RogerBW's Blog

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy Sayers 02 March 2018

1928 mystery, fourth of Sayers' novels about Lord Peter Wimsey. General Fentiman was found dead in his armchair at the club; but there's some question about the timing, since someone else died around the same time and there's a complex interaction of wills, and Lord Peter gets involved.

This is an interestingly bipartite book, which solves its first mystery pretty much dead on the half-way mark, only for some inconsistencies in that solution to open the way for the second puzzle. It's an unusual structure, and encourages the first-time reader to dash ahead rather than lingering over people and clues; like all of Sayers' works, this stands up well to re-reading even if one remembers the details.

There's a lot about society here, and particularly the roles allocated to women (and the way most men don't see them as people at all), which to some extent prefigures Strong Poison. There are two major female characters here, one the long-suffering wife of a shell-shock victim who's been keeping the household together while he's suffering under the shame of having to live off his wife, the other a potential heiress and rather bad painter who's continually portrayed as not trying to be even slightly attractive (a dreadful sin in this society), and who may also be a murderess. They're both interesting, and one would never mistake one for the other.

'But I must tell you about George.'

He looked at her, and decided that she really must tell him about George.

'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bully. One has an ancestral idea that women must be treated like imbeciles in a crisis. Centuries of the "women-and-children-first" idea, I suppose. Poor devils!'

'Who--the women?'

'Yes. No wonder they sometimes lose their heads. Pushed into corners, told nothing of what's happening, and made to sit quiet and do nothing. Strong men would go dotty in the circs. I suppose that's why we've always grabbed the privilege of rushing about and doing the heroic bits.'

That's not all, of course; there's the distaste of the soldier for the pageantry of Remembrance Day when the memories are all too clear, the conceptual gap between those who'd been in the thick of the War and those who'd been too old to go to the sharp end or too insensitive to be thrown by it, a mysterious figure chased across the Continent, and other distractions from the core mystery – but if the mystery were the only content, I wouldn't keep coming back to this book.

In some ways it's rather lighter than Unnatural Death, the previous outing; Lord Peter drives the investigation, and while he gets some distaste for it he never considers chucking it in (and nobody else dies as a result of said investigation). In other ways it's rather more brooding, particularly when we spend time with Parker as he plugs away at the exhaustive detail-work.

Followed by the non-Wimsey The Documents in the Case.

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  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:27pm on 02 March 2018

    It also leads on from UNNATURAL DEATH in as much as Lord Peter is slightly more reluctant to go poking in things this time and goes so far as to warn Murbles (who should know this himself given how much he was wrapped up in the previous case) that poking about can lead to raising a terrible stink.

  2. Posted by Chris Bell at 12:29pm on 02 March 2018

    "(and nobody else dies as a result of said investigation)".

    You're quite sure about that, are you?

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 12:38pm on 02 March 2018

    To defend the statement would reveal more about the plots than I wish to do here.

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