Mystery Books for Sale

[ Home ]
[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]


by Dorothy L. Sayers
New English Library, February 2004
256 pages
ISBN: 0450001016

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Written in 1927, this is the third book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series and has recently been reissued by New English Library. It stands alone and could easily be read without having tried the previous titles, WHOSE BODY? and CLOUDS OF WITNESS.

UNNATURAL DEATH begins with a chance encounter and conversation between Lord Peter and a doctor who tells him that he has been practically ruined because he was openly suspicious about the death of one of his patients. Unable to prove any foul play had taken place, he had been abandoned by his patients who were appalled by the attendant local publicity and the seemingly needless post-mortem that he had insisted upon. The doctor is unwilling to provide any details, but Lord Peter is intrigued by the possibility of a perfect murder and determines to identify the case and see if he can solve it.

Lord Peter has employed an older woman, Miss Climpson, to assist him with his investigations, in the belief that she can obtain information from sources, notably other women, who would be wary of him but happy to chat with her. Before long, and with a little help from their usual collection of contacts, they have narrowed down the likely cases and identified the suspected victim as Agatha Dawson, an ailing old lady being cared for by a relative, and have confirmed her connection with the doctor.

Now the real task begins of trying to determine if a murder really has been committed, despite the post-mortem noting nothing unusual, and if so, how and by whom. Miss Climpson rents a room in the neighbourhood of the victim and gets to know the personalities involved, whilst Lord Peter stays in London to muse over motives and follow up on a woman who seems to have some connection to the case.

Written between the wars, one of the interests of this series for me is in seeing various aspects the social climate against which the stories take place. In UNNATURAL DEATH I was struck by how women were adopting new roles and the contrast between the genteel old ways and the more adventurous and sensual modern women. With my 21st century outlook I was uncomfortable with the very limited but unflinching expression of racial prejudice; it is undoubtedly accurate for its time, but it comes as a shock to me every time I encounter it in older books.

I enjoyed this break from the usual mystery formula very much. Once the case had been identified, it was interesting to try to work out the murder method and the motive for the crime and, whilst they're often happy not to, this time my little grey cells couldn't help but try to guess the solution too. Whilst one suspect was immediately brought into focus, there were enough plot twists and other characters for the whodunit element to remain suitably elusive for most of the novel too. I recommend UNNATURAL DEATH as a sophisticated brainteaser with an unusual slant.

Reviewed by Bridget Bolton, June 2004

[ Top ]



Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

[ About | Reviews | Search | Submit ]
[ Home ]