Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
British Jason #1: Jolly good book, what?
British Jason #2: Oh, rather!
British Jason #1: I say, how much longer do you suppose we can keep this up?
British Jason #2: Not long, old bean. I've run out of stereotypical Brit words and this ridiculous accent is doing me head in!
I almost filed this all up in my PG Wodehouse shelf. The similarities in style, setting and character are striking. There's a somewhat daffy lead in Lord Peter Wimsey, though he's clearly got more on the ball than Bertie Wooster. There's the taciturn Parker, just a little looser and given more freedom than the butler Jeeves. After all, Parker is a police investigator and his own man. Even the time and place, 1920s England, hits the Jeeves/Wooster mark.
The mystery of who dunnit wasn't exactly mind-boggling. I suspected the culprit almost the moment he hit the stage. But this mystery doesn't seem to care for the diabolical plot as much as others in the genre. Dorothy Sayers appears perhaps more interested in developing a deeper character. No, no one between the pages of Whose Body? is coming close to Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov, but Sayers seems more concerned with her whys as opposed to her whos.
For instance, the reasoning behind Lord Peter's desire to catch criminals comes into question more than once through the book. His past reaches into the present to color the proceedings. These are nice touches that you don't tend to get with Agatha Christie.
Does Sayers always succeed in her quest for why? No. Allow me to explain:
The criminal's confession is more than a mystery genre trope. It's a staple. Unnaturally delivered admissions of guilt absolutely abound in these books and it is taken to a RIDICULOUS extreme in Whose Body? Sure, the bad guy is said to be one of those clever chaps who needs to brag, but that doesn't justify the lengths to which the character details his every move. Let's face it, Sayers had come up with something good and she couldn't help blurting it out. Bah, I don't care. It was very interesting after all.
I don't think I could put this review to bed without mentioning this book's racism. It is a product of its time, a time when Jewish intolerance was rising and no one but whites were thought much of by whites. Also, at one point the main character says something like "He's got a touch of the tar-baby in him." Perhaps it's all part of Sayers' attempt to create a well-rounded and representative person from 1920s England. Perhaps it was the casual racism that came naturally to her as it did to so many of her era. If you don't understand and need an example, have a look around. It's the same sort of casual racism happening today.
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