After reading Gaudy Night and hearing Peter and Harriet refer to “the Wilvercombe affair”, I was intrigued and naturally wanted to read more about these two crazy kids solving another mystery. Rather misleadingly, the book that details this case is not called “The Wilvercombe Affair”, and doesn’t even have the word Wilvercombe in the title. It’s called “Have His Carcase”, because Dorothy Sayers wants to make us work for our fun, dammit.
Anyway, the mystery in a nutshell: Harriet Vane, a couple years after she is found innocent of murdering Philip Boynes, goes on a walking holiday by herself. She’s wandering along the beach one day when she spots what looks suspiciously like a dead body. Because she is Harriet Vane, and this is a Sayers mystery, here’s what she thinks next: “Now, if I have any luck, he’d be a corpse, and I should report him and get my name in the papers. …’Well-Known Woman Detective-Writer Finds Mystery Corpse on Lonely Shore.’ But these things never happen to authors. It’s always some placid laborer or night-watchman who finds corpses.”
Of course it’s actually a corpse, and Harriet, realizing quite sensibly that she can’t move the body and that the tide might come in before she can find help, photographs the crime scene and looks for evidence. It looks a lot like a suicide, but a Highly Suspicious One. Sing along if you know the words: When there’s something strange / In your neighborhood / Who you gonna call?
Yes, his lordship the delightful Peter Wimsey skips into town, and he and Harriet start solving the mystery while having marvelous romantic tension, witty banter, and one explosive fight that was very upsetting for me, even though I’ve read Gaudy Night and know it all turns out okay.
Let me repeat what I say in every single Dorothy Sayers review that I write: I. Love. Peter. Wimsey. He is absolutely divine, and I won’t just let you take my word for it and will let him speak for himself.
First, to Harriet: “And I could kiss you for it. You need not shrink and tremble. I am not going to do it. When I kiss you, it will be an important event – one of those things which stand out among their surroundings like the first time you tasted li-chee. It will not be an unimportant sideshow attached to a detective investigation.”
And then, to a man who insults Harriet: “Manners, please! …You will kindly refer to Miss Vane in a proper way and spare me the boring nuisance of pushing your teeth out at the back of your neck.”
(Madeline, from the balcony: “OH SNAP!”)
Advice for a future reader, however: make sure you read the Harriet-Peter mysteries in the correct order, so you can fully appreciate them in a way I wasn’t quite able to. Strong Poison is first, then Have His Carcase, then Gaudy Night, and finally Busman’s Honeymoon.
Verdict: four out of five stars