A shocking discovery is made in the Battersea area of South London: the naked body of an unknown man – wearing only gold pince-nez glasses on a gold chain – is discovered in a bathtub in a flat belonging to mild-mannered Mr. Thipps. There is no clue to his identity.
Across the River Thames, along fashionable Park Lane, meanwhile, Sir Reuben Levy, a British financier, has disappeared from his home without a trace.
A known man, missing. An unknown man, found. Is there a connection?
That is the situation at the beginning of Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers. Originally published in 1923, it is the book which introduced Lord Peter Wimsey, the character whom many consider to have been the ultimate aristocratic amateur crime-solver, to an audience which even today, more than 90 years after that first appearance, still reads and enjoys these first-rate mysteries. Whose Body? is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Is there some connection between the disappearance of Sir Reuben Levy and the mysterious appearance of that corpse in the bathtub? We are told right from the start that the dead man is clearly not Sir Reuben – there are superficial resemblances, but the unknown man is just that – unknown and most certainly not an aristocratic financier. But despite the lack of any evidence in either problem, Lord Peter becomes convinced that the two cases must be linked.
Dorothy L. Sayers is rightly considered one of the great British Crime Queens of the Golden Age of English Detective Fiction, writing during the years between the two world wars. While plot was always important, and her books contain some clever plots indeed (including the plot of Whose Body?), we continue to read these books primarily for their characters and settings, as well as for Sayers’ literate and witty writing style. In fact, this book really is more of a "howdunit" or "whydunit" than a classic "whodunit," for the identity of the murderer is revealed about two-thirds of the way into the book.
Whose Body? is not my favorite Sayers, but it is quite good, even if some of Wimsey’s upper-class mannerisms (oh, those dropped “g”s!) can be annoyin’. The story is fascinating and occasionally quite horrifying, the characters are memorable, and the writing is both careful and beautiful. If you enjoy the traditional British mystery, you will enjoy this one.
Whose Body is another of my entries for the My Reader's Block blog Vintage Mystery Bingo reading challenge, fulfilling the scorecard requirement for "One Book with an Amateur Detective." Once again, I invite my readers to follow that link to find a great many classic mysteries being reviewed and discussed. I also thank Sally Powers, who has allowed me to re-work my review of Whose Body, done originally for the I Love a Mystery Newsletter, into the version you see here.