Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
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.
5 thoughts on “Review: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club”
This was my first Sayers, and I loved the first half but loathed the second! I think I struggled particularly with Wimsey only tumbling to the killer after overhearing a conversation in which someone speculates who the guilty party is…wiping out the preceding 200 pages of investigation. Alas, too frustrating a develoment for me…
Hmm, fair point. I don’t remember the minutiae of the plot that well, to be honest, although I do remember who the murderer is. I guess I was willing to forgive the plot weaknesses because I have really grown to enjoy Lord Peter’s character! I hope you’ll give the series another try…I wasn’t a huge fan the first couple of times I tried Whose Body?, but I’ve come around!
I tried a few Sayers – this, Whose Body?, Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors – and just couldn’t get into her, which I feel reflects badly on me somehow. I have a huge love of impossible crimes, so I’m hoping to summon the enthusiasm for Have His Carcase at some point, but I shall, alas, take some convincing to go much further.
The characters are wonderful, you’re right about that, and the relationshops and beautilfully conveyed…but there’s still something about her I don’t get on with. Perhaps in time I’ll realise the folly of my ways…!
I totally get this. It’s tough when you feel like you ought to love an author, but for some reason you just don’t. It sounds like you’ve given Sayers a very fair chance!
It’s especially difficult for me with Sayers because she’s so influential in the genre and I love both the genre and that era so much. Still, I take solace in knowing that there’s still Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Edmund Crispin, Leo Bruce, Pamela Branch, Rupert Penny, Kelley Roos, Norman Berrow, Max Afford, Christianna Brand, Ellery Qeen, Clayton Rawson, Constance and Gwenyth Little, Anthony Berkeley, Erle Stanley Gardner, Helen McCloy and others (plus those not yet discovered!) to go on with, so it’s not like I’m restricting myself too greatly by avoiding Sayers…