Reading the Detectives discussion

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Group Challenges > Unnatural Death (1927)

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
So, it is March and we are onto the third Lord Peter Wimsey book. Enjoy everyone!


message 2: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
Just a few thoughts - only a year between the publication of the second and third LP novels, so Dorothy L Sayers is obviously finding her feet. This is brilliantly written, I think, and I love the fact that so much of the novel revolves around overheard snatches of conversation - from the original tea shop scene to the glorious Miss Climpson, to the maids who witness a particular scene. What does it say about the British, other than we are a nation of nosy busybodies?!


message 3: by Judy (last edited Feb 29, 2016 11:33PM) (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8963 comments Mod
I found this a compelling read and rushed through it, but must admit overall I didn't like it as much as Clouds of Witness. On the positive side, I did enjoy Miss Climpson too and agree those overheard conversations are fascinating.

But I had a few problems with some aspects which I expect we will get on to during the discussion...


message 4: by Michelle (new)

Michelle (michelleae) | 257 comments Loved Miss Climpson. Found it quite hard to believe Lord P couldn't work out some of the aspects of the case which to me were blindingly obvious. But Clouds of Witness was better. I won;t say more until we get to spoiler stages. Still very much enjoying the series!


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
I would agree that I also enjoyed, "Clouds of Witness," more - although I liked all three we have read so far.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 540 comments Hmmm. I'm odd man out again! I prefer this to Clouds of Witness, probably because Miss Climpson is an enjoyable character and Gerald was just a boring idiot.


message 7: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 592 comments Everyman wrote: "Hmmm. I'm odd man out again! I prefer this to Clouds of Witness, probably because Miss Climpson is an enjoyable character and Gerald was just a boring idiot."

I like this better than Clouds of Witness too, so you aren't alone!


message 8: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
I think I am the only person who liked poor Gerald!

I certainly loved the character of Miss Climpson and thought Sayers just so obviously enjoyed writing her chatty, gossipy letters. I have enjoyed all three of the LP books I have read so far and think both this and the previous novel were excellent.

What did everybody think of the beginning scene, in the tea shop? Would you have been interested in the tale of the doctor, or dismissed it as sour grapes in losing his position?


message 9: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Everyman wrote: "Hmmm. I'm odd man out again! I prefer this to Clouds of Witness, probably because Miss Climpson is an enjoyable character and Gerald was just a boring idiot."

I prefer it to Clouds of Witness so we're both odd ones out :-)

I didn't enjoy it the first time I read it many years ago but when I read it this time I thought how clever it was the way the evidence was built up.

Love Miss Climpson :-)


message 10: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Susan wrote: "I think I am the only person who liked poor Gerald!

I certainly loved the character of Miss Climpson and thought Sayers just so obviously enjoyed writing her chatty, gossipy letters. I have enjoy..."


I didn't think it was sour grapes and I thought it seemed quite natural that he would want to tell his story as it was relevant to the conversation. The doctor came over to me as someone who believed what he was saying. He would have had less credibility if he'd given the names of the people involved and the place where it happened.


message 11: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 365 comments I hope none of these are spoilers, but I wonder how the method used by the culprit took such a long time to be figured out. Also, is there some sort of record for the number of deaths (and attempts) for a Sayers novel?


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
One of the joys of Golden Age novels, for me, is that the method of killing is not always obvious. In the 1930's you could have a poisoning, for example, without somebody having the equipment to prove you had touched that poison and had traces on you. Forensics spoils all the fun of the puzzle :)

No, of course, it doesn't, and I love modern mysteries too, but I do enjoy working out these elaborate alibis and plots. Of course, the murderer also risked more and LP himself has stated how uncomfortable he is at times with the fact that what is, to him, a puzzle, could end with the murderer being hung...


message 13: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Susan wrote: "One of the joys of Golden Age novels, for me, is that the method of killing is not always obvious. In the 1930's you could have a poisoning, for example, without somebody having the equipment to pr..."

I agree with you and I think this is why I enjoy the Golden Age writers so much because there aren't the scientific tests available that there are now. The detective has to work it all out for himself.


message 14: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Pghfan wrote: "I hope none of these are spoilers, but I wonder how the method used by the culprit took such a long time to be figured out. Also, is there some sort of record for the number of deaths (and attempts..."

Probably because general medical knowledge wasn't so widespread then as it is now. In some ways we are better informed than the general public was then though we are not so well informed about the arts and things like Latin and Greek.


message 15: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments Damaskcat wrote: "Susan wrote: "One of the joys of Golden Age novels, for me, is that the method of killing is not always obvious. In the 1930's you could have a poisoning, for example, without somebody having the e..."


The only problem is that if they were wrong, then the consequences could be fatal as someone else commented. Since it is fiction, it doesn't matter, but in real life.... I think I prefer more certainty when the stakes are so high.


message 16: by Diane (new)

Diane | 65 comments Everyman wrote: "Hmmm. I'm odd man out again! I prefer this to Clouds of Witness, probably because Miss Climpson is an enjoyable character and Gerald was just a boring idiot."

Not so odd - this is my favorite of the three we've read so far. My only question was how did Mr. Parker get so much time off from Scotland Yard? Surely they are as overworked as every other police department and yet Parker can just take off on Lord Peter's every whimsy.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 540 comments Susan wrote: "Forensics spoils all the fun of the puzzle :)."

Well, it certainly changes the game. But it does take a lot of the mystery out of it, at least when the police are involved. Miss Marple wouldn't bother with all that forensic stuff!


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 540 comments Diane wrote: "My only question was how did Mr. Parker get so much time off from Scotland Yard?"

In 1930s England, when a lord called, people jumped. Also, they might not have been as overworked in those days.


message 19: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Diane wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Hmmm. I'm odd man out again! I prefer this to Clouds of Witness, probably because Miss Climpson is an enjoyable character and Gerald was just a boring idiot."

Not so odd - this is..."


By that time Peter Wimsey had built up a reputation for investigating and solving crimes and if I remember correctly he knew the head of Scotland Yard personally so it wouldn't have been difficult for Parker to have got involved with the case.


message 20: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
I think a lot of Golden Age detective fiction tended to use the 'old friend' or relative of head of Scotland Yard a lot. In the Nicholas Blake books, I seem to recall his detective, Nigel Strangeways, was also related to someone similar and I can think of other examples. I suppose it was a way of linking the amateur detective with the police, to utilise their resources.


message 21: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Susan wrote: "I think a lot of Golden Age detective fiction tended to use the 'old friend' or relative of head of Scotland Yard a lot. In the Nicholas Blake books, I seem to recall his detective, Nigel Strangewa..."

Yes it does seem to crop up quite often and I suspect in a way the police were quite glad to have a case fully investigated and presented to them - tied up with a bow if you like!!


message 22: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments The Golden Age way isn't as annoying as cozies where the "heroine" always seems to have either a boyfriend or close friend who is a policeman.


message 23: by Diane (new)

Diane | 65 comments Betsy wrote: "The Golden Age way isn't as annoying as cozies where the "heroine" always seems to have either a boyfriend or close friend who is a policeman."

Yes, and the"heroine" totally solves it because the police are time and again incompetent and or clueless.


message 24: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments You're so right. I have stopped reading cozies because they are so much alike in plot and characters. The writers of the Golden Age had much better imaginations and writing talent.


message 25: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
I used to read a lot of cozies, but now they all seem to involve coffee shops or sleuthing cats. There were some good ones though, at least when I first got into mysteries.


message 26: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Susan wrote: "I used to read a lot of cozies, but now they all seem to involve coffee shops or sleuthing cats. There were some good ones though, at least when I first got into mysteries."

Lilian Jackson Braun has a lot to answer for with starting mysteries involving cats!!

I think the cozy - or cosy - mystery genre does highlight the point that it is often easier for ordinary people to pick up snippets of information which the police are just not able to obtain because people don't talk to them as freely. Amateurs also have time to put into investigation as well.

I suppose it's a bit like investigative journalists today where they are making TV programmes or writing a series of articles and they then hand over all their information to the police for them to put the case to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service)

I don't underestimate the amateur or the police but I think there's room for both - even today - in fiction and in real life.


message 27: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments Certainly, Miss Marple proved that amateurs could pick up bits of information, and discover clues that would help the police. I would never deny that about many amateurs, however, it is the "murder-by-formula" that I object to in many modern cozies. Originality and good writing are still to be prized, instead of assembly line plots and characters.


message 28: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Betsy wrote: "Certainly, Miss Marple proved that amateurs could pick up bits of information, and discover clues that would help the police. I would never deny that about many amateurs, however, it is the "murder..."

I agree with you about the good writing, There is some good writing around still even in the cozies but some do seem to be written to a formula.

I find this author writes some very interesting mysteries which fall into this genre but which are definitely not written to a formula

Veronica Heley


message 29: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments Am not familiar with the author, and certainly there are exceptions. I guess what I like about about the Golden Age authors is that their creations continue to intrigue readers even after many years.


message 30: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Betsy wrote: "Am not familiar with the author, and certainly there are exceptions. I guess what I like about about the Golden Age authors is that their creations continue to intrigue readers even after many years."

I can recommend Veronica Heley.

I agree with you about the Golden Age writers their books really do stand the test of time.


message 31: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8963 comments Mod
I've been interested to see how Sayers really isn't cosy at all in the portrayal of deaths in her novels so far. In the first one, Whose Body, there's nothing at all cosy about the grim descriptions of the dead body, and now in this one there's the murder of a terminally ill elderly woman.

I'd always remembered the Golden Age books as taking a puzzle approach, but it seems there's quite a bit of darkness in Sayers, despite all the joking by Lord Peter which does lighten the mood a bit... although the second book is maybe cosier than the first and third.


message 32: by Judy (new)

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 8963 comments Mod
The old paperback edition of Unnatural Death I read has an extra bit after the novel, a "biographical note" supposedly by Peter's uncle, Paul Austin Delagardie.

Do others have this in their book? It's interesting but definitely written much later than the novel, talking about the older Peter. It fills in some background about the broken romance with Barbara which has been mentioned a few times - I can't remember if we ever get a full account of this in flashback, maybe in one of the short stories?


Jay-me (Janet)  | 164 comments Judy wrote: "The old paperback edition of Unnatural Death I read has an extra bit after the novel, a "biographical note" supposedly by Peter's uncle, Paul Austin Delagardie.

Do others have this in their book?..."


I've just finished reading Whose Body, and that biographical note is at the end of my paperback copy. I seem to think that it is in all the books that I have which are are from the same publisher. The versions that I have don't seem to be on Goodreads though as the cover design is different to all the ones on here.


message 34: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
Yes, my kindle copy has the "biographical note" Judy. I love all the extra bits in books that fill in characters.


message 35: by Diane (new)

Diane | 65 comments Judy wrote: "The old paperback edition of Unnatural Death I read has an extra bit after the novel, a "biographical note" supposedly by Peter's uncle, Paul Austin Delagardie.

Do others have this in their book?..."


I also have a Biographical Note by Paul Austin Delagardie but it is at the beginning of the novel. It gives background info including a mention that Peter fell in love with a girl he cleared of poisoning her lover but she refused him, as any woman of character would.
There is a genealogical table at the end of the Dawson/Whittaker families. It is a Harper Paperback Mystery.


message 36: by Diane (last edited Mar 06, 2016 04:46PM) (new)

Diane | 65 comments Damaskcat wrote: "Betsy wrote: "Certainly, Miss Marple proved that amateurs could pick up bits of information, and discover clues that would help the police. I would never deny that about many amateurs, however, it ..."

Thanks for the Veronica Heley tip. I'll try her books.
I used to listen to cosy mysteries in the car because they are not as involved as others and don't require 100% of concentration.
I agree that there are lots of good, decently written ones but, like any genre of books, some not so good. I would get annoyed at the ones that would repeat information. I wasn't sure if the author thought we readers dumb and needed the repetition or if there was a word count for the publisher to be filled.


message 37: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
I do like series, but I do find that a lot of current cosy mysteries tend to be very formulaic. Although Sayers was, obviously, writing a series, she seems to have used some familiar characters and settings to good effect. All three of her novels have been very different and, as Judy pointed out earlier, the actual deaths have not been cosy at all. Particularly in this book, which looks at the alleged murder of an elderly lady for money.


message 38: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Susan wrote: "I do like series, but I do find that a lot of current cosy mysteries tend to be very formulaic. Although Sayers was, obviously, writing a series, she seems to have used some familiar characters and..."

I don't think I would ever have described Sayers as cosy. She does deal with some very dark themes and people battle with the worst side of human nature. I think it is people who have never read them who see them as cosy.

Murder Must Advertise Is very dark and deals with drug taking among other things.


message 39: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Judy wrote: "The old paperback edition of Unnatural Death I read has an extra bit after the novel, a "biographical note" supposedly by Peter's uncle, Paul Austin Delagardie.

Do others have this in their book?..."


I think the Hodder and Stoughton editions do all have the biographical note. The only audio book which has it is Striding Folly.


message 40: by Lesley (new)

Lesley | 384 comments I have the Premium 7 Novel Lord Peter Wimsey Collection, a Timeless Wisdom Collection, and it includes the biographical note also.


message 41: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
Damaskcat, I totally agree with you. Golden Age mysteries are often perceived as 'cosy' when they are not. They have their own, very special, feel.


message 42: by Michelle (new)

Michelle (michelleae) | 257 comments I'm fairly new to the genre, what's the difference between a Golden Age and a cozy? Is it the time period, so cozies are newer rather than written in the Golden Age Period of authors like Christie and Sayers? Or is my question really 'how long is a piece of string' sort of question. (Which incidentally the answer to that is twice the distance from the centre to either end.)


message 43: by Jan C (new)

Jan C (woeisme) | 1375 comments Sayers has one book where the victim is slashed from ear to ear. Not too cozy to me.


message 44: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 814 comments Speaking of cozies, has anyone read Miss Melville Regrets?


message 45: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
I would say that cozies are crime novels which are contemporary and which are not too graphic in terms of violence. According to Wikipedia (not always the best source to go to, I know!):

"Cozy mysteries, also referred to simply as "cozies", are a subgenre of crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in a small, socially intimate community. The term was first coined in the late 20th century when various writers produced work in an attempt to re-create the Golden Age of Detective Fiction."


message 46: by Betsy (new)

Betsy | 170 comments I think there is a difference between British cozies and modern American-based cozies. The latter definitely follow a "formula" IMO. Those are the ones I have given up on.

I would not classify any of the Dorothy L. Sayers books that I have read as cozies.


message 47: by Damaskcat (new)

Damaskcat | 186 comments Michelle wrote: "I'm fairly new to the genre, what's the difference between a Golden Age and a cozy? Is it the time period, so cozies are newer rather than written in the Golden Age Period of authors like Christie ..."

I think some people apply the label cozy or cosy to Golden Age detective fiction because it isn't full of graphic violence and graphic sex but to me the Golden Age novels aren't cozy at all and frequently deal with some very dark aspects of human nature and moral problems which modern crime novels don't touch on at all.

Cozy crime novels are to me the ones which have a theme - e.g. always set around a coffee shop or a craft shop. They usually feature amateur detectives as well as/instead of the police. The label is gradually being attached to any crime novels which don't have graphic violence/graphic sex/detectives who are at loggerheads with each other/have many personal problems.

Unfortunately it is coming to be a derogatory term when applied to crime novels but it can be very misleading. I read one recently which seemed to fall into the cozy genre as it had a theme - in this case astrology and New Age thinking but it was actually very dark and quite disturbing as it featured an extreme religious group who were doing things like fire bombing alternative health shops and similar establishments.


message 48: by Mark Pghfan (new)

Mark Pghfan | 365 comments Some of the Golden Age book do describe somewhat bloody deaths, like the throat slitting referred to above (from Have His Carcase) but the details are very quick and not dwelled on. The death in Hercule Poirot's Christmas is another example.


message 49: by Michelle (new)

Michelle (michelleae) | 257 comments Interesting, so soemthing like Agatha Raisin then would be more cozy than Dorothy L Sayers? I think I prefer Golden Age fiction so far but looks like there is a lot of crossover.

I think Hercule Poirot's christmas, or if not that another one, Agatha Christie did a short intro where she said this one was her friends who wanted a really violent crime!


message 50: by Susan (new)

Susan | 10028 comments Mod
Mrs McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie is also quite violent. I think that cosies were trying to get the 'feel' of GA detective fiction, after the trend in more realistic crime novels. So, instead of a forensic pathologist you get people who stumble into crime and become amateur sleuths.


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