Saturday, April 2, 2011

Vintage Sleuth Reviews: Lord Peter Wimsey and Hercule Poirot


For the past two weeks, my real life has gotten in the way of my virtual life. It’s understandable, of course, but I’ve really missed having the time to write and to read what everyone else is writing. My reading didn’t stop though, so clearly I’ve got some catching up to do, review-wise. That’s why I’m pairing up two of crime-writing’s greatest detectives in today’s post.

I’m looking forward to stopping by and seeing what everyone’s been up to lately!

Whose Body?

I had so much fun with my first title for My Reader’s Block’s Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge that I decided to find the next “Golden Girl” title available on Kindle and have it on my device before I could say “Whodunnit?” Luckily, a couple of Dorothy L. Sayers’ titles are now available for e-readers, and since I’m that person who likes to start at the beginning of a series, I ordered the book that introduced Lord Peter Wimsey to the mystery-loving world: Whose Body?.

I’d read mixed reviews about the book, most from people who seemed to love the series, but thought that the first book was a kind of “trial run” for Sayers. Well, if it gets better from here, that’s great, because I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The mystery is intriguing. A naked – well, naked aside from a pince-nez, that is –and completely unfamiliar body is found in the bathtub of a London architect. At the same time, a wealthy Jewish businessman disappears. Both men are known to Lord Peter Wimsey’s darling mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, so the amateur detective is dragged into the investigations.

I guessed the murderer early in this one, but not the means, so I can see why some people might call the book clumsy. But it’s the characters that make the book so memorable: the affable, disarming Wimsey; his faithful and multitalented servant, Bunter; the earnest Scotland Yard investigator, Charles Parker. I was a bit distracted by Sayers’ rendering of Wimsey’s accented English – I really couldn’t imagine what it was supposed to sound like, it appeared more Cockney than upper-crusty to me. Still, I’m looking forward to following Wimsey and his colleagues through more marvelous murder and mayhem.
Taken at the Flood

So while I was on a mystery roll, I turned to an unfamiliar title by a familiar “Golden Girl”: Agatha Christie’s Taken at the Flood. In this book, Hercule Poirot must solve a mystery that he unknowingly saw set in motion two years before, during a World War II air raid.

The Cloade family has always lived under the protection of their fabulously successful brother, Gordon Cloade. When Gordon is killed during the London blitz, his brand new wife Rosaleen inherits his entire estate, since he has not had time to modify his will. She and her antagonistic brother, David Hunter, take up residence in the Cloade’s hometown, Warmsley Vale, and the relationship between the newcomers and the Cloade Clan is uneasy – Rosaleen’s life is all that stands between Gordon’s extended family and their financial security. However it isn’t Rosaleen’s death, but the death of an unknown, blackmailing drifter who called himself Enoch Arden, that brings Poirot to town.

The mystery is particularly interesting for the specific time and place it evokes, England immediately after World War II. It’s easy to forget how long it took for England to recover after the war, and the vagaries of the unstable phone system and the stresses of the post-War economy figure heavily in the plot of the novel. Characteristic of Christie’s more popular titles, there is a large cast of potential murderers, but they aren’t as fully developed as in her other books. The victims are not as colorful as they might have been either. The solution is ingenious, though, and I hadn’t guessed it, so I’d call the book enjoyable – just not one of Poirot’s best outings.

Both of these books are for the Vintage Mystery Challenge. Thanks to My Reader’s Block for hosting!


  1. I really want to take the time to go back and read some vintage mysteries. It sounds like they're well worth the effort.

  2. Hi!
    I haven't read either of these books. And I'm a great mystery lover. I'll have to check them both out. Thanks for stopping by my place. Have a great day!

    Just Books

  3. Kathy--What I really love is the cleverness of the mysteries. I wonder how people think these things up!

    Sherrie--Of the two, I'd say I enjoyed Whose Body a bit more, but either is definitely worth the time!

  4. Great reviews Col (and, no, you're not confusing me with the shortened version...gotcha covered!)! I think I probably have to credit both of these ladies with my starting me off on my love for vintage crime. I jumped straight from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie--really fell in love with her with Murder on the Orient Express. But then when I discovered Lord Peter, I was definitely hooked. And I absolutely agree with you that it's the characters in Whose Body that carry the show. As I mentioned in the review I just did on my re-read of this book...what really stood out for me this time was the character of Lord Peter's mother. She is so delightful!

  5. I read Whose Body? a few years ago and then read Clouds of Witness this year and I must admit... Sayers just hasn't won me over yet and I think Wimsey is quite the snob. But I keep trying with him. I think I'll read at least one more before possibly throwing in the towel.

  6. Bev -- Thanks. I did the same thing, because my mother was reading through the Miss Marples when I was around 10 or 11, and I started reading them after her!

    Aarti -- I totally understand. Sometimes you don't click with an author. After one Hannah Swenson novel, I knew I couldn't read another, even though I know people love them. (I would also rather have dental work than read Hemingway, but again, I know that's just me!)


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col