Lord Peter Wimsy sprang fully formed upon the world in 1923’s Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers. Heading out to an auction of rare and valuable manuscripts, Lord Peter, the younger brother of the Duke of Denver, realizes he has forgotten the catalogue for the auction. He returns home just in time to receive a phone call from his mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, offering him what he considers to be the case of a lifetime. Thipps, the architect consulting on the church restoration in their hometown, has discovered the body of a naked man wearing nothing but pince nez, which are eyeglasses without the arms, and lying in Thipps’s bathtub. So Lord Peter sends Bunter, his manservant, to the book sale and goes to check out the body in the bath.
Later that night, Lord Peter gets a visit from his friend Charles Parker, a detective with Scotland Yard, who earlier visited Thipps’s house to see if the body might belong to Sir Reuben Levy, a missing rich financier. Sir Reuben went home late one night, only to be found missing the next morning, his bed slept in but with all his clothes left at home. They’ve found one naked body and have another naked one missing. In delight over his unusual case and the fact that Parker has an interesting case too, Lord Peter exults and arranges for the pair of friends to go in together on both cases. Together, the pair work on the two cases, leading to a dramatic solution.
Whose Body? is a highly creative and fascinating mystery. This introduction to Lord Peter Wimsy features one of the most clever mysteries and solutions to be found. The plot has so many interesting details, keeping me drawn to it no matter how many times I’ve listened to this book. The setting of the book is fully drawn and colorful. I feel that I’m actually sitting in Lord Peter’s study as he plays the piano and talks with Parker or that I’m accompanying Bunter in his forensic investigation of the disappearance of Sir Reuben.
Sayers did an excellent job of drawing her characters, and there are some particularly endearing ones in this book. Lord Peter seems like a real person despite his eccentricities. We picture clearly little Thipps and his deaf mother who wins the heart of everyone at the coroner’s inquest. But my two favorite characters in the series make strong introductions in this book. Bunter shows himself capable in all things, whether in making certain Lord Peter is dressed properly for each occasion, in performing his fingerprint and photography work, or in holding his own in repartee with Lord Peter. My other favorite character in the series is the Dowager Duchess of Denver, Lord Peter’s mother. She is described as being as alike Lord Peter in temperament and she is unlike him in appearance, and she happily supports her son in all his sleuthing despite the consternation of Gerald, Lord Peter’s brother, the Duke of Denver. Those of us who have read the other books in the series will enjoy the irony of Lord Peter’s telling Gerald that someday he’ll be happy to have a sleuth in the family when a crime is committed, as we know that just in the next book, Clouds of Witness, Lord Peter saves Gerald’s life when the latter is accused of murder.
As in other books by Sayers, Whose Body? also draws attention to issues facing society of the day. We learn that Lord Peter turned to detecting as a way to deal with the severe shell shock (known today as PTSD) he developed from his time serving as a major in World War I. While under the strain of the case, he wakes up Bunter in the night complaining that he can hear German sappers digging, getting ready to attack his side, a flashback to his days on the frontlines of the trenches.
The other social issue that arises here is attitudes towards Jews, as antisemitism gets portrayed by people towards Sir Reuben and other Jews. However, in general the majority of attitudes are more positive, if following another stereotype, that of Jews as wealthy men (and notice that girls don’t figure into this image) of business. The Honorable Freddie Arbuthnot, Lord Peter’s friend and a financial wizard, has been trying to marry Rachel Levy, and he doesn’t mind marrying a Jew because his sons would have a financial advantage.
Nadia May performs the audio edition of my copy of Whose Body?. I originally listened to this book a number of years ago with a different narrator and had real problems connecting to it. Thus, when I saw that May had recorded the book, I eagerly purchased the copy. The recording, unfortunately, has some minor glitches in evenness of sound quality. However, the performance itself is superb, voicing Lord Peter’s silly speeches in such a way that I find them believable and fun. May does a great job of making this book even more fun than it might have been in just reading visually.
Whose Body? is a creative book with a clever mystery and delightful characters. I have come to appreciate the book more each time I have listened to it and had great fun this time as well. I give the book five stars.
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