Review: Have His Carcase

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Have His CarcaseDorothy L. Sayers. New York: Harper, 2012 (originally published 1932).

Summary: While on a walking tour of the seacoast around Devon, Harriet Vane finds a man whose throat has been slit recently on some rocks. Lord Peter Wimsey eventually joins her and they find clues aplenty and possible suspects, yet none appears to have done it.

After being found innocent of poisoning a former love interest, with the help of Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane embarks on a walking tour of the Devon seacoast. This particular day finds her on the road from Lesston Hoe to Wilvercombe, a seaside resort favored by elderly women. She detours to the beach for a snatch of reading and some lunch and dozes off. She wakens to a cry shortly after 2 pm. On waking she explores the beach further and spots something that looks like a man sleeping on a flat rock by the shore. As she approaches, she finds that it is a man, but he is not sleeping, but dead, of a slit throat with a razor lying at the base of the rock. The tide is rising, she is several miles distant from the nearest town, and the rock and body will soon be submerged. She carefully examines the body, finding the blood liquid and not clotted, pointing to a recent murder. Perhaps the cry she thought was a bird was this man’s last cry. She takes a number of pictures and collects the razor and sets off to find help and report the murder.

After numerous detours, she makes it to Wilvercombe, reports the dead body, and as a shrewd writer building a reputation, leaks the story to the press. Because of this, Lord Peter Wimsey learns of her whereabouts, and comes to help explore what the authorities believe a suicide of a Russian emigre’, Paul Alexis.  Both Vane and Wimsey think otherwise and come across a number of clues that raise questions. Why did he take his life when he was engaged to a rich widow? Why did he by a two way ticket to the town nearest the rock where he was found, and why did he go there? Who was the mysterious Mr. Martin camping near the beach? What about Mr. Bright, the barber who had “provided” the razor that slit Alexis throat? Who was he really? Why was there a ring recently placed in the rock where Alexis died? Why did Alexis convert his savings to gold sovereigns, found in a waist belt on his dead body? How did the horse in the meadow near where Martin camped lose its shoe? Who was the mysterious woman, ‘Feodora,’ in the photo found on Alexis body? What was the role of the rich widow’s son, a struggling landholder, in all of this, despite his alibi? What was the content and significance of the letter in cipher found in Alexis’ pocket?

Each chapter adds new evidence yet seems to bring Wimsey, Vane, and the authorities no closer to a solution. Suicide, if not the best explanation seems the most convenient. Or perhaps Mrs. Weldon’s explanation that he was knocked off by some “mysterious Bolsheviks” is not so incredible after all. None of the other suspects could possibly have been at the rock at the time of the murder.

Nor does all their sleuthing bring them any closer together, despite Wimsey’s repeated “proposals”, which seemed an annoying distraction not only to Vane, but also this reader. Nevertheless, it is great good fun to see these two amateur detectives piecing together the puzzle of this mystery. And one can always hope for the future.

Along the way, we perhaps get a bit of social commentary as well. The women entertained by gigolos at the resorts make us reckon with the sadness of wealth without people to share it or a purpose to live for other than self-indulgence. One readily understands the eagerness of both Vane and Wimsey to clear out when it is all over.

Take this one to the beach or into a comfy hammock and enjoy!

 

Review: Strong Poison

strong-poison

Strong PoisonDorothy L. Sayers. New York: HarperCollins, 2012 (originally published 1930).

Summary: Harriet Vane is accused of murdering her lover with arsenic. Lord Peter Wimsey believes she is innocent despite damning evidence and sets about to prove it.

Harriet Vane is awaiting the jury’s verdict. She is on trial for murdering a former lover, Philip Boyes after breaking off their relationship. Both are authors, Vane as a mystery writer the more successful. Her current novel concerns poisoning by arsenic and in her research she obtained samples of arsenic under assumed names. Following several meetings with her, Boyes suffered gastric distress. After going away for his health, he returns, and after dining with his cousin Norman Urquhart, he visits Harriet one more time to plead his case. That night, he falls terribly ill with gastric distress, of which he dies four days later. After a nurse’s suspicions are made known, an autopsy uncovers arsenic as the cause of death.

The cousin seems to have an airtight alibi–the two had shared the same food and drink, some of which Boyes himself had prepared. Hence Vane is the only plausible suspect with means, motive, and opportunity. Yet in the end, the jury comes back with a “hung” verdict. Wimsey takes an interest in the case, believing her innocent, and uses the reprieve to investigate. He focuses on Urquhart, whose alibi seems just a bit too perfect.

This leads to what is the most amusing part of the story as Miss Climpson and her typing agency, supported by Lord Peter, go undercover. Miss Murchison goes to work in Urquhart’s office. And Miss Climpson cultivates a spiritualist interest in the caregiver of wealthy old Cremorna Garden, an infirm relative of Urquhart and Boyes. And of course, the ever-resourceful Bunter befriends the household staff of Urquhart.

Time is winding down. Suspicions are confirmed. But will Wimsey get the evidence needed to exonerate Harriet? And how will she respond to Lord Peter’s proposal of marriage?

This is all great, good fun in what seemed to me one of Sayers’ fastest paced mysteries. Sayers introduces in Vane a strong female character who makes one wonder if she is modeled after Sayers herself. She inserts an egalitarian interest as Detective Parker becomes engaged to Lady Mary, Wimsey’s younger sister, with his full support. All wrapped up in a great story.