewish, and while everyone is complimentary, it’s in a sort of back-handed way that makes it clear that “for a Jew, he’s actually not bad.” That made me very uneasy because I was unable to decide if it was the characters or the author talking. My only solace was that Wimsey himself did not join in.
I also really loved the lighthearted digs at other detective novels the characters too. They weren’t mean-spirited, but all in good fun. The characters would mention how thing would go if this were a detective novel and how much easier it would be. It was a lot of fun. There was also a brilliant scene in which Wimsey and Parker question a witness. They start by saying how witnesses rarely have as good a memory as in detective stories, and then ask a series of questions that guide the witness deeper into his memory until he surprises himself at how much he knew. It was brilliant.
Yes. Whose Body? is a sharp, funny, and well constructed detective mystery. Wimsey is a delight, and I look forward to reading more of him.