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The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
on 8 August 2015
Published in 1928 this Lord Peter Wimsey mystery is set around Remembrance Day. When Wimsey arrives at the Bellona Club he meets up with his friend, George Fentiman, who is a victim of poison gas and shell shock during the war. He admits to Lord Peter that he is struggling financially and is upset that he is dependent upon his wife Sheila going out to work. This novel sees Lord Peter Wimsey, and author Dorothy L. Sayers, in a much more reflective mood. There is an obvious distance between the generations – as George Fentiman struggles with the post-war world, both his brother Robert and his grandfather, General Fentiman, see the war as something to be celebrated and the elderly General perceives George’s problems as weakness.
When the elderly general is found dead in his armchair at the club, there is an attempt to contact his estranged sister, Lady Dormer. However, it is discovered that, not only had she also died, but the two met on Lady Dormer’s deathbed only the evening before. Solicitor Mr Murbles asks Lord Peter to investigate which of them died first; as the terms of Lady Dormer’s will mean that if she died first, Robert and George Fentiman will inherit a fortune. However, if General Fentiman died first, the money will go to Ann Dorland, a distant relative of Lady Dormer, who acted as her companion.
Of course, what begins as a simple investigation to discover the time of General Fentiman’s death becomes a much more involved and complicated affair. There are mysterious sightings of someone who may be able to clarify the matter, chases across the Continent, wonderful detours into some of the popular fads of the period, and even an exhumation, before Lord Peter, along with his detective-inspector friend Charles Parker, discover the truth.
This is a well plotted and interesting novel – clearly showing how the WWI veterans are viewed by the older generation and highlighting the staid, unsympathetic opinions of the elderly, ex-military members who make up the majority of the gentleman’s club. They are a generation separated by a new kind of warfare and perfectly capture the truth that the generation gap is by no means a new experience. I love Dorothy L. Sayers novels and Lord Peter Wimsey is one of my favourite fictional sleuths. This is a wonderful glimpse into a vanished world, as well as a fascinating mystery.