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Review: Unnatural Death, by Dorothy Sayers

Pages: 264

Original date of publication: 1927

My edition: 1995 (Harper)

Why I decided to read: a character in Nightingale Wood was reading “the latest Dorothy Sayers” and that inspired me to pick up this one.

How I acquired my copy: secondhand bookstore, Brooklyn, May 2008

I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while, ever since I bought it used in a bookstore near where I used to live in Brooklyn. My interest in Sayers’s novels resurfaced a couple of months ago, and since I’m reading her books in order of publication, this one was up on deck next after Clouds of Witness.

One day, Lord Peter and his confederate, Inspector Parker, hear the tale of an elderly woman who died apparently of natural causes—but the young doctor in the case thinks there’s something suspicious in the circumstances under which she died—circumstances in which the old woman’s niece has a lot to gain or loose by her death. When Lord Peter investigates the story, he starts to unravel a tangled web of legal and medical issues, made more interesting by a sort of twist about halfway through the book.

As a character, Lord Peter doesn’t evolve much in favor of the story (beyond a biographical note at the beginning of the story, which didn’t help very much), but there are some great supporting characters, including Miss Climpson, a spinster who becomes Wimsey’s eyes and ears during the investigation—especially important considering that most of the main characters in the case never even have speaking roles, and Miss Cimpson’s letters to Wimsey give the reader a great idea of what’s going on. Miss Climpson is one of the sharpest women out there, and her skills are invaluable in the pursuit and catching of the murderer (yes, it’s murder that happens—it’s just the matter of how and why that need clearing up, and that are so much more important). The legal jargon that Sayers uses was a bit much for me, but in all I thought this was a strong mystery. It’s maybe not as good as some of Sayers’s other books, but I still enjoyed it.


Teresa said…
Oh Miss Climpson! I love Miss Climpson. Seeing her first appearance in Sayers made this book such a pleasure. (I read Strong Poison first, and she features prominently there.)

I agree with you that's it's not top tier Sayers, but even average/below-average Sayers is a pretty good mystery.
Hannah Stoneham said…
I have not read that many sayers (not including this one) and although I like Lord Peter - I have found them slighty variable as mysteries.
Anonymous said…
I actually like Unnatural Death quite a bit. It's not my favourite Sayers, but the way they make a case out of nothing is pretty impressive.

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