Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers
I have finished another volume in my Folio Sayers set! It’s still only January…
I have also been away for a few days, apparently on holiday but really on a book buying tour. Heffers in Cambridge was raided for crime once more! I actually picked up two Dean Street Press crime books to feed my addiction, and saw some Furrowed Middlebrow paperbacks in real life. The new books due in March look as if they are also going to be worth collecting as well; see http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.co.uk/ for many more details.
Have his Carcase refers to not only the body which is the feature of this mystery which spends much time establishing that a murder has indeed been committed, as the nature of the death leaves open the question of suicide. The title refers to the other basic necessity in a murder mystery; an actual body to have an inquest on. Another problem is actually arresting someone and having sufficient evidence to charge them with a crime, as suspects are elusive and alibis seemingly unbreakable. It is undoubtedly a clever book, with Sayers doing her best to combine her usual mystery creation, characters and relationship into a good read.
This novel starts with Harriet on a walking tour, solo but with money and time on her hands after her acquittal as recorded in Strong Poison. Lord Peter Wimsey is absent though living in hope that she will accept his frequent proposal, and soon arrives when he hears that she has found a body. Significantly, she informs a newspaper of her gory discovery rather than Peter, but when he hastens to assist in the case she is genuinely pleased. She has done everything right given that the body is not only bloody but about to be washed into the sea, in that she takes photos and removes all identifying items. It is fortunate that she does, as the body disappears and she has to walk a long way to discover a telephone. This journey does mean that she picks up a few clues en route, which prove valuable in the long run.
The focus on Harriet in this novel does predict her determination and abilities in detection which really dominates Gaudy Night, as her appearance in Strong Poison is much more passive apart from the banter with Peter. Peter does do some sterling work in detection, including his “lounge lizard” persona adopted to impress a female witness. He also comes out with some priceless lines in his typical self mockery and appeals to Harriet.
My biggest problem with this book is the abrupt ending, even if it is well worked out a short epilogue would have been enjoyable. It also becomes very technical at one point as Sayers brought in another Detection Club member with specific expertise (according to Martin Edwards in his book on Golden Age Murder). I was also continually remembering the tv adaptation, with is actually very faithful to this novel.
I enjoyed this book as the plot is clever and substantial, the characters/suspects complex and realistic, and the Harriet – Peter relationship as funny as ever. I would recommend this book as a well written, readable and a worthy addition to the Lord Peter series, even though he is not the first detective on the scene.