Review – Clouds of Witness

Clouds of Witness (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries No.2) – Dorothy L. Sayers

Chivers Press, 1988

Originally published 1927

It has been a source of much embarrassment to Gerald, Duke of Denver, that his younger brother, Lord Peter Wimsey, can’t help dabbling in detection. When their soon-to-be brother-in-law is discovered dead, however, and suspicion falls heavily on Gerald, a detective in the family is suddenly urgently necessary. Lord Peter must read between the lines of each witness’s testimony to discover the truth of what happened…even if he increasingly doubts that he wants to know the truth.

I find it difficult to separate the period-typical issues of an old book from the story itself. That was a particular problem reading Clouds of Witness because chunks of the plot required you to see certain things are either acceptable or unalterable, and both left me very frustrated. As such I’ve included a spoilery trigger warning in the paragraph below. The actual mystery is intriguing, if a bit messy, but the ending didn’t make an enormous amount of sense. The Lord Peter series continues with Unnatural Death.

(SPOILER: This book contains a domestic violence situation and a completely inadequate reaction from the protagonist. It may be true to social norms of the 1920s that Lord Peter doesn’t get involved until he wants something from the woman in question, and that he then expects her to risk life and limb in order to assist his brother, but it made me like him considerably less than I did before and may be very triggery for some readers.)

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Review – Whose Body?

Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries No.1) – Dorothy L. Sayers
New English Library, 1989
Originally published in 1923

If there is such a thing as a respectable corpse, the one found by unassuming architect Mr Thipps is certainly the opposite: a naked stranger in a bath. At first suspected to be a missing financier, the body remains stubbornly nameless. To Lord Peter Wimsey, a wealthy young nobleman with a hobby of detecting, it’s the kind of puzzle dreams are made of. As he delves deeper into the case, however, ugly truths begin to fit together. This isn’t a game any more to Wimsey, but there’s someone out there who disagrees, and is very determined to win.

My mother having encountered and adored the Lord Peter Wimsey books last year, I decided to try them too. Sayers was a contemporary to Agatha Christie and the books have a few things in common: their characters’ easy callousness regarding murder for one, and of course the rich, elegant setting of 1920s London. There’s a wince-worthy vein of anti-Semitism through this book, though not one actually condoned by the narrative. Sayers writes with rather more description than Christie and has a light, playful turn of phrase, but handles darker angles well – there’s a very sympathetic portrayal of shell-shock, for instance – and the construction of the crime was masterful, if a bit laboured at the end. The Lord Peter Wimsey series continues with Clouds of Witness.