My Book Notes: Unnatural Death 1927 (Lord Peter Wimsey #3) by Dorothy L Sayers

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Hodder & Stoughton, 2009. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 4341 KB. Print Length: 324 pages. ASIN:‎ B003ODIX2C. ISBN: 9781848943834. First published in Great Britain in 1927 by Ernest Benn Ltd. It was published under the title The Dawson Pedigree in the United States in 1928. This edition has an introduction by crime writer Minette Walters.

hbg-title-9781848943834-37Description: ‘No sign of foul play,’ says Dr Carr after the post-mortem on Agatha Dawson. The case is closed. But Lord Peter Wimsey is not satisfied . . .
With no clues to work on, he begins his own investigation. No clues, that is, until the sudden, senseless murder of Agatha’s maid.
What is going on in the mysterious Mrs Forrest’s Mayfair flat? And can Wimsey catch a desperate murderer before he himself becomes one of the victims?

My Take: During the course of a restaurant conversation, Lord Peter Wimsey and his friend Detective-Inspector Charles Parker of Scotland Yard are interrupted by a young man sitting alone at the next table to tell them of his own experience. Thus, Lord Peter Wimsey learns of an event that took place three years ago now and that somehow draws his attention. The death of Agatha Dawson, a pretty well-off  seventy-two-year-old lady who was suffering from terminal cancer. At that time, the old lady lived alone with Mary Whittaker, her grandniece, and a nurse hired to help her. The old woman had an extreme aversion to making a will, believing it to be completely unnecessary. After all, there was no doubt that her grandniece was her only close relative and her entire estate would one day go to her. But something in the story leaves Lord Wimsey quite intrigued, even though the post-mortem found no sign of foul play and the apparent lack of motive to wish her death. Miss Dawson’s inheritance was meant to go to her grandniece in any case, it was her wish and so she had manifested several times. It spite of all the above, Lord Wimsey sends Miss Katharine Climpson, his private investigator, to Leahampton in Hampshire to look into the case. And so the story begins, without even knowing if behind all this, there is a crime that needs to be investigated.

In the words of Lord Wimsey himself, Miss Climpson’s function in all this is to be ‘… my ears and tongue, 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.’ Consequently, Miss Climpson learns that just a few days before Miss Dawson’s death, her grandniece dismissed the two maids in the house, the sisters Bertha and Evelyn Gotobed. And Lord Wimsey, in a manner reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, places advertisements in the newspapers asking them to contact him. Unfortunately, a few days later, Bertha is found dead in Epping Forest, although the evidence seems to suggest that her death was due to natural causes. However, the spiral of violence will not end here and soon the lives of Lord Wimsey and of Miss Climpson will be in serious danger.

Even though the name of the murderer is quite clear from the outset, in my view we are not exactly facing an inverted mystery, although it has a direct relationship with this type of story. The accent is more in the ‘howdunit’ than in ‘whodunnit’. What I do find really interesting to highlight is the resemblance it bears to some of the books by R. Austin Freeman, and more specifically to The D’Arblay Mystery that I’ve read recently (my post will be ready soon). In any case I have to admit that I enjoyed reading Unnatural Death, despite some obvious flaws, such as those stressed in several reviews included in this entry. However, in my opinion, the characterization is excellent, the plot is extremely well crafted –even if this point is not widely accepted– and it is quite funny at times. In all probability I will not include Unnatural Death among my favourite Sayers books. It is not in the same league as Murder Must Advertise or The Nine Taylors, but I recommend it nonetheless.

Unnatural Death has been reviewed, among others, by  Nick Fuller at The Grandest Game in The World, Sergio Angelini at Tipping My Fedora, Joules Barham at Northern Reader, Desperate Reader, Kate Jackson at Cross-Examining Crime, Bev Hankins at My Reader’s Block, Aidan Brack at Mysteries Ahoy! and Martin Edwards at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. Ernest Benn Limited (UK), 1927)

About the Author: Dorothy L Sayers, in full Dorothy Leigh Sayers, (born June 13, 1893, Oxford, Oxfordshire, Eng.—died Dec. 17, 1957, Witham, Essex), English scholar and writer whose numerous mystery stories featuring the witty and charming Lord Peter Wimsey combined the attractions of scholarly erudition and cultural small talk with the puzzle of detection. Sayers received a degree in medieval literature from the University of Oxford in 1915; she was one of the first women to graduate from that university. In 1923 she published her first novel, Whose Body, which introduced Lord Peter Wimsey, her hero for fifteen volumes of novels and short stories. Sayers wrote short stories that featured not only Lord Peter but also another detective creation, Montague Egg. She also published an anthology of the detective story, The Omnibus of Crime (1929). In her later years Sayers turned from detective fiction to writing theological plays and books such as Creed or Chaos? (1947). She made scholarly translations of Dante’s Inferno (1949) and Purgatorio (1955); her translation of the third book, the Paradiso, was incomplete at her death.

Lord Peter Wimsey Book Series: Whose Body? 1923 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #1); Clouds of Witness, 1926 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #2); Unnatural Death aka The Dawson Pedigree, 1927 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #3);The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #5); Strong Poison, 1930 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #6); Five Red Herrings aka Suspicious Characters, 1931 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #7); Have His Carcase, 1932 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #8); Murder Must Advertise, 1933 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #10); The Nine Tailors, 1934 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #11); Gaudy Night, 1935 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #12); and Busman’s Honeymoon: A Love Story With Detective Interruptions, 1937 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #13).

Sayers also wrote a number of short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The complete set contains 21 stories taken from Lord Peter Views the Body s.s. collection, 1928 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #4); Hangman’s Holiday s.s. collection, 1933 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #9); In the Teeth of the Evidence s.s. collection, 1939 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #14); and Striding Folly s.s. collection, 1972 (Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery #15). They can be found in Lord Peter, a collection of short stories, first published in 1972.

Sayers started another Wimsey novel after Busman’s Honeymoon, but eventually lost interest in it, breaking off the manuscript several times without having gotten to the crime. After her death, Jill Paton Walsh, in arrangement with Sayers’ estate, completed the novel, which was published in 1998 as Thrones, Dominations.

It is also worth mentioning that, together with Robert Eustace, Sayers also wrote The Documents in the Case in 1930. It is the only one of Sayers’s twelve major crime novels not to feature Lord Peter Wimsey, her most famous detective character. However, the forensic analyst Sir James Lubbock, who appears or is mentioned in several of the Wimsey novels, also appears in The Documents in the Case.

The Wimsey Papers (1939-40) was a ‘mockumentary’ attempt to link the fictional characters from Sayers’ Wimsey series to real-life events. It was published in instalments in the Spectator newspaper in 1939 and 1940. A detailed examination can be found here.

Other crime fiction: The Floating Admiral (1931) (Written with members of The Detection Club, a chapter each); Ask a Policeman (1933) (Written with members of The Detection Club); Six Against the Yard (1936) (Written with members of The Detection Club); The Sultry Tiger (1936) (Originally written under a pseudonym, republished in 1965); Double Death: a Murder Story (1939) (Written with members of The Detection Club); The Scoop and Behind the Screen (1983) (Originally published in The Listener (1931) and (1930), both written by members of The Detection Club); Crime on the Coast and No Flowers by Request (1984) (Written by members of The Detection Club, Sayers takes part in the second, originally published in Daily Sketch (1953)

Further reading: Dorothy L Sayers: Her Life and Soul, by Barbara Reynolds (Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 1993)

Hodder & Stoughton publicity page 

The Dorothy L Sayers Society

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorotthy L Sayers by Mike Grost

Dorothy L Sayers at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Dorothy L Sayers A Crime Reader’s Guide to the Classics

¿Muerte natural? de Dorothy L Sayers

descargaDescripción: “No hay señales de juego sucio.” Así concluye el Dr. Carr el exámen de la autopsia de Agatha Dawson, y el caso queda cerrado. Sin embargo, Lord Peter Wimsey no está satisfecho …
Sin pistas en las que trabajar, comienza su propia investigación. Sin pistas, es decir, hasta el repentino y sin sentido asesinato de la doncella de Agatha.
¿Qué está pasando en el apartamento de la misteriosa señora Forrest en Mayfair? ¿Podrá Wimsey atrapar a un asesino desesperado antes de que él mismo se convierta en una de sus víctimas?

Mi opinión: Durante el transcurso de una conversación en un restaurante, Lord Peter Wimsey y su amigo, el inspector Charles Parker de Scotland Yard, son interrumpidos por un joven sentado solo en la mesa de al lado para contarles su propia experiencia. Así, Lord Peter Wimsey se entera de un hecho ocurrido hace ahora tres años y que de alguna manera llama su atención. La muerte de Agatha Dawson, una señora bastante acomodada de setenta y dos años que padecía un cáncer terminal. En aquel tiempo, la anciana vivía sola con Mary Whittaker, su sobrina nieta, y una enfermera contratada para ayudarla. La anciana tenía una aversión extrema a hacer testamento, creyéndolo completamente innecesario. Después de todo, no había duda de que su sobrina nieta era su único pariente cercano, y todo su patrimonio sería para ella algún día. Pero algo en la historia deja a Lord Wimsey bastante intrigado, a pesar de que la autopsia no encontró ningún signo de juego sucio y la evidente falta de motivos para desear su muerte. La herencia de la señorita Dawson estaba destinada a ir a su sobrina nieta en cualquier caso, era su deseo y así lo había manifestado varias veces. A pesar de todo lo anterior, Lord Wimsey envía a la señorita Katharine Climpson, su investigadora privada, a Leahampton en Hampshire para profundizar en el caso. Y así comienza una historia, sin siquiera saber si detrás de todo ello, hay un crimen que necesita ser investigado.

En palabras del mismo Lord Wimsey, la función de la señorita Climpson en todo este asunto es ser ‘… mis oídos y mis palabras, y especialmente mi olfato. Ella hace preguntas que un joven no podría hacer sin sonrojarse. Ella es el ángel que se precipita donde los tontos reciben un golpe en la cabeza. Puede sospechar algo en la oscuridad. De hecho, ella tiene la sensiblidad de los bigotes de un gato.’ En consecuencia, la señorita Climpson logra enterarse de que solo unos días antes de que falleciera la señorita Dawson, su sobrina nieta despidió a las dos sirvientas que se encontraban en la casa, las hermanas Bertha y Evelyn Gotobed. Y Lord Wimsey, de una manera que recuerda a Sherlock Holmes, coloca anuncios en los periódicos solicitándo que se pongan en contacto con él. Lamentablemente, unos días después, Bertha es encontrada muerta en Epping Forest, aunque la evidencia parece sugerir que su muerte se debió a causas naturales. Sin embargo, la espiral de violencia no terminará aquí y pronto las vidas de Lord Wimsey y de Miss Climpson estarán en serio peligro.

Aunque el nombre del asesino queda bastante claro desde el principio, a mi modo de ver no nos encontramos exactamente ante un misterio invertido, si bien tiene una relación directa con este tipo de historias. El acento está más en ‘cómo se hizo’ que en ‘quién lo hizo’. Lo que sí me parece muy interesante destacar es el parecido que guarda con algunos libros de R. Austin Freeman, y más concretamente con El misterio de D’Arblay que he leído recientemente (pronto estará lista mi publicación). En cualquier caso, debo reconocer que disfruté leyendo Unnatural Death, a pesar de algunos defectos obvios, como los que se destacan en varias reseñas incluidas en esta entrada. No obstante, en mi opinión, la caracterización es excelente, la trama está muy bien construida, aunque este punto no es muy aceptado, y es bastante divertida por momentos. Con toda probabilidad no incluiré Unnatural Death entre mis libros favoritos de Sayers, no está en la misma liga que Murder Must Advertise o The Nine Taylors, pero en cualquier caso la recomiendo.

Acerca del autor: Dorothy L Sayers, nombre completo Dorothy Leigh Sayers, (nacida el 13 de junio de 1893 en Oxford, Oxfordshire, Inglaterra; fallecida el 17 de diciembre de 1957 en Witham, Essex), académica y escritora inglesa cuyas numerosas historias de misterio protagonizadas por el ingenioso y encantador Lord Peter Wimsey combinó los atractivos de la erudición académica y la plática  cultural con el enigma de la investigación. Sayers se licenció en literatura medieval por la Universidad de Oxford en 1915; fue una de las primeras mujeres en graduarse en esa universidad. En 1923 publicó su primera novela, Whose Body, que presentaba a Lord Peter Wimsey, su héroe en quince volúmenes de novelas y cuentos. Sayers escribió relatos breves protagonizados no solo por Lord Peter sino también por otra de sus creaciones policiacas, Montague Egg. También publicó una antología de la novela policíaca, The Omnibus of Crime (1929). En sus últimos años, Sayers se apartó de la novela policiaca para escribir obras de teatro y libros de contenido teológico como Creed or Chaos? (1947). Hizo traducciones académicas del Infierno (1949) y del Purgatorio (1955) de Dante; su traducción del tercer libro, el Paradiso, quedó incompleto a su fallecimiento.

Libros protagonizados por Lord Peter Wimsey: El cadáver con lentes (Whose Body? 1923); El misterio de Riddlesdale Lodge (Clouds of Witness, 1926); ¿Muerte natural? (Unnatural Death, 1927); El misterio del Bellona Club (The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928); Veneno mortal (Strong Poison, 1930); Cinco pistas falsas (Five Red Herrings, 1931); Un cadáver para Harriet Vane (Have His Carcase, 1932); Muerte, agente de publicidad (Murder Must Advertise, 1933); Los nueve sastres (The Nine Tailors, 1934); Los secretos de Oxford (Gaudy Night, 1935); y Luna de miel (Busman’s Honeymoon, 1937).

Sayers también escribió una serie de relatos protagonizados por Lord Peter Wimsey. El conjunto completo contiene 21 historias tomadas de Peter descubre el delito (Lord Peter Views the Body, 1928) libro de relatos;Las vacaciones del verdugo (Hangman’s Holiday, 1933) lbro de relatos; Con las pruebas en la boca (In the Teeth of the Evidence, 1939) libro de relatos; y Striding Folly, 1972 libro de relatos. Se pueden encontrar en Lord Peter, una colección de relatos breves, publicada por primera vez en 1972.

Sayers comenzó otra novela de Wimsey después de Busman’s Honeymoon, pero finalmente perdió interés en ella, rompiendo el manuscrito varias veces sin llegar al crimen. Después de su muerte, Jill Paton Walsh, de acuerdo con los herederos de los derechos de Sayers, completó la novela, que se publicó en 1998 como Thrones, Dominations.

También vale la pena mencionar que, junto con Robert Eustace, Sayers también escribió The Documents in the Case en 1930. Es la única de las doce principales novelas policiacas de Sayers en la que no interviene Lord Peter Wimsey, su personaje más famoso. Sin embargo, el médico forense Sir James Lubbock, que aparece o es mencionado en varias de las novelas de Wimsey, también aparece en The Documents in the Case.

The Wimsey Papers (1939-40) fue un intento de ‘falso documental’ de vincular los personajes ficticios de la serie Wimsey de Sayers con eventos de la vida real. Se publicó por entregas en el periódico Spectator en 1939 y 1940.

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