22 August 2009

Mystery review: Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers

Genre: Mystery, murder
Year of publication: 1932
No. in series: 8
Series detective: Lord Peter Winsey
Type of investigator: Amateur
Setting & time: A fictional English resort town; 1930s.

Story:
Harriet Vane is on holiday and on a hike between two English coastal towns she comes across the body of a man, with his throat cut, on a rock on the shore. She is unable to drag the body off the rock, but is able to photograph the body and make some observations and remove the weapon that appears to have been used to kill him, before going for help. Once she is able to find help, the tide has dragged the body away and it isn’t found for several days, during which Lord Peter turns up and he and Harriet start investigating the case alongside and with the full co-operation of the local police. What emerges is a complicated and elaborate conspiracy plot about which I will say no more.

Review:
This is a well written and intricately plotted book with interesting and rounded characters, just like the other Sayers novels I have read (Whose Body?, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, The Five Red Herrings, Strong Poison), but just as in The Five Red Herrings there is a tendency to overcomplicate the plot. In both cases the whole thing depended on timing, and there were endless considerations going back and forth about it, ad nauseam. In addition, there was a cipher, which was given so much attention that I found myself skipping whole paragraphs when Harriet and Peter were discussing it and trying to break it. A cryptography enthusiast would probably have enjoyed it, but I didn’t. (The cipher is, in itself, quite interesting, but as a minor plot element it is given way too much space).

WARNING: Read no further if you are unfamiliar with the Harriet/Peter story arc and its conclusion.

Additionally, like is unfortunately the case in a number of mysteries from that era, the murder plot is too intricate for my taste, and yet, for a novel that has such an involved murder plot in it, it still reads like background to the development of the relationship between the sleuths, a bridge between the book where they first meet and she turns him down, and the book where they finally reach an understanding. I have no problem with relationship development, but I think both that and the murder plot could have been streamlined by judicious editing of what is essentially just padding, at little or no cost to the plotting and character development.

Rating: Not one of Sayers’ finest, but essential reading if you want to follow the developing relationship between Peter and Harriet. 2+ stars.

2 comments:

Dorte H said...

I agree it is not Sayers´ best, but contrary to you I enjoyed the cipher so much when I read it the first time, that I made my own ciphers based on the same principles and wrote coded messages for weeks. Well, I think I was quite young then ...

Bibliophile said...

Hehe, I remember something similar from a children's mystery book when I was a kid - but that was a simple substitution cipher. I do think it's much more realistically done here than ciphers in some previous mysteries i have read.