Whose Body? By Dorothy L Sayers

Whose Body? is the story of an unknown murdered man found naked in the bathtub of an architects home. None of the members of the household know him and are shocked and scandalised by the body found in their home. Who is the man? And is he connected in some way to a missing financier? Lord Peter Whimsey is intrigued by the mystery, and sets out to find the killer, but can he catch this criminal in time?

A close friend and I were chatting about detective stories and reads, and she asked me, had I ever read Dorothy Sayers? I knew the name but had to confess that I had not. I love Agatha Christie’s stories and other detective books, and so I was more than happy to have a new author to read. 

Sayers is a really interesting writer. As Agatha Christie grew in popularity, other people attempted to copy her form with varying success. The detective novel was at a peak and hugely popular. And like so many times, once something becomes popular, it’s frowned upon my certain people as being cheap in some way, for the masses and not very clever. 

Dorothy Sayers was highly educated in her own right, and alumni of Oxford, and a highly respected translator of the classics, The Divine Comedy being considered an excellent piece of work. This book, Whose Body? introduced Lord Peter Whimsey, a man whose dapper and flippant ways belie a mind as sharp as a steel trap, and who loves to investigate mysteries as a hobby. A genteel detective, true to the type so popular at the time. But where some critics of the day dismissed Christie as being too light a read, Sayers likes to philosophise a little more, introducing themes of science and current thought. She was therefore sometimes considered more intellectual than her contemporary mystery writers, writing detective stories with the more discerning reader in mind. 

That said, to me she fits well with readers of Christie and other Golden Age detective stories, and though she was considered less pop cultural than her competition, I don’t really find her to be so in fact. This is the first of her mysteries, but I really enjoyed the sensational plot line, and the twists and turns. I didn’t guess the killer, which I often can in crime and mystery stories, so I really enjoyed this. And as it was written in the 20’s, I loved the old language and era of the times. Whimsey reminded me a little of Poirot in his love of the finer things in life and his good taste, but he’s also his own man, with his own history, including shell shock from serving in WW1. He’s quite amusing, because he’s flippant and funny, but also tragic and real.

It’s a neat work of fiction, and holds your interest, and since reading this, I have picked up several other of Dorthy Sayers books, and taken an interest in her. Her writing is smooth, dynamic, swift and smart, and yet also very accessible and in some ways, light. Do not be put off by her intellectual prowess, she’s a great creator of character, mystery and intrigue, but she’s also, I think, an entertaining and easy read, in the same vein as Christie herself. 

Read It If: you love old school detective and mystery stories. If you like Agatha Christie, you’ll like Dorothy Sayers, too!

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