Archive for February, 2013

Whose Body (1923) – Dorothy L. Sayers

Posted in Classic Mystery Reviews, Dorothy L. Sayers, Golden Age Mysteries, History of Mystery, Mysteries with tags , , , , on February 17, 2013 by cshmurak

Whose BodyThis is the the book that introduced Lord Peter Wimsey to the world. It’s fascinating to see how most of the characters who would become a fictional repertory company are here at the start: Bunter, Charles Parker, the Dowager Duchess, Freddie Arbuthnot, even Sir Impey Biggs. Lord Peter already lives at 110 Piccadilly, which would become 110A (half of 221B?) in later books, and is busily collecting rare books and dropping his final G’s (an affectation that he loses as he becomes a more serious character ). It’s worth noting too that Lord Peter’s first words in Whose Body (“Oh, damn!”) are also his last words in the final book, Busman’s Honeymoon.

The plot involves the appearance of a mysterious body in a bathtub and the disappearance of the financial giant, Sir Reuben Levy. Lord Peter knows immediately that the body is not that of Sir Reuben; in Sayers’s original manuscript, it was because the body was not circumcised, but in the published version, his feet provide the evidence that the body was not that of a rich man.  Sayers was almost too generous in providing clues; I guessed the culprit very early on, as well as the motive, so for me the book became a howdunit instead of a whodunit. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that my knowing that Sayers was a big fan of Trent’s Last Case (see my review of that book on this blog) also helped me figure out a bit of the murderer’s modus operandi.

Whose Body has the witty dialogue (especially from Lord Peter and the Dowager Duchess) that Sayers did so well, and it’s full of the literary allusions one expects from her. There’s also the untranslated French and German dialogue that I find so annoying. But I’ve discovered a wonderful website by Bill Peschel (http://planetpeschel.com/wp/the-wimsey-annotations/whose-body/) that is a big help with all the references and foreign languages.

Despite some of the unlikely things that occur in the book, Whose Body is still a delight to read.

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Curtain (1975) – Agatha Christie

Posted in Agatha Christie, Classic Mystery Reviews, Golden Age Mysteries, History of Mystery, Mysteries with tags , , , , on February 4, 2013 by cshmurak

Curtain2Curtain is Hercule Poirot’s last case. Agatha Christie wrote it during World War II, not sure she would survive the war. She had it locked away, to be published after her death, but in fact, she had it released in 1975, the year before she died. In Curtain, she reunites Poirot with Captain Hastings, now widowed and with a grown daughter. They return to Styles, the site of their first case (in The Mysterious Affair at Styles). Here Poirot tells Hastings about a serial murderer whom he refers to only as X. Poirot has a bad heart and is crippled with arthritis, but he is determined to bring X to justice.

Is it a fitting end to the Poirot series? In some ways, yes. Despite old age and illness, Poirot is his usual smug self, still withholding information from Hastings and from the reader; here he justifies himself that he is protecting Hastings from dangerous knowledge. Poirot succeeds of course, though at great cost to himself. And in many ways, Christie plays fair in presenting many clues while still surprising her readers. There is also one very clever bit of irony near the end, in which Hastings himself is the unwitting perpetrator of a crime.

But there is also a sloppiness here that is not characteristic of Christie at the top of her form. A five letter word in a Times crossword, which feels like it must be a clue, turns out to be “IAGO” — a four letter word. Poirot leads Hasting to what he says is a “logical inference,” but in fact, it’s not really logical at all. And the writing is sometimes repetitive or opaque. Was the editor afraid to change a word of the sacred text?  What’s more, I’m not at all convinced that the murderer’s usual method was feasible in the first place.

But there is  a certain satisfaction in seeing Poirot bring the criminal to justice in his final case.