Dorothea's Reviews > Have his carcase

Have his carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers
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Mar 26, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: mystery

** spoiler alert ** Oh, I loved reading this book.

I'm re-reading the Wimsey novels, except that I didn't read all of them to start with. Thus far in the series, there have been only two new-to-me books -- Unnatural Death (to which I had a rather mixed and fraught reaction) and this one. (I haven't read Gaudy Night or Busman's Honeymoon yet, either!)

This means that I was really unspoiled for the mystery of Have His Carcase, and I had SO MUCH FUN with it. I'm new to detective stories and haven't (yet) reached the point of taking notes and trying to solve the mystery along with the protagonist. But in this case, I came up with my own theory and had the great pleasure of seeing how it held up to later revelations, and was very proud that, although my theory proved to be very very wrong, it was based on the one leap of judgment that Wimsey didn't make until the climactic final chapters! (Explanation of my theory at the bottom of this review, because I'm sure nobody will be interested in it but I want to talk about it anyway.)

I also loved the interactions between Vane and Wimsey. True, Wimsey's persistence in asking Vane to marry him is a bit uncomfortable for me, and only really works because I know that they do end up happily together in the end. Apart from that, I'm always happy when I see them on the same page. Their conversations, whether breaking a code or just bantering, are better than an emotional heart-to-heart about a romance.

There is a passage that I liked so much I'm going to quote it in full here.
"We believe in you, Miss Kohn," said Wimsey, solemnly, "as devoutly as in the second law of thermo-dynamics."

"What are you getting at?" said Mr. Simons, suspiciously.

"The second law of thermo-dynamics," explained Wimsey, helpfully, "which holds the universe in its path, and without which time would run backwards like a cinema film wound the wrong way."

"No, would it?" exclaimed Miss Kohn, rather pleased.

"Altars may reel," said Wimsey, "Mr. Thomas may abandon his dress-suit and Mr. Snowden renounce Free Trade, but the second law of thermo-dynamics will endure while memory holds her seat in this distracted globe, by which Hamlet meant his head but which I, with a wider intellectual range, apply to this planet which we have the rapture of inhabiting. Inspector Umpelty appears shocked, but I assure you that I know no more impressive way of affirming my entire belief in your absolute integrity." He grinned. "What I like about your evidence, Miss Kohn, is that it adds the final touch of utter and impenetrable obscurity to the problem which the Inspector and I have undertaken to solve. It reduces it to the complete quintessence of incomprehensible nonsense. Therefore, by the second law of thermo-dynamics, which lays down that we are hourly and momently progressing to a state of more and more randomness, we receive positive assurance that we are moving happily and securely in the right direction. You may not believe me," added Wimsey, now merrily launched on a flight of fantasy, "but I have got the point now at which the slightest glimmer of commonsense imported into this preposterous case would not merely disconcert me but cut me to the heart..."
I think what I like most about this passage is how Chestertonian it is, but instead of being about Christmas or beer, it's about physics. (Perhaps I'm doing Chesterton an injustice, and he did in fact write rapturously about physics.)

Bothersome things about this book: I rather liked Mrs. Weldon and Leila Garland, but Harriet Vane didn't. It's good that Vane isn't a perfect person, of course, but (as with Wimsey) it's not always clear that her views are different from Sayers'. Also, this book is full of minor characters (never, I think, Vane or Wimsey) being prejudiced against "foreigners." It is clear here that the narrator doesn't agree with the bigoted persons (e.g. they are shown to have faulty logic), and I'm sure it's realistic to have people complaining about "dagos," but still uncomfortable to read about.

[My theory -- SPOILERS HERE: Because (1) everyone seemed most certain on the point that the murder must have occurred just before Vane found the body, and (2) Wimsey was so quick to inform Vane that if the blood had all been wet, it was fresh, I suspected the time of the murder. This was correct -- the murder did happen before the assumed time. I was wrong about the reason; in fact, the victim had hemophilia, so his blood didn't clot as it should have, and stayed wet. Even though I know about hemophilia, this didn't occur to me. My hypothesis was that the murderer(s) wanted it to appear that the murder had happened later, so they cut the victim's throat elsewhere -- out at sea? -- drained out his blood, and waited an hour or two. Later, when they knew someone was approaching -- Mr. Perkins? perhaps when he stopped to ask the time, Mr. Martin had also recommended that he stop at the beach -- they quickly dumped the body on the rock and poured a lot of fresh blood on top of it. I thought perhaps they would have taken some from the horse. Of course, this is an awful plan and depends on too many unlikely successes (guaranteeing a witness at the beach before the body goes into rigor; making the horse hold still while bleeding on the body, which seems impossible; getting away before the witness arrives), but it was my theory and none of the characters considered it!]
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