A Touch of Wimsey

I am a through-and-through Anglophile. If anyone’s asked me, I’ve always pegged myself as more of a Francophile—I studied the language for 8(!!) years, I decorate my house with little Eiffel Towers and French words and I dream non-stop of my next trip to France—but maybe, just maybe, I’m really more of an Anglophile. Probably 90% of the literature I pick up was a) written by an English person or b) written about an English person living in England. And probably 90% of the television I watch for my own enjoyment is—yes, British TV.

I’ve got British mysteries in the blood, I think. I grew up on Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes and now, admittedly, I sometimes walk past the “C” and “D” sections of the bookstore subconsciously hoping that Christie and Doyle have miraculously released something new (yes, I do it in “A” for Austen and “B” for Bronte, too). It’s hard for me to love anything as much as I love the classics. So while I was in a bit of a funk about not reading any good books for a stretch, a friend recommended Dorothy Sayers. Sayers is just as classic age-wise as Christie and Doyle but I’ve managed to avoid her all these years. I have no idea why. I picked up one of her later Lord Peter mysteries several years ago and wasn’t thrilled—I had no idea who Peter was or what he was like. It was a mistake to start in the middle. This time I started at the beginning with Whose Body?

It’s impossible to dislike Lord Peter, our amateur detective. The Anglophile in me was instantly satisfied with this light-hearted young lord, his posh Piccadilly flat, and his sleuthing-yet-ever-proper butler, Bunter. Lord Peter’s mother, the Duchess of Denver, calls on Peter to investigate whose body is in the bathtub of the local architect. At the same time, Lord Peter’s friend, the respectable detective Parker, investigates the disappearance of a London financier. The two sleuth their way in and around “Twenties” London to determine if these cases are at all linked. The mystery of whose body is in the bathtub proves more complex and more subtle than a Christie, and Lord Peter’s dabbling with forensics is reminiscent of Sherlock’s experiments.

Clouds of Witness brings back Lord Peter and all of my other new friends, including detective Parker and Peter’s spry mother. Clouds reminds me of a typical drawing-room mystery—an English country house full of guests, a night-time death, and an overabundance of motives and alibis. Yet this mystery has enough twists and oddities—the accused is Lord Peter’s brother, no less—to set it apart from others in its genre.

What sets Lord Peter and Dorothy Sayers apart, in my opinion—because, really, so many “cozy” mysteries have a formulaic feel—is the sparkling prose and the occasional glimpses of great insight and depth in Lord Peter. There are no dead descriptions or dialogue or flat characterizations, but an amateur detective fighting PTSD and a sense that he’s making too much of a game out of hunting murderers.

So if you’re in the mood for an English murder mystery with a bit of a special touch, pick up one of these.