Classics Challenge #6 – A classic crime story
Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers
After enjoying Dorothy Sayer’s Strong Poison with last year’s classics challenge, I knew I had to pick up another Wimsey novel for the crime category. This time I decided to be sensible and start at the beginning of the series, Unnatural Death. It’s not so much a ‘who dunnit’ as a ‘how dunnit’. Wimsey is fairly certain of the culprit- so, then, am I- but there still needs proof that what happened was a crime. The murder was done so smoothly on an already dying victim, and there is so little evidence and incentive to investigate, that at first it seems as if the criminal may actually get away with it. Even Wimsey at one point questions why he bothers. Then, as he pushes further, the stakes grow higher and more people get hurt. But it’s not like Wimsey to cave to doubt and backlash.
“And Agatha Dawson didn’t want to die,” added Parker, “She said so.” “No,” said Wimsey, thoughtfully, “and I suppose she had a right to an opinion.”
This, as the first in the series, introduces our main characters. Miss Climpson begins her role as the amateur undercover agent. Even in the early days she packed her ‘secret spy’ letters with excessive italics and exclamation points. Ah well. Wimsey and Parker have secured themselves as top detective duo in my books. Everybody loves a good ‘brother’ story, and these two provide a fantastic dynamic of professional and dorky.
‘”Well now, as to the medical problem- the means. I must say that up to now that appears completely insoluble. I am baffled, Watson (said he, his hawk-like eyes gleaming angrily from under half-closed lids). Even I am baffled. But not for long! (he cried, with a magnificent burst of self-confidence). My Honour (capital H) is concerned to track this Human Fiend (capitals) to its hidden source, and nail the whited sepulchre to the mast even though it crush me in the attempt! Loud applause. His chin sank broodingly upon his dressing-gown, and he breathed a few guttural notes into the bass saxophone which was the cherished companion of his solitary hours in the bathroom.” Parker ostentatiously took up the book which he had laid aside on Wimsey’s entrance. “Tell me when you’ve finished,” he said , caustically.’
Compared to the other two Wimsey books I’ve read, this one seemed a shade darker. But overall, Unnatural Death is a good beginning for Wimsey and crew. Sayers’ characters are vibrant and lovable- save for the villain who grew more detestable though the book- and the dialogue was stellar. Do not be surprised if I add ‘wimsey-isms’ to my everyday vernacular.
“Certainly- a breath of country air would do me good, I fancy. Blow away the cobwebs, don’t you know. It might even inspire me to invent a good way of murderin’ people. ‘O Inspiration, solitary child, warbling thy native woodnotes wild-‘ Did somebody write that, or did I invent it? It sounds reminiscent, somehow.”
(Edit: I regret to say that I have made a mistake regarding the order of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Unnatural Death is not the first in the series, it is the third. )