Monday, December 10, 2007

Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers

Title: Have His Carcase
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Published: 1932 originally, 1995 HarperPaperbacks
Category: Mystery
Rating: 7/10

Has anyone noticed that this book's been hanging out on my sidebar under "Up Next" for a few weeks? Yeah, I've been working on this book since October. I love Lord Peter, but this one was a bit of a trial for me. (For those unfamiliar with Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey is an English gentleman detective who appears in an entire series of books, sometimes joined by Harriet Vane.)

Mystery writer Harriet Vane is on holiday in the south of England. One day as she's hiking along the coast, she notices what appears to be a very freshly murdered man resting atop a boulder on the shore. Harriet fearlessly goes up to investigate; she examines and photographs the body, much in the way of the fictitious detective-hero she writes. It turns out that the evidence she's collected comes in very handy because while Harriet is fetching the police, the tide comes in and sweeps the body away. Lord Peter soon arrives on the scene and starts investigating. But with each new piece of evidence the case just gets more and more confusing. They have lots of suspects, some of whom have strong motives but perfect alibis, while others are obviously lying about the evidence but appear to have had nothing to do with the victim.

This is one of those books where I want to give two grades, one for technical merit and the other for how much I enjoyed it. Because who am I to find fault with the great Dorothy Sayers? She was a master of the mystery novel, and I love some of her books to death. But, dear God, this thing was loooong, and so involved with so many, many details that I lost interest about halfway in. I was siding with the provincial policemen when they wanted to proclaim it a suicide and forget the whole thing. I think this is mostly to do with my personal preferences; I can read and enjoy a whodunit, but figuring out who done it is hardly ever what keeps me reading. I read for the characters, and Lord Peter is the reason I managed to get through this at all. He comes across as such a charismatic man, which is something I would imagine would be very hard for an author to accomplish. He is just charming and intelligent and very funny.

We do see a little development in Harriet and Wimsey's relationship (of course, not as much as I might have liked). He keeps proposing and Harriet keeps saying no. My favorite proposal Wimsey sends in a telegram:
But Harriet is re-establishing herself as an independent woman, and Wimsey is trying not to step on her toes as she does this, no matter how much he may want to take care of her. I have to quote the very first paragraph, because it sums up their relationship, and is such an incredible beginning and so brilliantly written:
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. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, 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.
So it gets a 7 overall (averaging a 9 for technical merit and a 5 for personal entertainment value). But for those who like a really meaty, complex mystery, this one's for you.


Rosario said...

I liked this one just fine, but I do have one SAyers I struggled to finish. Have you read Five Red Herrings? Between the constant, never-ending dialect and the fact that the whole thing hinged on complex timetables, I felt like my head was going to explode.

PS - If you ever read Daughter of the Game, by Tracy Grant (a truly brilliant book I think you would love), keep an eye out for a scene that I thought was a homage to one in Have His Carcase.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I tend not to reread 'Five Red Herrings' either. And there's one about death by mushroom that I find hard to finish too (could be 'The Documents in the Case' but without fossicking round on the bookshelves, I'm not sure).

As to Have his Carcase, I don't think I can separate it out from the other courtship books - Strong Poison was the first Sayers I ever read, picking it up by chance in a bookshop for a train ride home - so I never read them out of order, and I only read HHC when I'm reading all four. So I love it, but perhaps I love it because it's part of that story arc.

Marianne McA

Jennie said...

Rosario--I haven't read Five Red Herrings, and now I'm scared to. ;) I think it was just the length of this one that got me -- something like 450 pages. Gaudy Night is as long, but it kept my interest so much better.

And I've heard you mention the Grant book before, but haven't read it. I'll see if I can get a copy. :)

Marianne--When you say four "courtship" books, do you mean there are only four Harriet+Wimsey ones? Strong Poison, HHC, Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon? Because if that's so, then I've read them all now and I'm sad! I can't get quite as excited about Lord Peter all by his lonesome. :)

Anonymous said...

There are a couple of short stories - but they really are short. I have them in a book called 'Striding Folly'. One is Peter helping a policeman as Harriet gives birth, the other shows the couple with their children.
Interesting to see them as parents, but not really romance-y.

And Jill Paton Walsh has written two books, based on Sayers' writings, that take Peter and Harriet on after Busman's Honeymoon - well written, worth reading - but, for me, not the same magic as the original.

I like some of the Lord-Peter-by-himself books very much. Murder must Advertise is probably my favourite, but there are several I reread quite often.

(And the Grant books are good. I'll second that recommendation.)

Marianne McA

Kristie (J) said...

I'm pretty sure BBC did a series on this one. I know this because they advertise it at the beginning of North and South.

And speaking of North and South, I'm thinking that this is something you would just adore. I just KNOW you would. You like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. I think North and South - the BBC series is just the thing that you need to see - yes I do.

hee hee hee

Jennie said...

Marianne--I'll have to look for those short stories! I can't imagine Lord Peter's state of mind while Harriet gives birth. ;) And I do want to read the rest of the series--maybe I'll start with Murder Must Advertise. I've seen that one on my mom's bookshelves; I'll just have to sneak it into my bag over Christmas.

Kristie--I was just going to go comment on your site, because you have another North and South convert!! After all your talk about it, Twin and I rented it last weekend and loved it! It's a really great movie. It was so good we had to watch it twice. I'm going to blog about it so I can enter your contest. :)

Kristie (J) said...

Oooh Jennie!! Sweeeeeet! I'll be watching in Most Eager Anticipation for your post*g*
And it's not enough to watch it once is it? Watching it twice, you get to see more of the nuances, more of the smaller details. And then watching it three times, even more so, and then four! And so on and so on. I'm up to noticing the hair on his arms when his sleeves are rolled up!!!! (rotfl)

Jennie said...

Hee! Kristie, you are too funny. His arms are definitely worth noticing, aren't they? ;) There's one scene when he's walking around in the snow with his sleeves rolled up. Yeah, he's tough. And delicious. :)

Kristie (J) said...

Jennie *wink* EVERYTHING about him is worth watching!

Devon said...

I'm all about Harriet & Peter. I've never read any non Harriet Sayers (except some short stories). I think it's b/c I was turned on to the series by the late 80s "Mystery" adaptation.