Thursday, November 10, 2016

FFB: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

In 1923, Dorothy L. Sayers published her first novel, Whose Body?, a puzzle mystery filled with wit, humor, and sharp observations.

The book introduces Lord Peter Wimsey, the son of a noble family who, for excitement, involves himself in local crime cases. He is bright and inquisitive and usually helps the police, although some on the force find him a meddling nuisance.

The discovery of a dead body sets this story in motion. The situation is unusual, clever, and – to me, at least – very funny. A dead man is found naked in a bathtub in a home that is not his, and the owner of the house has no idea who the fellow is or how he got there. There is one more intriguing element to the discovery. The dead guy was wearing a pince-nez (those odd, old-fashioned glasses without arms that clip onto the bridge of the nose).

By chance, Lord Peter arrives on the scene before the cops, which gives him the opportunity, with the help of his manservant, Bunter, to closely examine the body and the bathroom.

Not long after the discovery, Wimsey hears about the disappearance of a wealthy financier, and comes to suspect the two mysteries are related.

Lord Peter is the kind of guy who pokes his nose into a case, ferrets out clues the police overlooked or cannot connect, and then wishes he could step away and let the cops handle it. But he can’t step away. Once he gets in, Lord Peter is committed to solving the mystery and nailing the criminal.

If he has any fault, it is his penchant for babbling on and on. But every time he launches into one of his monologues, Sayers peppers it with humor and clever comments.

His chatty, overly polite, sometimes scatter-brained style may be Wimsey’s way of distracting people, disarming them, making them believe he is not serious, while he is actually focused on gathering information, putting together the clues and solving the mystery. Sayers does this in an amusing way and may have been poking fun at the idle rich of her day.

Wimsey is about 30 in this story, and a veteran of World War 1. In a disturbing scene, Lord Peter, who was a major in the British Army, dreams he is back in the trenches, and it takes Bunter, a sergeant who was with him, to hear him, go in and wake him from the recurring nightmare. After the war, Wimsey returned to England with a case of shell shock. Today, it is called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sayers shows that it was taken seriously back then, too.

Sayers wrote 11 Lord Peter Wimsey novels and about 21 short stories which often featured characters introduced in Whose Body? – Wimsey’s mother the Dowager Duchess, his pompous older brother Gerald, Bunter, and the detectives Sugg and Parker.

For more on Whose Body? and Lord Peter, take a look at Sergio's fine review at Tipping My Fedora.

And for more forgotten books, check out Patti Abbott's site, Pattinase.


  1. Thanks for the shoutout Elgin - must admit, I like Sayers' clever plot and superb prose, but this is an example of a book where her opinions really got in the way almost any enjoyment for me.

    1. Sergio – Thanks for reading the post. I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. There are several things I had to work my way through, including changes in style where I thought Sayers was trying to present a lot of information in an amusing way. I also had to press on past some offensive attitudes that may have been acceptable in the 1920s. Makes me wonder what we are writing today that will make our grandchildren cringe.

  2. I think I have something from Sayers to try at some point, I don't think it's this though.

    1. Col – With the week (month, year) we had over here, I needed something breezy, light and diverting. Now it’s back to the tough, dark and dangerous books.