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Title: Lord Peter Views the Body
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #5
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
(click the Details arrow to see the synopses)
The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers
Members of London’s “Egotists’ Club” are telling stories of odd things that happened to them, when one of the member’s guests, a cinema actor named Varden, relates that he was invited to model for a wealthy sculptor, Eric Loder, and spent several months at Loder’s New York mansion. A few years later, after the war, Loder invited Varden back to New York, and Varden noticed that Loder’s mistress, Maria Moranno, had disappeared, though a life-size gilded sculpture of her now occupied the living room. One night, Varden was wakened by a “funny-looking man” wearing a monocle, who told him his life was in danger. For explanation, the man smashed the arm of the “statue” with a fireplace poker, and Varden saw a human arm bone beneath the gold plating. Varden fled the house immediately, though to this day he is not certain whether he really did narrowly escape death or whether someone played an elaborate practical joke on him.
Then the “funny-looking man” – Wimsey, also a member of the club – appears and explains the mystery: while Wimsey himself was a guest in Loder’s mansion, a small night-time accident led to him occupying a sofa in the living room, where he observed Loder entering a secret chamber. Entering the chamber himself, Wimsey found an apparatus for electroplating and diagrams drawn by Loder, revealing his plans to kill Varden and encase him in a gilded statue. After further investigation, Wimsey concluded that Loder killed Maria in jealousy, believing that she and Varden were lovers during his first stay in New York, and planned to kill Varden in the same fashion after he returned from his war service.
Wimsey goes on to relate that after Varden fled the house, Wimsey confronted Loder with a pistol in the secret workshop. Loder tried to outmaneuver Wimsey by shutting off the lights and then rushing him, but tripped and fell into the vat of cyanide to be used in the electroplating process, dying almost instantaneously. While Wimsey fumbled to turn the lights back on, he inadvertently switched on the current to the copper wire Loder was gripping, which transferred copper plating to his hands. Loder was found the next morning, and his death was ruled an accident, while Wimsey took Maria Moranno’s encased body to a local cemetery and gave it a Christian burial with the aid of a sympathetic priest.
The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question
Peter and Bunter are waiting in line at Saint-Lazare in Paris, when Peter overhears a conversation from a young woman in line that makes him curious, particularly when he notes that the woman and her companion are also taking the same train to Calais, and crossing the Channel to Dover. After patient investigation, Peter meets with his mother’s friend, the Dowager Countess of Medway, warning her that someone is planning a burglary during her granddaughter’s upcoming wedding. He believes he knows who the thief is, but cannot prove it unless the theft is allowed to take place.
Peter also alerts Charles Parker, who has men on guard during the wedding. A brief uproar arises when the bride’s famous diamond necklace, brought out of the family vault for the occasion, is reported stolen, but the thief and her accomplice are caught red-handed. Peter shocks the assembled wedding party by exposing the Dowager Countess’s French lady’s maid as a man in disguise, Jacques le Rouge, a.k.a. Jacques sans-Culotte, a notorious safecracker, burglar and female impersonator. Jacques admits defeat, asking Peter how he knew. Peter explains that while waiting in the line at Saint-Lazare, he overheard Jacques, while dressed as a woman, use the masculine article “un” instead of the feminine “une.” Jacques congratulates Peter for a mastery of the French language probably unique among all English people.
The Dowager Countess is initially outraged that Peter knowingly allowed her to be dressed, undressed, and assisted to bed by a man, but then laughs off the whole affair, reminiscing that she was a famous beauty in her youth, who attracted the attentions of many young men.
The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will
The disposal of a dead man’s fortune depends on his penchant for cross-word puzzles.
The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag
A high-speed chase and a lost bag converge with a gruesome discovery.
The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker
A lady pleads for Lord Peter’s help in retrieving a valuable necklace, and more importantly, a portrait with an indiscreet inscription.
The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention
Lord Peter, visiting friends in the country, sees a ghostly carriage, hears rumours of an odd will, and deduces that foul play is afoot.
The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran
Lord Peter deduces the whereabouts of a cleverly hidden murder weapon.
The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste
Lord Peter’s celebrated palate exposes two impostors seeking a secret formula.
The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head
Viscount St. George appears as a boy as Lord Peter uses clues from a rare book to find a treasure.
The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach
Involving several Scotsmen, a digestive organ, and a handful of diamonds.
The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face
Prompted by a discussion with strangers on a train, Lord Peter investigates the murder of a man whose face was disfigured after death.
The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba
Lord Peter infiltrates a den of ruthless thieves; notable for unusual technology.
This was a good entry in the series. A selection of short stories worked perfectly for me and kept my attention without making me feel “Ok, get on with it already”.
Some stories worked better than others and the last one did NOT work for me. Faking his own death for 2 years just to catch a gang of high tech thieves seemed a bit ridiculous to me. And it made me realize how old he is. He was 37 at the time of his fake death. I also don’t understand why he’s still single. I seem to vaguely recollect that he’s married in later books but might be confusing him with his official detective partner Charles Parker. Either way, he’s not Batman/Bruce Wayne so he should be married. And that’s my final answer.
Other than those odd complaints, this was just what was needed. I really like collections of short stories if they are done well. None of this 800 page “world building” crap where the author destroys any chance of allowing the reader to use their imagination. None of this 800 pages of “character development” where the author makes the character more important than the story. Sayers tells a story using the titular character and she does it well. But they are the vehicles and the story is the point. I appreciate, so much, that approach to story telling. It is sadly lacking in today’s books and is probably one of the reasons I’m not drawn so much into modern SFF.
Going slightly off topic here. I don’t understand why authors like Sayers, and McKillip, aren’t mentioned more by those who want more women writers. They seem to be completely ignored by the very people I would have thought would be searching them out and bringing them to a new generation. Part of it, I suspect, is the style of writing. “Kids these days” just don’t want this sparse, utilitarian and yet excellent kind of writing. Heaven help us, they might have to use their imaginations! Maybe it’s a genre thing? Most of the mystery series that I’ve dipped my toes into have been penned by women but I don’t hear their names bandied about at all nowadays. Ok, I’m done blabbering.
The main reason this got a 3.5 instead of a 4 is because in one of the stories Wimsey is talking with someone who’s french and Sayers doesn’t translate it. She expects her readers to be able to read french. She obviously was NOT part of the Freedom Fries movement of the 00’s, otherwise she’d know better. To be honest though, I don’t feel like I really missed out on anything by not being able to read a couple of paragraphs.