Book review: Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers

If for nothing else, I admire this book for its unparalleled introduction of the protagonist, on the very first page:

His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola.

Show me another book that compares its hero’s face to maggots (while still alive). Please.

Besides the opening, there’s lots to admire in the first Peter Wimsey novel.  The mystery is sufficiently perplexing, there’s a good assortment of characters (almost all men, though), and excellent suspense at the end when Wimsey visits the man whom he knows to be a cold-blooded and highly intelligent murderer to seek his professional opinion. Moreover, that scene throws some genuine angst on the apprehension of said murderer, since Peter observes the real good he’s accomplishing with many of the public, including child refugees. (One criticism, however, is that the murderer’s name is a tad too obvious.)

I also love the introduction of Bunter as a super-competent butler with a fleshed-out personality: he served with Peter in the war, he’s willing to physically bar Peter from leaving the house unless he’s abiding by a high sartorial standard, and he plays a substantial role in gathering evidence for the mystery. Besides his photography skills, he’s not a bad actor, as he’s able to affect a long-suffering attitude about his master’s detective hobby and ingratiate himself with other servants to learn about their households.

Of course, my favorite part of the book is contained on one page, where Peter wakes Bunter up in the night while suffering a breakdown after his epiphany of the killer. Bunter realizes Peter’s having a flashback to the war, talks him down, and puts him back to bed. It’s all about this:

“No, no — it’s all right, Major — don’t you worry.”
“But I hear it!” protested Peter.
“So do I,” said Mr. Bunter stoutly.

The language throughout is really fun, too, especially when Peter is tormenting Sugg. This series always inspires me to turn all my sentences into an interrogative by ending with “what?” or to call people “old thing” as a form of affection.

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