On November 11, ninety-year-old General Fentiman is found dead in an armchair at the Bellona Club. No one knows exactly when his death occurred—information essential in determining the recipient of a substantial inheritance. But that is only one of the mysteries vexing Lord Peter Wimsey. The aristocratic sleuth needs every bit of his amazing skills to discover why the proud officer’s lapel was missing the requisite red poppy on Armistice Day, how the Bellona Club’s telephone was fixed without a repairman, and, most puzzling of all, why the great man’s knee swung freely when the rest of him was stiff with rigor mortis. (Summary from Amazon.com.)
I think this is my favorite Lord Peter Wimsey book so far. The mystery plot is ingenious and provides an intellectually satisfying solution. I also appreciate how character-driven Sayers’ mysteries are in comparison to, say, Agatha Christie’s. (Not to bash Dame Agatha, but I think her books are far more plot-driven, with the characters rarely being very three-dimensional.) I was especially fascinated by Ann Dorland, one of the potential heirs to the general’s fortune. Her behavior is suspicious throughout the novel, but is she guilty? And if not, why does she act the way she does? The one jarring note to this mystery is the ending, where Lord Peter unmasks the killer and essentially suggests that, instead of going through the humiliation of an arrest and trial, the person should just commit suicide. I guess this attitude makes sense for the time, when people set more store by their honor than they do today…and of course, a convicted murderer would face the death penalty anyway…but I was still taken aback by Lord Peter’s suggestion! Still, I enjoyed the book and look forward to continuing with the series.