You know, I really admire those bloggers who only (or mostly) review crime. There’s just so many ways you can talk about a whodunit… or is there?

This is my third Peter Wimsey novel and the one I least enjoyed, since there’s less Wimsey than in the others and we only get treated to a couple of glimpses of his True Self .

The only time we see the “real” Peter Wimsey in Unnatural Death is when he’s dealing with his guilt. There’s a lot of utilitarianism vs. absolute morality in this book: if Wimsey hadn’t decided to investigate a seemingly natural death, only that first crime would have been committed (that of an old lady dying of cancer already). His interference led to two other people dying, because the killer tried to cover his tracks. So, is Wimsey somehow responsible for these deaths? Would it have been better for him not to interfer? Shouldn’t he feel guilty for the indirect deaths he caused?

To compensate the reader for the lack of Wimsey, Sayers introduced a great secondary character, one which I suspect will continue to delight me in the books to come: Miss Climpson. She’s a middle-aged single woman who Wimsey employs to get information out of the people involved in his cases. Where a policeman would draw a blank, a harmless lady with an inquisitive mind and gentle ways can go a long way. With this clever use of a forgotten part of society, Wimsey believes he’s exploring new grounds:

“May I ask—?” began Parker.
“It is not what you think,” said his lordship, earnestly.
“Of course not,” agreed Parker.
“There, I knew you had a nasty mind. Even the closest of one’s friends turn out to be secret thinkers. They think in private thoughts which they publicly repudiate.”
“Don’t be a fool. Who is Miss Climpson?”
(here Lord Peter waxes lyrical for a bit, concluding with)
“One of these days they will put up a statue to me, with an inscription:

“’To the Man who Made
Thousands of Superfluous Women Happy
Without Violence to their Modesty
or Exertion to Himself’”

In a novel where some of the main characters in the case don’t even get a direct line, Miss Climpson is not only Wimsey’s eyes and ears, she’s ours as well. She has a very peculiar way of talking (and writing), and Sayers’ use of italics allows you to easely imagine how she would sound:

“Well, now, so am I, Mrs. Peasgood,” rejoined Miss Climpson promptly, “and that is what I said to Mrs. Budge at the time. I said, ‘Do I understand that there was anything odd about the old lady’s death?—because she had spoken of the peculiar circumstances of the case, and you now, I should not at all like to live in a house which could be called in any way notorious. I should really feel quite uncomfortable about it.”

And moving on from Miss Climpson, I have yet to see a female character in Sayers’ books that I feel is… whole. From Wimsey’s sister Mary, to this book’s villain Miss Whittaker, they all have their motivations, but we never really go deeper. I would like to know more about how Mary feels about Peter, why Miss Whittaker hates men so much and how come Miss Climpson has such a good understanding of both herself and other people. Maybe I’ll be more satisfied once Harriet comes along?

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