I knew of Dorothy L. Sayers, obviously. Vaguely. It’s just that I’d never bothered to drag her books down from the shelf at my Mum’s. I think it felt somewhat like I was cheating on Agatha Christie (who, I have now decided after her reading her Autobiography, is my favourite person ever), and besides, how different could one vintage mystery novel be from one another really? If it hadn’t been for this review of Have His Carcase over at You Book Me All Night Long, I’d never have been introduced to these wonderful books.
Plot summary: Mystery writer Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach — deserted but for the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut.
From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery that might have been suicide, murder or a political plot.
With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds a reason for detective pursuit — as only the two of them can pursue it.
Star Rating for Have His Carcase: * * * *
If you’re planning on picking up this series based on my soon-to-be glowing review (or maybe that only works with You Book Me All Night Long…), don’t start with Have His Carcase, much as I loved it. Why? Possibly perhaps it’s the eighth book in a fourteen book long series. It was fine, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t particularly struggle. Each book is a self-contained murder mystery, so although there were a few references to the previous books, it really didn’t matter. Still, you may as well go in with the knowledge that you should be starting with Whose Body?
Alright. So, firstly, these books (I say this like I haven’t only read one book, but I am clearly now an expert) are much more dense than the Agatha Christie novels. There’s more character development, more clues and more background. The characters discuss things, and mull over the issues, a lot more frequently and occasionally the scenery is even discussed. I know, right!? In a mystery! I’m as shocked as you! Whilst it’s clearly not a heavy or difficult novel by any stretch of the imagination, Have His Carcase can’t really be skim read. You need to pay attention or you won’t have the faintest idea what was going on.
On that note, I did appreciate the frequent summing-ups (summings-up?). Every so often, the characters will get together for a quick ‘so here’s where we are…’ discussion that really helped me to keep everything straight in my head. There was no baker’s niece’s lover who was mentioned on page three but popped up at the end and you’re meant to remember who he is. It seems very… planned, very cautious.
As for the murder itself… eh. I wasn’t all that bothered about who had murdered Alexis, but then are you ever really? Usually the victim is dead before the reader ever wanders onto the scene, so it’s quite difficult to drudge up a sense of compassion for them. Unlike Agatha Christie, you pretty much knew who did it the whole way through. In these books (alright, this book), the point isn’t who did it, but how they could possibly have done so. Because of that, there was no gasp of amazement when the culprit was revealed because hey, I knew that.
The method by which they discovered this was clever, and that’s as descriptive as I can possibly be without being spoilery. You’ll know what I mean when you read it. I’ve never seen that used in this way before and the nod to history was a nice touch.
The characters have more padding out than in other books of this ilk too. Lord Peter Whimsy is the clear show-stealer here, as he’s meant to be. I love him. He’s confident but not cocky, clever but able to admit when he’s wrong, and flirtatious but not creepy. Even if I skim over any part that suggests he has a monocle. I mean… come on. A girl has her limits. Harriet Vane is likeable too, and actually has a personality. She contributes effectively to the investigation and isn’t shy about getting stuck in either.
There’s an overarching romantic subplot that I think must continue throughout the series, but it’s only referenced every so often, and very subtey. I actually liked it; it was cute. But if it’s not your thing, I don’t think it will affect your enjoyment as it’s very playful and not at all angsty.
In short, I’d really recommend this series, or at least this book. For all I know, the others are terrible, but I doubt it. I’ll certainly be reading the remainder very shortly.
Read the review that started it all at You Book Me All Night Long.