Book info

Have His Carcase (1995)

Have His Carcase (1995)
Rating
4.12 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0061043524 (ISBN13: 9780061043529)
languge
English
publisher
harperpaperbacks
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Have His Carcase (1995)
Have His Carcase (1995)

About book: 1932, #7 Lord Peter, #2 Harriet VaneHarriet goes a-walking by the seaside and finds a man messily murdered but, alas, when the authorities finally arrive there is no corpse... A sturdy, complex plot, extremely good observations of people and behaviors, a decent pace, and simply beautiful writing, all topped off with a sharp wit and a kind of elegance of attitude that you simply don't find these days. If you enjoy That Sort Of Thing, then this is your book. Classic timetable cosy - four-stars-plus. Miss Harriet Vane, having recently been spared the gallows (thanks to Lord Peter's dogged determination), has found that her notoriety, once so onerous, at least now has some compensation - her name as a novelist has gotten enormous publicity and her publishers want to cash in. Since she needs money to live on, she works diligently, and after several books in a row she's fairly comfortable, but feeling a bit worn out. As Sayers writes:"Work she had in abundance. To be tried for murder is a fairly good advertisement for a writer of detective fiction. Harriet Vane thrillers were booming. She had signed up sensational contracts in both continents, and found herself, consequently, a very much richer woman than she had ever dreamed of becoming."Taking a bit of a holiday (while working, ostensibly, on her next book), she goes for a walking tour of the south-west coast of England and finds a man lying on an isolated beach, with his throat messily cut, obviously just moments before her arrival. After a bit of delay in finding a policeman to tell about this, the body is nowhere to be found, presumably having been swept out to sea. Or maybe there was never a body at all, and this is all a publicity stunt? Reporters come a-flocking to the little nearby town, and Harriet, not wanting to miss out on the publicity nor, perhaps, on the possibility of an interesting plot, finds herself besieged in her hotel. Lord Peter to the rescue! Well, sort of, as although this is mainly a Harriet novel, they work together to solve the crime, and we get to follow both of them as they go about it, along with the ineffable Bunter, who shows unexpected talents here btw. This second Wimsey/Vane novel comes, timewise, between Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, and shows Harriet and Peter's relationship still in the edgy beginning stages, albeit a mite forwarder than previously. But things are still rather thorny between them, and that almost-relationship plays a large part in the story as it unfolds, as they seek to find the true answers to a very peculiar murder that the police seem to think was suicide. Extremely convoluted, old-fashioned timetable mystery, beautifully plotted , with superb characters, and the extra added zing of lovely bits about the publishing industry of the period (note: in some ways it hasn't changed much). It appears Sayers didn't like reporters much, nor publishers all that much either... Sayers' wit is very present here, very dry, rather subtle - you have to look out for the very slight edge here and there to get the full effects, but it's worth it. IMO not her very best Wimsey novel, and although the plot is heavily burdened with twists and turns and picky details to the Nth degree (sometimes annoyingly so - the whole chapter about solving the cipher could have been eliminated IMO), this is still a very entertaining read, and far ahead of most of the mysteries written at the time. Sayers had a knack for finding the real edges of a person or relationship, and of not shying away from exploring it, albeit sometimes in excruciating detail. She's still one of my all-time favorite authors, and this reread of one of her most famous stories is still a lot of fun. The TV film version is very good as well, starring Harriet Walter and Edward Petherbridge, mid-1980s, and possibly by Acorn — they filmed all three of the Vane/Wimsey romantic novels around that time.

The more Sayers I read, the more I think she excels at playful self-reference in her books. Alternately, the more I read, the more I know other people can write much more clever mysteries. So her books always seem to be a mixed bag of excitement and disappointment all at the same time.Here's a book where the self-reference and the focus on storytelling is wonderful. The victim is a victim simply because his life is too much of an adventure, romance novel. This is exploited by the murderer to kill him. You see, our victim literally believes his life will be just like the lives and stories he encounters in his books. There's a lot of talk here about the actions of a writer encountering a murder herself versus how her lead detective would act within the very books that she writes. There's a discussion of possible solutions to the crime that point out the stereotypes that other writers would use (one writer prefers a blind on a more likely suspect only to twist it around to a less likely person, one person would have a few more deaths such that the number of possible suspects dwindles if the detective is in a bind, etc., etc.) Furthermore, the murder itself is a process of the people in the book playing double roles and acting parts, as if they were part of a play. In fact, some of them literally are actors in the book. The idea of the letters sent to the victim are suggested by the books the victim reads and the cipher of the letters themselves is provided by a mystery book that explains the code and how to use it. This is not to mention all the more superficial mentions of mysteries and detectives from mysteries that show up in all her books from the beginning.In short, this book is a fine examination of the tyranny of stories on our own lives. I think, in its own way, "A Clockwork Orange" explores similar themes in the world of movies.Having done all this, though, what happens to the mystery itself? Well it's not very believable at all. Too many coincidences jump into the story to help the detectives out when they are stumped. Somehow they magically solve the cipher by an assumption that the letter has been written like one in a mystery novel. There's a lot of information given out from outside sources -- Bunter here, for instance, gives out crucial information near the end that Wimsey could not have gotten in any way. It relies too much on stereotypical kinds of motives for its juice -- money is involved, you see, and people are worried about how an old lady will dispose of it when she dies. And I sometimes wonder what Wimsey can't do! He knows everything about horses and cars and when the tide is low and when the tide is high and etc. There doesn't seem to be a subject he isn't an expert on. He's even an expert actor in his own way. But this seems to be cheating too much for me. In the book I'm reading now, he's even a skilled acrobat and can dive into a shallow fountain perfectly. Wimsey doesn't sound like a human being at times -- more of a super-man figure.The ending is horrible, too. It isn't really closed off cleanly and leaves the reader wondering if the story really is over.So, in my opinion, we have this wonderfully playful and self-reflexive book that forgets to take the mystery part of it very seriously. Maybe that's the price it has to pay to be excellent in the first sense. In any case, I wish she could mix the two a little better. That being said, this is much better than anything Christie penned after the late 1930's with the exception of "The Clocks."
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Reviews
Mike
Dorothy Sayers is probably my favourite mystery writer, up there with Ngaio Marsh (Agatha Christie had her moments, but she was less consistent; and though Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple are both absolutely classic, I was never a huge fan of Parker Pyne). This one felt a bit more contrived at the end, though. Not that all the puzzle pieces didn't fit together, and not that it was a deus ex machina ending (she gave all the necessary clues) it just felt a bit less plausible than some -- but then again maybe I'm just grumpy because I wasn't at *all* close to finding the necessary clue :).
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Something of a mixed bag, this novel begins all jaunty and jolly with Vane and Wimsey trading flirtatious barbs and chasing down clues in a seaside resort town. It gets progressively more complicated as the investigation goes round in circles trying to crack a very clever set of mutually interlocking alibis until finally there is a rather dark and ambiguous conclusion without a clear resolution to the plot, even if the mystery itself is solved. There's a bout a 100 to 150 pages in the last third which is essentially a sort of Ouroboros-like display of the plot eating itself up, and some of the passages here are rather devoid of dramatic interest because Parker plays the confusion upon confusion card a little too freely here. The radical shift in focus, with Vane and Wimsey getting equal billing in the first half and Vane slowly fading into the background thereafter was rather off-putting. Worst of all, there is a factual error: Beethoven's Eroica is substituted for Beethoven's Moonlight at a concert because the 'band parts' for the latter were misplaced. In fact, there are no 'band parts' for the Moonlight, also known as the 14th Piano Sonata, and for the very good reason that it is a piece for solo piano. I find it hard to believe that an orchestra that has just played Bach and Mozart would not have realised that only one of the most famous sonatas ever has no band parts in any case, and must conclude that the error is Sayers'. This is a minor niggle of course, and the main reason this novel does not get a higher rating from me is because of the spiralling plot which rather seems to get away from Sayers at times.
Siria
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think,repose upon a manly bosom...I think Have His Carcase is the book where Sayers begins to make the transition between a standard Golden Age detective story, and the much more interesting and engaging (I find) novels which make up most of the Wimsey-Vane stories. As much as the earlier novels are fun to read, with some very entertaining secondary characters, I think this is really the point where both Harriet and Peter start to acquire the depth that they really need as characters if the reader is supposed to buy their relationship as being able to function on a level other than the standard, trope, Designated Love Interest one.The plot was, I think, overly convoluted, artificial and implausible, although still miles better than, say, Clouds of Witness (I do not think I can ever contemplate the denouement of that book without cringing a little at the sheer implausibility of it.) I'm not sure how it could have been thought to be a suicide at all, given the violence of the death-wound. I did, however, like the way in which Sayers wove the solving of the mystery in with the fact that Harriet is, herself, a mystery writer, and even a certain slyly humourous acknowledgement of the conventions of the Golden Age detective novel - I was terribly amused at Harriet's thinking that it would be very fun if the man on the rock turned out to be dead, and would therefore be found by a famous murder mystery writer, and then the dead-pan "Harriet's luck was in." There is more than a little acknowledgement of the artificiality of the genre, especially with the endless constructions and reconstructions of what might happen, and the obsessive gathering of pieces of 'evidence' that usually turn out to be worthless.There were also points in which I felt that the plot could be trimmed slightly - the solving of the code, for example. My eyes just glazed over and I skipped forwards several pages. While I'm sure Dorothy L Sayers was delighted to show us all that she had constructed a code that actually worked, I frankly couldn't have given a monkeys.The verbal sparring between Harriet and Peter was a treat as always, and it was their interaction that provided most of the tension and the drama. I loved how much more we got to see of Peter outside of the foppish persona he's built up for himself, and how Harriet is being developed much more, warts and all. The tentative attraction that developed in Strong Poison is developed here into an even more tentative courtship that is slowly, ever so slowly being built on, and which will eventually climax in Gaudy Night. I don't think it's as strong a novel as Gaudy Night - then again, that's one of my favourite ever books - but I do think it's well on the way to developing the characters which are the reason that it is my favourite.
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