This is a classic 'puzzle' mystery.
As it says in the introduction, "Lord Peter Wimsey, with his aristocratic manners and mien, may seem precious in the modern era of alcoholic, working-class coppers with fractured marriages" but he is at his debonair best in this book. Of the other recurring characters, Bunter the servant has a very small part to play while girlfriend Harriet Vane and private sleuth Miss Climpson do not appear.
The book is amusing for its depiction of the dialogue of the Scots, a comedy cockney (I actually laughed out loud), and a fabulous character who lithpth.
I also enjoyed it for its description of artists working:
- "That’s the green for the gentleman’s coat. No – don’t pinch it, or you’ll get it all over you. Yes, you can put the cap on. Yes, that’s to keep it from drying up. Yes, put it back in the box . . . That’s yellow. No, I know there isn’t any yellow in the picture, but I want it to mix with the green to make it brighter. You’ll see. Don’t forget the cap. What? Oh, anywhere in the box. White – yes, it’s a big tube isn’t it? You’ll see, you have to put a little white into most of the colours – why? Well, they wouldn’t come right without" (C 20)
- "That’s called a palette knife. No, it isn’t meant to be sharp. It’s meant for cleaning your palette and so on. Some people use a knife to paint with. Yes, it’s nice and wiggly, but it won’t stand too much of that kind of treatment, my lad. Yes, of course you can paint with a knife if you want to. You can paint with your fingers if it comes to that. No, I shouldn’t advise you to try. Yes, well, it makes a rougher kind of surface, all blobs and chunks of paint." (C 20)
- "I’m going to begin with the sky. Why? Well, why do you think? Yes, because it’s at the top. Yes, of course that blue’s too dark, but I’m going to put some white in it. Yes, and some green. You didn’t know there was any green in the sky? Well, there is. And sometimes there’s purple and pink too. No, I’m not going to paint a purple and pink sky." (C 20)
There are a couple of moments when Sayers has Lord Peter semi-quotes Jerome K Jerome's wonderful assertion about work ("I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."; from Three Men in a Boat) when he says, for example: "I think the most joyous thing in life is to loaf round and watch another bloke doing a job of work." (C 21)
She also says: "Life’s just one damn thing after another." (C 19). This, presumably, pays homage to ODTAA, an adventure novel published by John Masefield in 1926, although it would seem that the phrase was around earlier in the twentieth century.
Other great moments:
- "To boast loudly in public of one’s own country seemed to him indecent – like enlarging on the physical perfections of one’s own wife in a smoking room." (C 1)
- "a sky full of bright sun and rolling cloud-banks, hedges filled with flowers, a well-made road, a lively engine and the prospect of a good corpse at the end of it, Lord Peter’s cup of happiness was full. He was a man who loved simple pleasures." (C 2)
- "The wild garlic was over now, but the scent of it seemed still to hang about the place in memory, filling it with the shudder of vampire wings" (C 2)
- "it doesn’t do to murder people, however offensive they may be." (C 2)
- "I’m probably the least awe-inspiring man in Kirkcudbright. I was born looking foolish and every day in every way I am getting foolisher and foolisher." (C 6)
- "To her, the beauty of an ordered life was more than a mere phrase; it was a dogma to be preached, a cult to be practised with passion and concentration." (C 6)
- "the more you hate everybody for hating you, the more unattractive you grow" (C 6)
- "'I have always done my duty as his wife.’ ‘Too true,’ said Wimsey. ‘He put you up on a pedestal, and you have sat on it ever since. What more could you do?’" (C 20)
I have set myself the task of reading all the Lord Peter Wimsey novels (mostly again) in order. The ones I have read and reviewed in this blog so far include:
- Whose Body in which my Lord and his manservant are introduced
- Clouds of Witness in which Lord Peter must sleuth to get his brother Gerald, Duke of Denver, off a murder charge
- Unnatural Death which introduces another Wimsey sidekick: Miss Climpson
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
- Strong Poison which introduces Harriet Vane, a detective writer who becomes Lord Peter's love interest
- The Five Red Herrings; Lord Peter in Scotland
- Have His Carcase: Harriet and Peter investigate the death of a gigolo with dreams