Death in Piccadilly

In The unpleasantness at the Bellona Club Dorothy L. Sayers' likeable artistocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey investigates a suspicious death at an elite London club. When elderly General Fentiman is discovered dead of heart failure on Armistice Day no-one is particularly surprised, but a problem over inheritance leads to Wimsey trying to narrow down the time of the General's death, a death which turns out to be a whole lot more problematic than anyone had suspected....

As Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries go this is one of the lighter ones. Sayers, as ever, builds up a great background to the crime, the characters are well-rounded, and Wimsey is as engaging as ever. She does write herself into a bit of a corner, with two possible suspects that, one would imagine, would probably both be found guilty should the case have come to court at the time the novel was set. In a way, her later novel, Strong poison, in which Peter meets the love of his life Harriet, is an extension of The unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, demonstrating how the social mores of the day were balanced against women, and how certain behaviour could have a prejudicial influence should the woman ever be on trial for her life.

As a result the ending is rather unsatisfactory depending as it does on a free confession by the murderer, who seems to be remarkably blase about his crime and its effect on his own life. It's not her best novel, but it is clever, and there are some great character studies, most notably of young George Fentiman, still suffering from a form of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder years after his experiences in the Great War.

One for those who are already fans of the Wimsey canon, I think, rather than newcomers; but a great read for a rainy day.


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