Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers: B

havehiscarcaseFrom the back cover:
The mystery writer Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach—deserted but for the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut. From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery that might have been suicide, murder, or a political plot. With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, she finds a reason for detective pursuit—as only the two of them can pursue it.

On the one hand, Have His Carcase is nothing short of delightful. Upon learning that his beloved Harriet Vane has discovered a body upon a stretch of coastline, Lord Peter dashes to the scene with a stated claim of interest in the case, though he is really there to defend Harriet, lately the defendant in a notorious murder trial and likely to be suspected on that account. When the local police force seems content with a verdict of suicide, Peter and Harriet proceed to work together to prove the victim was murdered. He still loves her and often cavalierly asks her to marry him, but she steadfastly refuses. While the banter between them is brisk, witty, and wonderful, the most emotional moments are really the best, like when Peter confesses that he camouflages his proposals in flippancy because he can’t bear to see the repulsed reaction a genuine query would engender.

Sayers sets the scene for these two right at the start in a highly amusing way that I must quote out of admiration for its economical humor:

The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth… Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.

Significantly less delightful, alas, is the investigation itself. This aspect of the book definitely has attributes to recommend it—I had no idea who’d really done the deed and had even begun to think perhaps Sayers would conclude by saying, “What do you know, it really was suicide!”—but bogs down a lot in lengthy passages spent decoding ciphers or tracking down innumerable townsfolk possessed with an uncanny ability to remember the precise time they saw a certain gentleman get into a Bentley. Cracking the case hinges on the time of death, so a lot of emphasis is placed on alibis and many theories are advanced that attempt to make all of the random clues work together. It’s kind of interesting, but does get rather tiresome after a while.

Still, it’s a solid mystery and I am satisfied that some progress was made in tempting Harriet to reconsider the merits of the Wimsey bosom.

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  1. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten about the cipher decoding bits. Also, isn’t this the one where the final clue rests entirely on a long letter written in FRENCH? Not so great for we Americans. However, I love Peter and Harriet so much that the actual mystery rarely matters.

    • This isn’t the one with the long letter in French, but that sounds very familiar. Was it a letter by a lady with a secret about someone’s identity or something like that?

    • Thinking upon this a bit further, I wonder if this occurred in one of the stories in Lord Peter Views the Body. “The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question,” perhaps?


  1. […] course, this isn’t the first book to present Harriet’s point of view. Have His Carcase is similar, but it’s more breezy and amusing. This time, it feels like we really get to know […]

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