March 27th, 2006

mmm books

Sayers, Dorothy - Have His Carcase

I didn't like it.

Harriet Vane wants to take a nice vacation after the rather unsettling events of Strong Poison (where she first meets Lord Peter Wimsey, amateur detective extraordinaire). Unfortunately for her, she ends up finding a body on the beach. Peter drops by to help with the investigation, and ensuing mystery gets resolved.

I suspect I'm not much of a mystery person, because every time Harriet or Peter started to question witnesses or untangle alibis or the like, I had an extremely difficult time continuing with the book. Unfortunately, this was about 90% of the book.

The strange thing is that the only part of the mystery-solving that I enjoyed was when they were deciphering a letter. I didn't understand any of it, but I liked codes and ciphers.

I also reverted to grade-school reading techniques. I.e., every time Harriet and Peter were working on the case together, I mentally awarded each one points on how far they were getting, and got perpetually irritated because Peter would almost always come out on top. I get that he's the hero of the series, and I do know that it's a horrible grade-school thing. But it still annoys me. (does not put in horribly over-generalized rant about why the woman is never the expert in these things)

On the other hand, I really liked all the Peter-Harriet interactions that had more to do with the emotional side and didn't have to do with questioning witnesses or the like. I think this happened with Strong Poison as well. Alas, there was very little of this and very much mystery. I especially liked the heart-mind conversation that the two had (I'm pretty sure that's this book, right?).

Fear not, loyal Sayers readers! I am still reading Gaudy Night, and I am actually enjoying it a lot. This is quite likely because there isn't all that much mystery in it.

ETA: Further notes
mmm books

Sayers, Dorothy - Have His Carcase, take 2

Oops! I was reading some of truepenny's very good posts on the book and realized in my great fear of having a mob of Sayers fans, uh, mob me, I forgot to note the meta aspects of the book, which I did enjoy to some degree.

I'm probably going to just end up repeating what truepenny has already written, but I haven't actually read all hers yet and wanted to make observations.

It's perpetually interesting having Harriet involved in a mystery, given that she is a mystery writer. truepenny makes the point that Harriet approaches the body on the beach much as she would in a hypothetical book; she constantly asks herself what Robert Templeton (her fictional detective) would do. I did very much like that in the beginning, particularly the bits in which Harriet thinks that really, investigating a corpse on the beach isn't half as much fun as it seems in the books.

I also thought it was interesting that many of the breakthroughs in the book happened because Harriet would say something like, "Well, if this were in a detective story, such-and-such would happen." Same with Wimsey debating how truthful some alibis were, simply because they were so perfect. Sadly, I would probably have more to say about this had I read more mysteries in general.

There was also the fact that the murderer seemed to be working off what he thought a proper mystery should be; vague threats, impractical suggestions and all, which highlighted the artificiality of mysteries.

Unfortunately, I got rather irritated because Harriet would say something reminded her of such-and-such, and then Peter would end up having the epiphany. I should probably stop grinding this axe, but it kept bothering me. I like Harriet. I like that she is grumpy and fumbles and is cruel to Peter and doesn't always think things through. I would like Peter much more, except he seems entirely too perfect and too clever; he solves the ciphers while Harriet spends days substituting words, he figures out all the twists and turns of the mystery while Harriet only realizes after he mentions a few things, he is also hopelessly in love. It felt incredibly unfair, and I ended up taking Harriet's side.

Er, I do realize that this is probably a highly atypical reaction to the book, but I seem hard-wired to first sympathize with the female character no matter what.

Also, in the end, despite all the meta-narrative about detective novels and the inherent artificialities of a murder mystery, particularly one with an amateur sleuth, Peter and Harriet still end up solving the mystery. There would be moments in which the deciphered letter would prove to be a comment on how a mystery should work, which I liked, but right before that, there would be a long, drawn-out scene in which Peter and Harriet would go carefully through the cipher, which I had a difficult time suspending disbelief for.

I suspect much of this is unfamiliarity with the genre.

ETA: First reaction