Lord Peter Wimsey Investigates

I started on "Doctor Sleep" after I finished "The Shining", but was easily distracted. I must - reluctantly - confess that Stephen King isn´t really my thing. I really like his book "On Writing", but the fiction just leaves me, ahum, bored. I may finish it some day, but I´m not going to read it out of a sense of duty.

Instead, I read an article, I forget where, about Dorothy L Sayers, and realized that I had never read her. I immediately bought the first book "Whose body?" about Lord Peter Wimsey, which was 99 cents on amazon (Kindle version), and by serving the first third of the second novel, "Clouds of Witness", at the end of the first, I was hooked. Now I´m on the third one, "Unnatural Death". There are around fifteen, I think.

It reminded me at first a lot of Nancy Mitford´s novels, but it´s really just the similarity in the character gallery, and the way people talk. Wimsey is like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster, and I even think Sayers herself has said so. Sayers is a much better writer than Mitford, and she is just as interested in portraying the lower classes as her upper class hero and his entourage. She delights in dialects, to the point that it can become tiresome, but I forgive her.

We meet Lord Peter Wimsey, younger brother of the Duke of Denver, in the 1920´s, a few years after the War. He is a man of leisure, with a flat on Piccadilly, a faithful bulter called Bunter (who tells him what to wear, what to read, where to go and how to get there, more or less), and a couple of hobbies: collecting rare first editions, and solving crime. His mother, the Dowager Duchess, encourages him (to the irritation of his much more conservative older brother and wife, the present Duchess of Denver) and some pages into the novel, we see why:
"...Mr. Bunter, sleeping the sleep of the true and faithful servant, was aroused in the small hours by a hoars whisper, "Bunter!" "Yes, my lord," said Bunter, sitting up and switching on the light. "Put that thing out, damn you!"[...] Listen! Oh my God! I can´t hear - I can´t hear anything for the noise of the guns. Can´t they stop the guns?" "Oh, dear!" said Mr. Bunter to himself. "No, no - it´s all right, Major, - don´t you worry." [...] "Thought we´d had the last of these attacks," he said [later, to himself]. "Been overdoin´ of himself. Asleep?" He peered at him anxiously. An affectionate note crept into his voice. "Bloody little fool!" said Sergeant Bunter."
Many young men returned home from the front with shell shock, and being a lord doesn´t make one immune to this affliction, as we see. We also understand more about the depth and history of the relationship with Bunter. The Dowager Duchess´s opinion is that investigating is good for her son, as it distracts him and gives him something useful to do (a modern writer might phrase it as a matter of self-esteem).

Wimsey´s crime solving is much facilitated by the fact that he is friends with the head of Scotland Yard, who welcomes any help he can give and puts the Yard´s recources completely at his disposal, and his close friendship with Charles Parker, a very good detective at the Yard who collaborates with him. Or, as Wimsey likes to say:
"This is the real sleuth - my friend Detective-Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard. He´s the one who really does the work. I make imbecile suggestions and he does the work of elaborately disproving them. Then, by a process of elimination, we find the right explanation, and the world says, 'My god, what intuition that young man has!'"
I love this. A good, honest murder mystery in the English tradition. A clever and sympathetic hero, some excellent supporting characters, they all feel like real people, even if they talk like "Hullo! Look here, I say, deuces!" (Note to Swedes: hullo, is hello pronounced upper class-like, as Maggie Smith does in "Downton Abbey": höllöu)

Two actors have played Lord Peter on television, Edward Petherbridge being the most recent one. I didn´t see it when it was on, in the 80´s, had much more interesting things to do then, and from what I have seen on youtube, it hasn´t aged very well. The husband is old enough to remember Ian Carmichael from the 70´s. Both can be seen on youtube, if you are curious, but I personally think that they should do a revival instead of doing the same Austen and Sherlock films over and over every five or ten years. I see Laurence Fox as Lord Peter, Judi Dench as the Dowager Duchess (she a bit too old, but who cares, so is Fox), and anyone really as Parker, since he is described by Sayers as "nondescript". The Duke of Denver, who is most inconveniently accused of murder in the second book, would be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and oh, Bunter, who should play him? Someone able-looking, like Douglas Henshall, perhaps. Too old again, of course, but I think that war aged them at least 20 years, so it wouldn´t matter much.

I can´t really recommend this enough. I expect you know your own taste well enough to know if you should try it yourself.


  1. I loved the Peter Wimsey books! I remember liking Petherbridge much better than Carmichael in the role, because I had read the books and thought he was closer to the description there. I'd definitely watch a revival. Sherlock Holmes -as much as I'm enjoying all these series- has reached overkill.

    1. I know about Sherlock - who can keep up? I haven´t seen a single episode of "Elementary". I am planning to see the second of the Guy Richie films this weekend, though, since Swedish actress Noomi Rapace is in it, and I´m curious about how she sounds in English.

      Carmichael was far too old to play Wimsey, who is only supposed to be about 30, at least in the early books, where I am. But everyone used to age faster. When John Thaw started doing Morse, he was 47 and looked 60. Anne Bancroft was only 36 when she did Mrs Robinson, who looked gorgeous but at least 50. Now Nicole Kidman, who is nearly 50, can play a very young Grace Kelly and no one thinks anything of it. Ok, there is some botox involved, but still. I expect we shall live forever and die young! ;-)