What’s on Second, I Don’t Know’s on Third

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers. Dover, 1923. 9780486473628.

whosebodyThe first Lord Peter Wimsey novel is another milepost on my yearlong journey through classics of the mystery genre. Lord Peter takes a baffling case: the body of an unknown man, nude except for a pair of gold pince-nez glasses, in the bathtub of an an architect. His friend, the police detective Mr. Parker, is trying to solve the apparent disappearance of wealthy financier Sir Reuben Levy. The corpse in the tub is obviously not the missing man, but is there a connection between the two cases?

Lord Peter Wimsey is wonderful: he projects the image of a silly younger son of a wealthy aristocratic family (Sayers said he was a cross between Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster), but underneath it he has a sharp mind, both analytical and philosophical. He’s turned his walking stick into a combination measuring tool and compass with a sword hidden inside, plus he has a magnifying monocle and an encyclopedic knowledge of crime and detection. His butler, Bunter, has taken up crime scene photography and fingerprint detection.

This is another mystery that surprised me with how funny it was — there was quite a bit of dry commentary on class, and characters talked about how real life was different than in detective stories. On the more serious and philosophical side, Sayers included thoughtful discussion of the morality of enjoying mysteries when someone’s life has been lost. I had only expected a puzzle and an adventure but found a story with depth and complexity.

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