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23 October 2016

Book Reivew - Unnatural Death

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Whimsey, #3)Unnatural Death by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Working my way through these old paperbacks I've had on my shelves for years. And more years than I originally would have guessed, as evidenced by the ad in the back of the book that says, "By the year 2000, 2 out of 3 Americans could be illiterate."

Also, the binding fell apart while I was reading. But I'll tape it together. Because I love the cover art on these old things. I have often wandered through a used book store, wanting to complete my collection (I am missing at least four Lord Peter mysteries) but I will not buy them unless they are this particular edition. Certainly Lord Peter would think me a buffoon too place such import on the covers and not the content.

I clearly remember liking Sayers when I read these the first time, in the first blush of my 20s and the first blush of my marriage. But I also remember also thinking I was SUPPOSED to like them; realizing that to be an educated sophisticate, one must, of course, be engaged by the high-brow antics and the lettered references. So I pretended, not really understanding what drove these people who were engulfed in the blase, devil-may-care indifference of middle-age. Now I understand. All too well.

So diving in them again has been the best kind of mid-life crisis. And this time I like them for realz, as the kids say, with not even one thought to whatever classification liking these books puts me in as a supposed intellectual.

There are still references that I do not understand...many, MANY references I do not understand. But in my 20s, I understood even fewer and confess that I found these books almost impenetrable then. They are not so now.

Lord Peter is a joy.

"I haven't come to sell you soap or gramophones, or to borrow money or enroll you in the Ancient Froth-blowers or anything charitable. I really am Lord Peter Wimsey--I mean, that really is my title, don't you know, not a Christian name, like Sanger's Circus or Earl Derr Biggers."

And Miss Climpson? God love her and her all-caps and her italics in her letters to Lord Peter as she, in his employ, pursues the mystery with old-maidenly zeal.

"In enclose a careful statement of my expenses up-to-date. you will excuse the mention of underwear, which is, I fear, a somewhat large item! but wool is so expensive nowadays, and it is necessary that every detail of my equipment should be suitable to my (supposed!) position in life. I have been careful to wash the garments through, so that they do not look too new, as this might have a suspicious appearance!"

And London?

"Where no one knows his neighbour. Where shops do not know their customers. Where physicians are suddenly called to unknown patients whom they never see again. Where you may lie dead in your house for months together unmissed and unnoticed till the gas inspector comes to look at the meter. Where strangers are friendly and friends are casual. London, whose rather untidy and grubby bosom in the repository of so many odd secrets. Discreet, incurious and all-enfolding London."

And then there's Inspector Parker, in whose thoughts the above paragraph seems to be put, until Sayers sets us straight.

"Not that Parker put it that way to himself. He merely thought, 'Ten to one she'd try London. They mostly think they're safer there.'"

One must choose to forgive the dated references to other races, as Sayers was a product of her time. But I look at it as a welcome example of how far our society has come, which is particularly welcome in an election year when mostly I think about how far we still have to go.


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