Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers (1923)
Reading a book written so long ago is a rather different experience than reading a historical novel, that is, a novel written now about a former time period. The author of a historical novel would feel a need to provide context and explain the unfamiliar. But here, we're just plopped in the middle of a very different period and left to figure it out ourselves. It's not difficult - this isn't a big novel filled with complicated political and military references (see: War and Peace) but rather a short and simple story of a particular mystery. But still, I noticed things: the use of the apostrophe in 'bus, for instance, which reminded me that it used to be a longer word. Or the uncomfortable discussions of the missing Mr. Levy, who is repeatedly referred to as "the Jew" and described as "Hebrew." I kept cringing and expecting anti-Semitic commentary which, thankfully, never came. But obviously, cultural sensitivity changes through time so it can be a bit jarring - and educational - to read older books.
Wimsey was an enjoyable character in many ways. I like his habit of ending a sentence with "what?" as in, "Hate anything tiresome happenin' before breakfast. Takes a man at such a confounded disadvantage, what?" He also took great delight in everything about the case. "I love trifling circumstances...so many man have been hung by trifling circumstances." Although it was a decent story on its own, it was really Wimsey's character that makes it stand out.
I've heard of Dorothy Sayers and knew she was a well-known and loved mystery author, but never picked up one of her books until now, when we chose Whose Body? for book group. It was a fun little whodoneit, which I found all very charming and British. It was short and easy, a great counterpoint to the mammoth and complex other book I'm reading right now. If you're looking for a easy but entertaining mystery, I bet this would fit the bill.
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