Friday, January 3, 2020

Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers, 1923

About the author: See this Wikipedia article.

Major characters:
  • Alfred Thipps, an architect with a bath
  • An unnamed body found in his bathtub
  • Sir Reuben Levy, a missing Hebrew financier
  • Sir Julian Freke, doctor in charge of the hospital dissecting room
  • Inspector Sugg
  • Inspector Charles Parker
  • Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Mervyn Bunter, Lord Peter's butler
  • The Dowager Duchess of Denver, Lord Peter's mother
Locale: England

Synopsis: Lord Peter Wimsey is informed of a strange event by his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver - being the finding of a naked (except for a pair of pince-nez glasses) man in the bathtub of architect Alfred Thipps; who has no idea who it may be. Meanwhile, Sir Reuben Levy, a Hebrew financier, disappeared at the same time - leaving evidence that he walked out of his house naked.

Hmmm. The authorities (Inspector Sugg and Inspector Parker), as well as Wimsey, immediately try to connect the two. Is the man in the bathtub Sir Reuben? There is a superficial resemblance but they can't quite make the connection.

They eventually confirm the bathtub body is not Sir Reuben. Unfortunate. Now they have two mysteries, not one. Wimsey tries to trace the bathtub body, and Parker tries to find Sir Reuben. No dice. They swap tasks, that doesn't help either.

Review: My first delve into Dorothy Sayers. Oh, my, I am still out of breath. Prepare yourself for paragraph-length sentences, and page-length paragraphs! Some are just astounding:

"Of course, we're all Jews nowadays, and they wouldn't have minded so much if he'd pretended to be something else, like that Mr. Simons we met at Mrs. Porchester's who always tells everybody that he got his nose in Italy at the Renaissance, and who claims to be descended somehow or other from La Bella Simonetta - so foolish, you know, dear - as if anybody believed it; and I'm sure some Jews are very good people, and personally I'd much rather they believed something, though of course it must be very inconvenient, what with not working on Saturdays and circumcising the poor little babies and everything depending on the new moon and that funny kind of meat they have with such a slang-sounding name, and never being able to have bacon for breakfast." - The Dowager Duchess

And after "listening" to Lord Peter Wimsey. I just knew that voice from somewhere - then it hit me - he talks just like Philo Vance! (See my S. S. Van Dine blog):
  • The terminal letter "g" hasn't been invented yet, since he drops every one of them (havin', bettin', goin', gettin' etc). 
  • Statements of fact turned into rhetorical questions by appending 'what'? (It's ten o'clock already, what?)
  • Favorite phrase (same as Philo's): "Thanks, awfully."
  • Strange contractions: "S'pose" and not-quite-APA: "ain't"
  • Commenting by use of poetic quotations
But perhaps everyone talked like that in the 1920's. This book preceded the Philo Vances by a few years, so she certainly didn't copy him.

This is a rollicking story which does not let up. There are plenty of humorous asides and random references to people outside the story which adds to the general confusion.

Also see this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

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