Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers is the first novel of the Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey series. Lord Peter is financially independent and has a special hobby; he solves murder cases. When an unknown dead body is found in Mr. Thipps’s bathtub, he is on the case. With the help of his butler-friend Bunter, a talented forensic and semi-professional photographer and his friend Charles Parker, who works for Scotland Yard, he sets out to solve this mystery.
Whose Body? was released in 1928 and, like many first novels of a series, the reader is introduced to a number of characters that reappear as the series continues. The protagonist, Lord Peter was born in 1890 and is a World War I veteran. In the series, he ages in real-time making him 28 years old at the time the first book was released.
Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers is a procedural-police meets private-inspector investigation story that is told by Lord Peter and Scotland Yard inspector Parker. Therefore, readers have a great overview of all on-going investigations and can solve the crime along the way.
In the first part of the novel, Mr. Thipps, an urban architect, is appalled after finding a dead body in his bathtub. And if this isn’t already scandalous, the naked body is dressed with pince-nez. Of course, all things considered, Mr. Thipps’s situation is very unfavorable and therefore he becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of Inspector Sugg. For Inspector Sugg, the case is clear cut, and without much ado, he arrests Mr. Thipps.
Through the vicar’s wife, the Dowager Duchess of Denver hears of the case and contacts her son Lord Peter to follow up on the investigation. Inspector Sugg is your typical incompetent idiot working on the case. Although on occasion, he does have a rather soft spot for Lord Peter.
Lord Peter, for his part, decides to stick to his friend, Inspector Parker, who is investigating a missing person case. With the help of Parker’s reports of Sir Reuben Levy, an elderly banker, who disappeared overnight without a trace, Lord Peter checks the crime scene. Although Lord Peter recognizes similarities — is the man in the bathtub Sir Reuben Levy? Or is Sir Reuben the killer?
Together with Bunter, Lord Peter follows the leads that he found in Mr. Thipps’s apartment. By powers of observation and deduction, they are able to identify the body and find the killer. Although the killer is rather predictable, Sayers does give readers the psychology of the killer to understand what motivated him.
In Whose Body?, Sayers also illustrates the class differences at the time the novel was released. On the one hand, Bunter, who is not only Lord Peter’s butler but his closest friend, work together as equals, regardless of the class differences — on the other hand, Bunter still addresses Lord Peter with “my lord” in private and “his lordship” while in company.
Throughout the story, Sayers’s characters become multi-layered and she exposes the hidden qualities, interwoven with Bunter’s and Wimsey’s past. The story explains the relationship between “Major Wimsey’s” World War I shellshock and his recurring nightmares, and “Sergeant Bunter” as his caretaker.
Lord Peter is a gentleman detective, which is typical for the Golden Age of detective fiction. Dorothy L. Sayers belongs to the group of famous British Crime Ladies of that period. She was a prominent writer of the Golden Age, but she never reached the level of fame as did Agatha Christie.
Sayer’s Wimsey series is characterized as very British with a fine sense of humor and slightly bizarre. Notwithstanding, the reader will find social criticism in her work. This is emphasized through satire and mocking of the British upper class.
The Wimsey series consists of 11 books. In 1998, Thrones, Dominations was published. It was the unfinished book of the series that was completed by the author Jill Paton Walsh. After the approval of the Sayers Estate, A Presumption of Death (2002), The Attenburg Emeralds (2010) and The Late Scholar (2014) were released by Jill Paton Walsh. The books take place during World War II. According to some of the reviews I’ve read, most Dorothy L. Sayers fans see these books as fan fiction. I’ve never read them though. The books by Jill Paton Walsh belong to the series Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Van Mystery books.
A number of Dorothy L. Sayers books are available as T.V. mini-series. Check out the database here.
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