Whose Body? – Dorothy L Sayers

I was ready for something a little lighter after reading A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and picked up Whose Body? I think I bought the book in a charity shop some time ago. I remember reading one of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels way back as a teenager, desperate for something to read and finding a book of my mother’s.

Lord Peter Wimsey, gentleman sleuth, investigates the appearance of a body in a bathtub. Written in 1923, this is the first in the series of Sayers’ detective stories written at the same time as Agatha Christie was writing stories of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. In the first chapter Lord Peter jokingly likens himself to Sherlock Holmes, who was clearly a model for Sayers. Although the Wimsey novels are lighter in tone than the Sherlock Holmes novels, Lord Peter does have his demons – notably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his heroic actions in WW1.

Lord Peter is a wealthy peer, with time on his hands. He discovers he’s pretty good at detective work and often teams up with a Scotland Yard inspector, Parker, to investigate crimes together. His manservant Bunter is critical to the solving of mysteries, not only looking after the domestic needs of his master but also assists in tasks not suitable for a Lord, photographs crime scenes and takes fingerprints etc.

Whose Body? is a diverting novel, light and easy to read. The main characters are well-drawn, and the reader gets to like Lord Peter as the novel progresses, he treats people well and is modest about his achievements during the war. It’s very much of its time, and does seem dated now, but interesting to see the world of the early twentieth century presented in a fairly narrow way, through the eyes of a wealthy socialite. Sayers does present another side of London life, through the crime scenes and characters, but this takes second place to the world of privilege. The British class system is often satirised by Sayers as she describes the close relationship between Lord Peter and Bunter. Today this seems a little heavy-handed, but I guess in the 1920’s warm friendship between a Lord and his manservant may have been quite controversial.

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