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06 May 2017

Book Review: Have His Carcase

Have His CarcaseHave His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers


Dammit. I figured this one out. But it was still a good read.

It would have been fun to know Sayers, I think. Not that she probably would have enjoyed knowing me, if her condescension to the reader is any indication of her attitude towards mere mortals. Here, just as in Five Red Herrings, Sayers makes several side comments that indicate just what she thinks of you.

At the same time, I understand why she despises me. She's a hermit. A judgmental hermit. A brilliant, judgmental hermit. So, sometimes, when she throws off-hand comments that level judgment on the masses, I nod and say, yes, you truly understand the human condition. Or, more specifically, MY human condition.

"A solitary rock is always attractive. All right-minded people feel an overwhelming desire to scale and sit upon it."

"You know what people are. The minute they see anyone having a peaceful feed they gather in from the four points of the compass and sit down beside one, and the place is like the Corner House in the rush hour."

And then, superior to me or no, she has the capacity to make me laugh. Take this exchange, during which Wimsey shows both his charm, his knowledge of literature, and his grasp of science.

"We believe in you, Miss Kohn," said Wimsey, solemnly, "as devoutly as in the second law of thermodynamics."
"What are you getting at?" said Mr. Simons, suspiciously.
"The second law of thermo-dynamics," explained Wimsey, helpfully, "which holds the universe in its path, and without which time would run backwards like a cinema film wound the wrong way."
"No, would it?" exclaimed Miss Kohn, rather pleased.
"Altars may reel," said Wimsey, "Mr. Thomas may abandon is dress suit and Mr. Snowden renounce free trade, but the second law of thermodynamics will endure while memory holds her seat in this distracted globe, by which Hamlet meant his head but which I, with a wider intellectual range, apply to the planet which we have the rapture of inhabiting. Inspector Umpelty appears shocked, but I assure you that I know no more impressive way of affirming my entire belief in your absolute integrity." He grinned. "What I like about your evidence, Miss Kohn, is that it adds the final touch of utter and impenetrable obscurity to the problem which the Inspector and I have undertaken to solve. It reduces it to the complete quintescence of incomprehensible nonsense. Therefore, by the second law of thermo-dynamics, which lays down that we are hourly and momently progressing to a state of more and more randomness, we receive positive assurance that we are moving happily and securely in the right direction. You may not believe me," added Wimsey, now merrily launched on a flight of fantasy, "but I have got to the point now at which the slightest glimmer of common sense imported into this preposterous case would not merely disconcert me but cut me to the heart. I have seen unpleasant cases, difficult cases, complicated cases and even contradictory cases, but a case founded on stark unreason I have never met before. It is a new experience and, blase as I am, I confess that I am thrilled to the marrow."

And THEN she makes me feel like I might be superior, too, when I catch that her well-meaning but plebian and gruff police inspector keeps mixing up Congreve quotes, Biblical quotes, and Shakespeare quotes.

Or understand exactly what the theater agent is talking about when he goes on a discourse about the problems of character construction in Shakespeare's Richard III.

"Inconsistent to my mind. You mightn't think it, but I do a bit of reading and thinking now and again, and what I say is, I don't believe W. Shakespeare had his mind on the job when he wrote that part. Too slimy at the beginning and too tough at the end. It ain't nature. Not but what the play always acts well. Plenty of pep in it, that's why. Keeps moving. But he's made Richard two men in one, that's what I complain of. One of 'em's a wormy, plotting sort of fellow and the other's a bold, bustling sort of chap who chops people's heads off and flies into tempers. It don't seem to fit somehow, eh?"
"I always think," said Wimsey, "that Shakespeare meant Richard to be one of those men who are always acting a part--dramatising things, so to speak. I don't believe his furies are any more real than his lovemaking."

But in the pages where she tediously has Harriet and Wimsey figuring out a code, which she walks the reader through, step by step, she has a helpful footnote explaining that the most obvious solution eventually "proved to be untenable, so the calculations relating to this supposition are omitted." I laughed out loud. Then skipped the next four pages of discussion and diagrams. I had no need for that footnote, nor for the in-depth explanation of the code so, obviously, I don't even reach the lowest rung of her expectations of her readers.

I didn't even know who Ninon de l'Enclos was, for pete's sake. Thank heavens for Google.

I am likely not worthy of her constructed world. But I enjoy inhabiting it for a few days at a time anyway.



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