Thursday, January 06, 2011

Unnatural Death

Unnatural Death. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1927/1995. HarperCollins. 288 pages. 

"But if he thought the woman was being murdered--"

Unnnatural Death begins with Lord Peter Wimsey overhearing a certain conversation. He becomes so curious, he asks the speaker to tell his story--the whole story. Dr. Carr is willing to comply--but, for him, the story does not have a happy ending. Because he followed his instincts, because he voiced his suspicions, he lost his medical practice in a small gossipy town. He is happy to tell what he knows. But he doesn't want to be a part of this new investigation.

Dr. Carr was the physician to an elderly woman, Agatha Dawson. The lady's great niece, Mary Whittaker, was her companion and caretaker. When it became too much for one woman--even a woman with training to be a nurse--to handle, the doctor provided a nurse (or two). The doctor became suspicious when his patient died suddenly. He was almost certain that she had more time to live. He thought for sure she had several months at least. The niece did call him telling him that her aunt was doing poorly, but, his subsequent examination of her didn't match that diagnosis. He definitely had doubts about how "natural" her death was. But he had no proof.

Can Lord Peter Wimsey and Mr. Parker--the 'official' detective from Scotland Yard--find the proof needed to reopen the case? Will this new case prove dangerous?

I liked Unnatural Death. I didn't like it as much as Whose Body? I still like Lord Peter Wimsey. I still like Parker. I still like Sayers' style, her narration. But Unnatural Death seemed more racist (to me) than Whose Body? While Whose Body? was not perfect--in that regard--it didn't seem as abrasive.

Here are a few of my favorite lines:

"I told you I'd be turnin' up again before long," said Lord Peter cheerfully. "Sherlock is my name and Holmes is my nature. I'm delighted to see you, Dr. Carr. Your little matter is well in hand, and seein' I'm not required any longer I'll make a noise and buzz off." (38)

"Who is Miss Climpson?"
"Miss Climpson," said Lord Peter, "is my ears and tongue," said Lord Peter, dramatically, "and especially my nose. She asks questions which a young man could not put without a blush. She is the angel that rushes in where fools get a clump on the head. She can smell a rat in the dark. In fact, she is the cat's whiskers."
"That's not a bad idea," said Parker.
"Naturally--it is mine, therefore brilliant. Just think. People want questions asked. Whom do they send? A man with large flat feet and a note-book--the sort of man whose private life is conducted in a series of inarticulate grunts. I send a lady with a long, woolly jumper on knitting-needles and jingly things round her neck. Of course she asks questions--everyone expects it. Nobody is surprised. Nobody is alarmed." (28-9)

© 2011 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

5 comments:

Bev Hankins 7:04 PM  

I love Miss Climpson. She really get her chance to shine in Strong Poison.

And I agree with you, Unnatural Death is not my favorite of the Wimsey novels. But Sayers does know how to write!

Kate Coombs 8:45 AM  

I discovered Dorothy Sayers just last year and love the Peter Wimsey books! But yes, the older stuff sometimes shows its age in non-PC ways.

Anonymous,  8:35 PM  

This one is my least favorite Sayers' novel but it has Miss Climpson and I like that. I had read Strong Poison first so I already loved her character because of her awesome role in that one.

J F Norris,  9:27 PM  

I'm always interested to read how contemporary readers view this Sayers novel. I keep hoping that I'll finally read a review that dares to talk about the dual meaning of the title. Interestingly, the original American title was changed to The Dawson Pedigree to draw attention away from the apparently uncomfortable second interpretation of the word "unnatural." The death may be unnatural implying murder, but the term unnatural also implies something about lesbian relationships. The idea of "unnaturalness" pervades the book. I'm always disappointed when something this crucial to the plot (and daring for 1927) is just glossed over or completely ignored. Somehow the anti-Semitic remarks always get talked about even in passing. Anti-Semitism, sadly, is something I find repeatedly in mostly UK writers' books throughout the 1920s to the early 1940s. The lesbian aspect of Sayers' book I think is far more pivotal to the overall story and it is rarely talked about. In fact, many readers I find are embarrassed by it and think they are "reading too much" into the story. Let me say this: It's there and it's intended.

Birdie 11:35 AM  

I agree that this is not the best of the Lord Peter mysteries. Persevere, though, because the other books are fabulous!

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge
Linked to sign up page

Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Link to sign-up page

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge
Linked To Sign Up Page

2018 Charity Challenge (Sign Up)

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge
Link to sign up page

2018 Picture Book Challenge

2018 Picture Book Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge
click image to go to sign up post

Good Rules Cheat List

Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
Contemporary (general/realistic) = new is anything published after 2007
Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
Historical fiction = new is anything published after 2007
Mysteries = new is anything published after 1988
Nonfiction = new is anything published after 2007
Christian books = new is anything published after 2000
Bibles = new is anything published after 1989

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP