Whose Body? Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: Harper Collins, 1923. (Link is for trade paperback version.)
Summary: A body found in Thipps bathroom, a missing financier. Two cases that Lord Peter and his valet, Bunter, are called into simultaneously, apparently disparate, ultimately connected.
Imagine walking into your bathroom to discover a body in your tub with nothing on but a pair of pince-nez glasses. That is the unusual scenario that greets the retiring architect Thipps, who lives with his mother in a flat in Battersea. Thipps mother and Lord Peter’s are friends and so he is called in to investigate in the very first of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Then the unimaginative police Inspector Suggs arrests both Mr.Thipps and their maid Gladys on suspicion of the murder.
Shortly thereafter, his friend Parker, a Scotland Yard man, drops by to discuss the case, which he became involved with because he thought the man might be missing Jewish financier, Reuben Levy. Apart from a superficial resemblance, he is not. As best as they can tell, he was a workman who died from a blow to the back of his neck, who had been shaved, barbered and manicured and given the glasses post-mortem, and placed in the tub after being let down from the roof through the bathroom window.
The two cases seem unconnected until it is learned Levy was inquiring of directions to a famed physician’s residence late in the evening before the body was found in Thipps bathroom. An odd coincidence, and perhaps no more than that but one that will place both Parker and Lord Peter in peril, and awaken memories of Lord Peter’s World War I battle experiences, an early example in literature of the description of what we would now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
While I did not feel the writing was quite as polished as later writings and that Lord Peter seems overly silly at times, the characters of Lord Peter and Bunter are already well-drawn, with the fascinating element of Lord Peter’s war service, apparently dilettante life, and his simultaneous fascination and reluctance toward detective work. Bunter appears as the ever resourceful and somewhat independent-minded valet, the perfect companion to assist Lord Peter in his adventures. One of the most hilarious passages is Bunter’s account of plying of the famous physician’s, Lord Julian Freke’s man with Wimsey’s alcohol and cigars, very good alcohol and cigars at that. And there is a fascinating passage in which Wimsey questions a medical student about his activities a week before, that he swears he can’t remember, and the systematic questions that lead to a detailed recollection of events.
A good read in its own right, Whose Body? also heralds the promise of the other “Lord Peter Wimsey” mysteries, fourteen in all. If you’ve never discovered them and love mysteries, you should try them. And as a bonus, copyright has expired in the U.S. on Whose Body? and so it is available in at least two e-book versions on Amazon currently for $0.99 and for free on Feedbooks (in the U.S.). So if you like to start your mystery series at the beginning, here is an inexpensive way to explore the first of a series I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, even though set in pre-World War II England.
[Also reviewed on Bob on Books: Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors.]