Although I am not really a fan of short stories - much preferring novels - I wanted to re-read the Lord Peter Wimsey books and realised that I had never read this collection. The book consists of the following stories:
The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers
The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question
The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will
The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag
The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker
The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention
The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps that Ran
The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste
The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head
The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach
The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face
The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba
These stories have everything a fan of Golden Age Detective Fiction could want - missing wills, organised crime gangs, jewel thieves, bizarre crimes and, often, more bizarre solutions. These are lots of fun, wonderfully written puzzles, and you feel that no criminal could remain unmasked with Lord Peter Wimsey on the case!
I have read and re-read the Peter Wimsey stories since I was twelve or thirteen. I haven't read them for ages but I have bought them for my kindle so I can have them with me and having them with me, decided to re-read Lord Peter Views the Body - a series of short crime stories set between the 1st and 2nd World Wars.
The stories are eclectic, as Peter Wimsey and his man,Bunter investigate the article in question and the fantastic horror of the cat in the bag. Dorothy Sayers wrote for her time with a bit of added glamour, so you learn something about Britain in the 1920s and 30s as well as getting a good mystery. For me they are as marvellous as ever and I thoroughly enjoyed them.
I have this edition in paperback too - my older Penguin Crimes having disintegrated - and I can say that there seem to be some problems with the typesetting in this edition which can detract from the flow of a sentence, for instance 'Your callers, monsieur le comte, are as well known among men endowed with a palate...', which should be 'Your cellars, monsieur...". So if you find any of the sentences particularly puzzling you should try and find an older edition and check it out.
on 8 February 2002
The otherwise excellent 'unabridged' audio edition (read by Ian Carmichael, who portrayed Lord Peter in most of the adaptations of Sayers' novels) actually omitted 3 of these 12 stories, although the rest were indeed unabridged.
The complete set of short stories can only be found in the _Lord Peter_ collection; apart from that, this volume is the largest single batch. They don't overlap with _Hangman's Holiday_ or _In the Teeth of the Evidence_, which contain both Wimsey and non-Wimsey stories.
"The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers" - Varden, an American actor and a guest of one of Lord Peter's friends at the Egotists' Club, tells a story of an encounter with a mysterious stranger years before. A good story; Sayers' rare American characters are much better than, e.g. Christie's, although Varden does slip occasionally into British colloquialisms.
"The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question" - Omitted from the 'unabridged' audio edition, Heaven only knows why. The affair of the Attenbury diamonds, so often mentioned elsewhere as the beginning of Lord Peter's career in detection. A word of warning - Sayers never provided English translations of French dialogue unless forced to do so by her publishers, so part of one scene may be incomprehensible to the reader.
"The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will" - "A woman who pretends to be serious is wasting her time and spoiling her appearance. I consider that you have wasted your time to a really shocking extent. Accordingly, I intend to conceal this will, and that in such a manner that you will certainly never find it unless by the exercise of a sustained frivolity." This letter threw down a gauntlet for Hannah Marryat, one of Lady Mary's terribly earnest Radical friends (who will otherwise lose the money to the Primrose League via an earlier will). Very enjoyable; a shame it wasn't included in the audio edition (it involves a visual clue).
"The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag" - One motorcyclist chases another all along the Great North Road, followed by Lord Peter's Daimler, in pursuit of a small bag. But instead of the Dowager's jewelry stolen from Lord Peter in Piccadilly, the bag contains a woman's severed head. Which of the denials of ownership is a lie?
"The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker" - Mrs. Ruyslander is the victim of the bald-faced theft of two items: the 'Light of Africa' (a diamond necklace of 115 stones), and a small portrait 'with an inscription that nothing, *nothing*, could ever explain away.' Lord Peter tackles the job of retrieving them from the thief without exposing Mrs. Ruyslander's secret.
"The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention" - ENORMOUS, for a 'short' story, and not really worth the trip. Lord Peter's hosts are on the stuffy (and in one instance, spiteful) side, and gossipy, which gives us the background on the local rich old reprobate whose funeral is on the morrow. The mystery here isn't about the death, but who steals the body, and why. Sayers throws in a good bit of supposedly supernatural hocus-pocus for trimming. Although the old man's sons are named Martin and Haviland, they're not related to the 'Haviland Martin' in _Have His Carcase_. (This one *wasn't* cut from the audio edition; I'd have traded it gladly for the 3 that were, visual clues notwithstanding.)
"The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran" - On a hot June day in 1921, Lord Peter and Bunter have called at the home of a medical friend, a Bloomsbury G.P. who appreciates Bunter's photography of his experiments. Throughout their conversation and the meal, Lord Peter notices the footsteps of the doctor's neighbours on the floor overhead - which end in murder.
"The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste" - One of Lord Peter's government errands, for the War Office this time; he is to purchase a formula for poison gas. Some bright person sold out, however; two Lord Peters show up at the scientist's country estate in France (as a titled Royalist, he offers no allegiance to the upstart French government). The story follows Death Bredon, a 3rd party carrying a letter of introduction. Le comte proposes to find the real Lord Peter with an impromptu wine-tasting competition.
"The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head" - Introducing St. George, staying with his uncle Peter during an outbreak of measles at prep school, as well as Lord Peter's first meeting with Bill Rumm. St. George buys a damaged rare book (nearly all the double-page maps having been torn out) which the bookseller picked up at an estate sale. The audio edition omitted this story, probably because the "treasure map" on which the story turns is a visual clue.
"The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach" - 95-year-old Great-Uncle Joseph left medical student Thomas Macpherson only one thing - his digestive system in a bottle - before jumping out a 6th-storey window after a stroke. "He left a letter. Said he had never been ill in his life and wasn't going to begin now." Lord Peter takes an interest after Mac (a fishing buddy) mentions that cousin Robert, the residuary legatee, can't find most of the old man's assets. You really should listen to Carmichael's narration of this one. :)
"The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face" - A strangler left the corpse on the beach at East Felpham, face mutilated beyond recognition. The story begins with several strangers on a train discussing the newspaper headlines - one of whom turns out to be Lord Peter, and another the inspector in charge of the case.
"The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba" - Begins with a newspaper account of Lord Peter's will, mentioning his death at age 37 in a hunting accident in Tanganyika. Rogers, upon reading the story, breathes a sigh of relief and proceeds with his plans to join a criminal mastermind's burglary & blackmail organization. The story follows Rogers, rather than the efforts of the Law.
on 7 March 2003
At her best, Sayers used a complex style to create complex characters in complex settings and playing out a complex plot, and such novels as MURDER MUST ADVERTISE, GAUDY NIGHT, and BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON are classics of the mystery genre. But few authors seem able to create both excellent novels and excellent short stories, and Sayers is no exception to the general rule.
Her wordy style simply does not show as well in the short story form as it does in a novel-length work, and she has considerable difficulty in actually constructing plots for these stories that might in any way be described as "mysteries" per se; while most of the stories collected here are readable in a general sort of way, they read more as 1920s pulp-adventure. Fans of the Lord Peter Wimsey series (myself among them) will certainly enjoy them, and have fun noting that Sayers later expanded some of these short story ideas into more substantial work, but newcomers will likely be unimpressed. Recommended for hardcore Sayers fans only.
THE ABOMINABLE HISTORY OF THE MAN WITH COPPER FINGERS - an actor's stay with an American sculptor is interrupted by the arrival of a strange man who tells him to leave. Too many shades of CARRY ON SCREAMING, although it's breezily told.
THE ENTERTAINING EPISODE OF THE ARTICLE IN QUESTION - Wimsey's on the trail of international jewel thieves after a random encounter in a French train station. Despite the obvious twist, it makes intelligent use of the French language.
THE FASCINATING PROBLEM OF UNCLE MELEAGER'S WILL - 1928's crossword craze is the hook for a story for about a missing will and crucial inheritance. Enjoyment depends on whether you love crosswords.
THE FANTASTIC HORROR OF THE CAT IN THE BAG - a minor road accident leads to a gruesome discovery. Another mystery that turns on happenstance, but the deft writing holds the attention.
THE UNPRINCIPLED AFFAIR OF THE PRACTICAL JOKER - Wimsey helps a lady being blackmailed, using a game of cards and some tricks learned in the Great War to secure justice and the smooth pace made it my favourite story.
THE UNDIGNIFIED MELODRAMA OF THE BONE OF CONTENTION - revolves around the appearance of a ghostly coach and horses and missing body. It's too long and the pacing drags.
THE VINDICTIVE STORY OF THE FOOTSTEPS THAT RAN - Wimsey visits a friend's flat and stumbles on a brutal murder in the flat upstairs. The twist is a little silly although the story's amusing enough.
THE BIBULOUS BUSINESS OF A MATTER OF TASTE - a too flippant affair about spies that turns on the ability to identify wine.
THE LEARNED ADVENTURE OF THE DRAGON'S HEAD - a treasure story sparked by Wimsey's young nephew, St George who decides to buy an antique book. Worth reading for the interaction between Wimsey and St George.
THE PISCATORIAL FARCE OF THE STOLEN STOMACH - another inheritance caper, this time turning on the gruesome legacy of a stuffed stomach, which was a little too silly for me.
THE UNSOLVED PUZZLE OF THE MAN WITH NO FACE - a brutal murder leaves the victim identity-less, but Wimsey believes that the truth can be found in a stunning portrait.
THE ADVENTUROUS EXPLOIT OF THE CAVE OF ALI BABA - Wimsey's death sees a valet join a criminal gang only for it to fall apart in suspicion. Despite a preposterous premise, it's hugely enjoyable and telling of Wimsey's determination.
on 11 October 2013
I adore DLS and the wonderful Lord Peter. The book is very good but the audio book, which I purchased to listen to while on holiday, was very disappointing. It is advertised as unabridged, but this is not the case. At least one story - and it had to be my favourite story, dragons head, is missing.
Also, Ian Carmichael has many talents but accents are not one of them. His attempts at French and Scots accents are truly painful to listen to.
I suggest that you read the book and save your money by avoiding the audio download.