Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers (1932)


coat-of-arms-crest-flag-swiss-key-emblemLocked Room Mysteries

Find an impossible murder!
A Proud Amazon Associate!


 Locked Room Reviews:
Dorothy L. Sayers:
A master of mystery fiction!

Go to Locked Room 101?

Go to Dorothy Sayers Locked Room

Go to GoodMystery Lord Peter / Sayers files

Locked Room Canada home


Buy ‘Have His Carcase’ 

A Proud Amazon Associate


Have CarcaseHave His Carcase (1932) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Book  eBook  Audible  DVD 

 

More on Dorothy Sayers

More on Lord Peter Wimsey

More on Harriet Vane

More on ‘Have His Carcase’

It has been awhile since my last review. I have been far too busy building website pages and dealing with a few other life challenges, to get back into review mode! One of my projects at that time of my last review, was to complete a series on the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, so it is now past time to get back on track and take another step towards completing this ambitious project. This will be my third Sayers review, having already covered ‘Whose Body?’ (the first Lord Peter novel) and ‘Busman’s Honeymoon’ (the last Lord Peter novel). A rather odd approach, made necessary by my keen interest in locked room mysteries, a factor which also now motivates me to take on #7 of the 11 instalments in the Lord Peter series. I apologize for the order, but they will all get written as time permits.

I have previously noted Sayers well known quote from a passage in the dedication to ‘Busman’s Honeymoon’: “It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story. But to the characters involved, the detective-interest might well seem an irritating intrusion upon their love-story. This book deals with such a situation.” – and this point remains equally valid when reading ‘Have His Carcase’. 

As usual, I must begin by noting that I am a huge fan of Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, especially those volumes featuring Harriet Vane. Though I would not be caught dead reading most romance novels, the romance in this case is so carefully crafted and woven into the tapestry of the characters, that it is completely irresistible. From the moment they meet in ‘Strong Poison’, you will find yourself cheering them along, through all the ups and downs of this complex relationship which began with Harriet standing trial for murder – only to be saved at the very last moment by Lord Peter. ‘Strong Poison’ is without a doubt one of the great classic mysteries of the Golden Age, as is ‘Gaudy Night’, but it is in the two locked room novels, ‘Busman’s Honeymoon’, and ‘Have His Carcase’, that we get the two real masterpieces of the Vane-Whimsey quartet – and, for my money, ‘Have His Carcase’ is by far the better mystery story, if not quite as appealing in the romance department! The TV version is quite well done – but the book clearly conveys far more of the wit and style that makes Sayer’s writing so enjoyable.

‘Have His Carcase’  employs a rather complex plot with several unexpected twists and some good bits of misdirection. The action begins with Harriet Vane on a solo hiking holiday near the spa town of Wilvercombe, shortly after her acquittal on murder charges in ‘Strong Poison’. Harriet discovers the body of a man, with his throat slashed, and lying in a pool of wet blood, atop an isolated rock along the shore. This is where the locked room element enters, as there are no footprints in the smooth sand, other than those made by the victim and Harriet. However, the tide is relentlessly rolling in, and all Harriet can do is take a few photos and secure some important bits of evidence, before going for help, but it is far too late for this carcase. Long before the authorities can arrive on scene – the corpse is washed out to sea!

Lord Peter is alerted by the press, and arrives the following day to offer a hand, leaving Harriet in the awkward position of not wanting to incur yet another emotional debt, but reluctantly once again in need of assistance! The carcase (literally the body – a term now seldom used as my spell check keeps reminding me) proves to be quite elusive, starting a complex search confounded by tricky currents and shoals, but the dead man is quickly identified from Harriet’s evidence, as Paul Alexis, a professional dance partner at a nearby resort hotel. Alexis, a charming young Russian, believed he was a direct descendant of Czarist royalty, and was engaged to a much older (and richer) widow, Mrs. Weldon. His death had clearly been staged to look like suicide, but is soon revealed to be a complex murder plot. The widow’s son, Henry Weldon, clearly a bit of a brute, also arrives in the neighbourhood, initially quite appalled by his mother’s engagement to this gigolo and the pending loss of his much needed inheritance – then staying on to monitor the investigation and console his distraught mother.

To reveal more would clearly require a spoiler alert, and threaten to ruin one of the best locked room puzzle plots of all time. I will therefore simply note that even if you have previously heard, or manage to figure out the central plot device (which is rather obvious to any history buff), that little piece of knowledge still leaves the would-be detective facing all that unblemished sand – marred only by Harriet and Alexis – completely surrounding the rock and the corpse on every side – even the side facing an incoming tide! Several different threads must eventually be gathered together, before Harriet and Lord Peter can finally explain this complex crime scene – and even then Wimsey doesn’t get rewarded with the hand of the fair damsel in distress! The wages of the amateur sleuth are truly quite depressingly thin in most of Sayer’s novels.

It is also interesting to note that by the time the murder is solved, Mrs. Weldon has already moved on to another gigolo at the hotel, this time a French dancer named Antoine. It is a rather depressing commentary on life in a spa town like Wilvercombe. We are allowed a glimpse into this artificial social construct which necessarily draws out all the usual human anxieties over passing time and loneliness, but now further compounded by a very real fear of depression era poverty.

How to rate ‘Have His Carcase’? Discussion is hardly necessary. I truly enjoy all the Sayer’s titles, but ‘Have His Carcase’ and ‘The Five Red Herrings’, are quite clearly the best titles in a very impressive classic mystery series! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind – anything less than five stars would be an insult to this great Sayer’s mystery masterpiece.

*****

I have previously noted that the Lord Peter Wimsey novels are generally good stand alone stories and it is not overly important that they be read in order. However, with the four Harriet Vane stories, order becomes critical. Even if I do not follow my own advice when writing reviews, I highly recommend that you start with ‘Strong Poison’, before tackling ‘Have His Carcase’, and then move on to ‘Gaudy Night’, and finally ‘Busman’s Holiday’. 


Buy ‘Have His Carcase’ 

A Proud Amazon Associate


 Locked Room Reviews:
Dorothy L. Sayers:
A master of mystery fiction!

Go to Locked Room 101?

Go to Dorothy Sayers Locked Room

Go to GoodMystery Lord Peter / Sayers files

Locked Room Canada home


coat-of-arms-crest-flag-swiss-key-emblemLocked Room Mysteries

Find an impossible murder!
A Proud Amazon Associate!