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Review: Have His Carcase, by Dorothy Sayers


Pages: 440
Original date of publication: 1932
My edition: 1995 (HarperCollins)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2010

I’ve been reading my way, slowly but surely, through the Lord Peter Wimsey series for about 4 years now—not necessarily in series order, since I started with Murder Must Advertise.

Have His Carcase opens with the mystery writer Harriet Vane, who, on a walking tour, discovers a dead body lying on a rock. The murdered man is a Russian emigrant and a dancing teacher at a local hotel who may or may not have been associated with Bolsheviks. Naturally, Lord Peter is interested in the case, and he makes haste to join Harriet Vane to solve the mystery (with periodic marriage proposals). However, once the tide comes in, the body is swept out to see, leaving the two detectives with a mystery but no physical evidence.

Dorothy Sayers was the queen of sharp, smart mystery stories. On the surface they’re straightforward police procedurals that happen to have a rich dilettante as the detective. But her stories are much more than that—Sayers understands human motives better than most detective writers I’ve read. The Lord Peter Winsey series is better, I think, with the addition of Harriet, who is Lord Peter’s equal in terms of wit and intelligence. I love watching the banter and barely-concealed sexual tension between the two of them as they tried to solve the murder. Dorothy Sayers doesn’t insult her reader with endless exposition, or a scene at the ending in which the villain conveniently reveals all. She is a master of the genre because of her subtlety in writing.

What’s interesting about this case is the lack of physical evidence—if Harriet hadn’t seen the body and taken photographs, it’s almost as though the murder might not have taken place at all (if a tree falls in a forest, does it make a noise?). Have His Carcase is another really strong addition to this series, but if you’re new to the series, I’d try another one of her books first to gain more background on the recurring characters.


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