Friday, May 31, 2013

Book Review - Dorothy L. Sayers's Unnatural Death

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Book 3) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Published by: Harper Torch
Publication Date: 1927
Format: Paperback, 264 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

One night at dinner Lord Peter and Detective-Inspector Parker are talking and a man at a nearby table overhears them and tells them his sad life story. He was a well placed Doctor but after the death of an elderly Cancer patient his insistence that it was murder, not natural, resulted in his ostracization and his having to leave the small town and try to reestablish himself in London. The Doctor gives no names, but Lord Peter is so intrigued, that he sets off to solve this "crime." Because Lord Peter is sure there is a crime. The only problem is means and motive... but he's sure once he starts poking around he'll find something.

The problem is, that while there where indeed odd goings on in Leahampton, the deceased, Miss Agatha Dawson, died quite awhile back and will or no will, the only person who would inherit was a great-niece, Miss Mary Whittaker. So why would she kill her "Auntie" if she was guaranteed to inherit? Once Lord Peter starts to intervene, secreting an old lady, Miss Climpson in Leahampton as his agent on the ground, the bodies start to pile up. If the murderer of Miss Dawson had left well enough alone they would have gotten away with murder because their was no proof. The ever growing stack of bodies is all the proof Lord Peter and Detective-Inspector Parker needed to know that their suppositions were right. Can they catch a killer before Lord Peter's conscience gets the better of him?

Holy time jump Batman! I have to say, that was my first reaction to Unnatural Death. This book starts out with an odd little biographical note that brought confusion galore to me and I had to go look up online to see if I was really reading book three. The thing is the note is written from the future date of 1935 by a Paul Austin Delagardie, a relative of Lord Peter's we've never met... yet. In actuality, the book was written in 1927 and takes place in that year. So why was I forced to read all this weird spoilerish information about who Lord Peter marries (though I have always known that) and has a child with and that Parker would eventually succeed in wooing Peter's sister Mary? Gathering from some reviews online, this might be an addition to the book... again, I ask why? As one review I read said "I can't imagine why Sayers would include it in this book since it makes reference to any number of events in the lives of Lord Peter and his friends and family that haven't happened yet." So shame on you Dorothy L. Sayers, I shall now send River Song to beat the shit out of you for trying to mess with the linear narrative of Lord Peter's life.

Now I will get to the actual plot, not the preface of the book. Spinster Sleuths. Or spinsters that are sleuths and occasionally murderers. Apparently this book was originally titled The Singular Case of the Three Spinsters which I think captures the themes in the book far better then Unnatural Death. The question is... who came up with the first spinster who decided to put aside the knitting and start asking some rather pointed questions. I was going back and forth between Sayers and Christie, I mean, this book came prior to Miss Marple, but Miss Marple was based on another character of Chirstie's that came out prior to this book... looking into it, apparently it's neither! Apparently it was an American author named Mary Roberts Rinehart with her book The Circular Staircase. So there goes my theory of rivalling writers. But it's nice to give the spinsters some love. Or at least, other writers giving the spinsters some love. Sayers seems to kind of hold them in contempt and as a punching bag and views their lifestyle as a little too "outre" and she drops one too many hints of lesbianism. Which, I'm guessing she's against. Sayers has pretty well established her racist card in earlier volumes, so her being a homophobe wouldn't really surprise me.

As for the method of death. Anyone who is anyone will figure out that an undetectable injection that kills has to be an air embolism. I mean, they use this constantly as a trope in fiction. Apparently this was Sayers idea, at least my googling hasn't proved otherwise. Yet critics weren't too kind about this new method of murder. "In Unnatural Death, she had invented a murder method that is appropriately dramatic and cunningly ingenious, the injection of an air-bubble with a hypodermic, but not only, in fact, would it require the use of an instrument so large as to be farcical, but Miss Sayers has her bubble put into an artery not a vein. No wonder afterwards she pledged herself 'strictly in future to seeing I never write a book which I know to be careless'." So, the question is, if this was so unpopular with critics then (and with me now) how did it ever become a trope? Sigh... sometimes I will never understand books.

Yet the nail in the coffin for this book is the fact that everything hinges on obscure British law... didn't I say I hate this? Didn't Dorothy get my memo I sent back with The Doctor? So what that the Law of Property Act of 1925 changed certain inheritances? I DON'T CARE! Yes, it's interesting, mildly, that some law passed by the government would spur a murderer to act, but... really, is it really that interesting? No! But then again, apparently I'm just having many issues with Dorothy L. Sayers that will never be resolved. Why have stupid quotes from books that no one has ever or will ever read at the beginning of each chapter? They don't even relate to the subject material at all! Also, writing it as three parts? Was this supposed to be that "epic" of a story that parts were needed? Still, there's a little bit of irony I love. Lord Peter says, "it isn't really difficult to write books. Especially if you either write a rotten story in good English or a good story in rotten English, which is as far as most people seem to get nowadays." The thing is, Dorothy L. Sayers... neither can be said of you. It's a rotten story in rotten English, I guess it is more difficult to write books then you thing. Well, I guess that's pretty obvious by now.


Hi, Ms. Eliza.
My name is Joanna from S. Korea.
While web seaching for the book 'Unnatural Death' by D. Sayers,
I could find your book review.
I've started reading the book now, but the thing is, it hasn't been translated into Korean yet. So I frequently get stuck with some unfamiliar expressions that I can't find in the dictionaries, such as
So I should need a reading buddy to understand the book properly...
Would you be my reading buddy, please?

Hello Joanna!

I think someone who actually liked the book would be a better reading buddy ;)

Ah, Ok, Thanks~

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