Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers

5 Aug

Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Have His Carcase is only the second novel by Ms Sayers that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, thanks to the nagg… erm, recommendations of my significant other (thank you, love). While usually I would read all the Lord Peter Wimsey books in order of publication *coughabitanalretentivecough* I am first reading the four novels that focus more on his relationship with Harriet Vane. I can always (read: will) go back and read the rest of the series.

Oh, and for anyone who thought that poorly written, excessively dramatic blurbs afflicted only the romance genre, here’s proof of just how naïve that belief is:

The mystery writer Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach—deserted but for the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut. From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery that might have been suicide, murder, or a political plot. With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds a reason for detective pursuit—as only the two of them can pursue it.

Frankly, the only virtue of such a blurb is its brevity. Who in her right mind would seek solace on a barren beach? The facts are close enough though: Harriet Vane discovers the body and has the presence of mind to take photographs and collect some evidence, as well as taking notice of any and all things about it that she can, before trudging a few miles in search of way to let the police know. Of course, by the time she does, the tide has turned and the body is nowhere to be found for some days.

Without physical evidence other than Harriet’s own statements as to the state of the body and the beach at the time she discovered the body, there is some dithering as to whether the authorities are dealing with a murder or a suicide—even if both Harriet and Lord Peter are convinced it is the former.

In this novel, both the whodunit and the how-they-done-it are much more elaborate than in Strong Poison. While there is an obvious suspect with a motive, his alibi is proving to be unbreakable—and while this strengthens Lord Peter and Harriet’s suspicions, it is still an obstacle to solving the murder. If, of course, it is murder.

As far as I’m concerned, the best parts of the book are those where Harriet and Lord Peter banter with each other. I enjoyed immensely their interactions, because of how they reflect both the complexity and the utter simplicity of their relationship. In particular, there is a scene in which Harriet confronts Lord Peter regarding his reasons to even be there in the first place. If I needed any reasons to fall in love with these characters, that scene alone delivered them in spades.

Of course, there’s also any and every scene involving Bunter. Oh Bunter, how do I love thee! let me count the ways… I want a Bunter all my own. Seriously, I do.

But then, all the secondary characters are so well written, it’s impossible to choose only one or two. The victim’s erstwhile girlfriend, his current fiancé, his landlady, his co-worker. The inspector and superintendent in charge of the investigation. The reporter from the Morning Star. The barbers, garage mechanics, fishermen, the smithy… They each come to life through the dialogue.

The language in these novels is just delicious. New favorite way of saying, “in English, please”: “And what is that when it’s at home?”

Not that the investigation and analysis of clues and suspects and witnesses’ statements isn’t interesting on its own right, of course. I noticed with some bemusement how some attitudes regarding women (that monolithic group of people), foreigners (ditto), and others haven’t changed in the past eight decades of so. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Of course, human nature really doesn’t change. Then as now we see the lonely, elderly, well-off ladies and gents whose desire for love and company expresses itself in delusions about other people’s intentions and feelings for them. Or the odd elderly lady with a multitude of cats keeping her savings in a mattress, whose body is discovered by some unsuspecting (and rather unfortunate) visitor some time after their death.

My only caveat with this book is with the solution to the ciphered letter. I find it a tad too convenient for Lord Peter to decipher it in a manner of minutes. Ah well.

Have His Carcase is a solid 8 out of 10.

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5 Responses to “Have His Carcase, by Dorothy L. Sayers”

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