Whose Body?, by Dorothy Sayers

I usually make the case for reading an author’s work from the beginning, because so often authors start off strong and then run out of ideas and so the first books are the best. But if I had been introduced to Sayers with Whose Body?… I would probably not ever read another Sayers again. Luckily, I didn’t, and I know that things only get better from here!

My primary problem is with our amateur sleuth himself, Peter Wimsey. He is annoying and full of himself and very very eager to be Sherlock Holmes and I kind of wanted to punch him in the face more than once. This is in stark contrast to how delightful I found him in the otherwise mediocre Five Red Herrings, where he is still full of himself and eager to be Holmes, but far less annoying.

My other problem was that the writing was a bit uneven on listening. There are some weird second-person parts that seemed to come out of nowhere, and there’s an extended confession at the end that make me think that I would rather not have found out whodunnit, and then some bits and pieces that are just a bit off. Maybe it comes across better in writing?

But the murder mystery itself was quite well done. This guy is found dead in a bathtub, with no obvious way for him to have gotten there except through the window (me: “Maybe it was an orangutan!”). Everyone except the dude who owns the bathtub has a good alibi, so the dude is arrested, but of course he totally didn’t do it and so Wimsey, a friend of some sort, is on the case. Wimsey is all, what we need are connections, because the way to get away with things is not to have connections but there always is one and I am going to figure out what it is, and after talking with enough people he finds the connection and then the resulting motives and crime-committing are kind of gruesome. Or really gruesome. Definitely gruesome.

So, good times on the whole, but I’m going to need a really nice Sayers to make up for it. Suggestions?

Recommendation: For mystery lovers, of course!

Rating: 7/10

(Vintage Mystery Challenge)

Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy Sayers

I found this book in Mac’s Backs when I was up in Cleveland for New Year’s, and since I’ve never seen any other Sayers novels there (and because I still have some store credit there), I snapped it up right quick! It even took precedence over my library book for in-flight reading material, because I liked Gaudy Night so much I wanted my Sayers fix pronto!

This was, for the most part, a very good idea, especially the plane part, because I might not have been able to focus on this book were it not for lack of anything else to do. The story is interesting, don’t get me wrong, but Sayers buries the whole thing in so much train timetable nonsense and sometimes indecipherable Scottish dialect that more than once I found myself a bit confused by something but too overwhelmed to go back and figure it out. So I may be missing any subtler parts of this mystery.

But basically, you’ve got a dude. A belligerent dude, who is not terribly well liked by most of his friends. And so then he dies, seemingly accidentally, and that’s all well and good until one Lord Peter Wimsey is like, “Oh, ho, but this one piece of evidence that would totally make this an accident is missing!” and Dorothy Sayers is all, “But I’m not gonna tell you what that evidence is because where’s the fun in that?” except she actually writes, “(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page.)” Which is both sexist and unnecessary, because I sort of knew what she was talking about but it didn’t help me figure out whodunnit any faster, so whatever.

Ahem. Anyway, dude-face is dead, and it’s an artist what killed him, and in particular one of six potential artists who had the motive and means to do it. Interestingly, most of these artists have gone missing, so it takes rather longer than it probably should to round them all up, figure out their stories, and solve the case. And even then, the case takes a while to solve, because it gets all Clue up in Scotland. Or, I should probably say that Clue gets all Five Red Herrings up in Mr. Boddy’s mansion, but I saw Clue first and I’m sticking with it. What I mean to say is that several people offer theories of what might have happened, and then Wimsey is all, “Nuh-uh, you’re wrong and I’m right like Sherlock Holmes!” and then, and I am not kidding about this, Wimsey stages a real-time reenactment of the crime that is, again, totally unnecessary but which is in fact delightful.

So. Minus points for the incredibly dense writing, but super-awesome plus points for lines like, “‘You shut up,’ said Wimsey, ‘You’re dead, sir.'” and, “‘Now, corpse, it’s time I packed you into the car.'” Though I admit that if anyone had ever said, “To make a long story short,” I would have had to shout, “TOO LATE!”

Recommendation: For fans of classic-type mysteries who are not adverse to a little translation in their reading or a little math (for the timetables).

Rating: 8/10, mostly for the delightful ending
(A to Z Challenge, Vintage Mystery Challenge, What’s in a Name Challenge)

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers

This was a weird pick for my book club, largely because we all liked it. 🙂 When we hopped on Skype to chat about it, we were all like, “Um, it’s good… and stuff… can we read some more Dorothy Sayers now?” Which is interesting, because it’s not really a straight-forward mystery novel like others of Sayer’s, it’s more of a treatise on marriage with a mystery thrown in. You’d think that three marriage-age women (with me married!) could have come up with something to say about that!

Of course, I had only just finished the book before the club, so I hadn’t had too much time to think about what I might want to say about the institution of marriage (not that I’ve got any ideas now!). I was still all, “I can’t believe that that was the murderer! I’m so terrible at guessing these things!” The mystery part goes as follows: Harriet Vane goes to a reunion at her college, and while there picks up some not-very-nice notes. She ignores them and goes home, but soon gets a call from the Dean or the Warden or someone from the college asking if Harriet might oh-so-kindly stop by and help them with this mystery, since she did so well solving that other mystery and also in writing all those mystery novels. The mystery is, of course, that a bunch of other people at the college are also getting these terrible notes, and also some manuscripts are being defaced, and it would all be such a scandal if the real police found out about it.

Harriet takes her sweet time (500 pages!) to figure it out, because there’s also a bunch of stuff in there about Peter Wimsey, an amateur detective who has been attempting to woo Harriet for a very long time, and his relationship with Harriet, as well as many, many long, tedious discussions about whether women should marry and if they do should they have jobs because they’re just going to flake out on their jobs every time their kids hiccup and if you feel you really just must marry someone should you pick someone you actually like or someone who is convenient for you and oh my goodness.

Sayers seems to side with those who choose to marry, seeing as how the women who argue against marriage read as more uppity than those who are for it, but she does throw in a woman for nearly every stereotype — the married and happy, the married and unhappy, the unmarried and happy, the unmarried and unhappy, the completely apathetic — and they all felt pretty real to me.

And of course I can’t argue against marriage, being married myself, but I can certainly see the downside to a woman who gets a wonderful education and then abandons it to motherhood. Of course, I am also in awe of people who can spend all day with multiple children and not want to strangle them, so it’s not like motherhood is all bonbons and soaps, right? So really, I am very unopinionated about this topic! Or possibly my opinion is “do whatever makes you happy.” Yes, that’s it. I like it.

I also like the ending of this mystery, but it’s a hard slog to get there — take it on at your own risk!

Rating: 8/10
(Orbis Terrarum Challenge: England, Chunkster Challenge)

See also:
Of Books and Bicycles

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.