Review: Have His Carcase, Dorothy Sayers

Poor old Have His Carcase! I read it in a bad temper in 2009 and wrote a terse little post about it that didn’t come close to giving it its due. This time around, the normal thing happened, which is that I grabbed it to read while I was brushing my teeth, became addicted, and ended up reading all three Vane-Wimsey books. (Not Busman’s Honeymoon, I don’t like the mystery in that one.) Having just finished Gaudy Night, I am sorry that I criticized Peter for pestering Harriet to marry him. He is actually quite a good character, and for fictional characters in a series of detective novels, Harriet and Peter have quite an impressively good relationship: complex without making the reader feel she’s being strung along (neither avoiding nor amping up the emotions), plus they obviously really enjoy each other’s company. Enjoy each other’s company! Other writers, make note.

Mystery writer Harriet Vane discovers a body while on vacation in Wilvercombe, and Peter Wimsey, friend and detective and would-be husband, comes along to detect things with her. This is the only book when the two of them really get to have sumptuous fun detecting things, and I love seeing them work together. All the suspects have alibis in varying levels of suspiciousness. All the elements of the case are like something out of a trashy adventure novel: too absurd to be believable, or too humdrum to be bothered with.

Please forget everything I said in my stroppy mood in 2009, if you read it then. Have His Carcase is excellent. The mystery is complicated and unintelligible right to the end, but then it has a tidy solution. Meanwhile there are so many good character moments for Peter and Harriet! Strong Poison shows them together a few times, and of course a number of things happen in Gaudy Night, but Have His Carcase is the book where they spend the most time together. You see exactly why they like to be around each other, and exactly why Harriet won’t let it become something more.

WHO I LOVE. I made that clear, right? I LOVE THEM. Or, well, I love Harriet, and the fact that Peter falls in love with her and she likes being around him makes me like him better than I otherwise might. Harriet Vane is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. She makes me like all sorts of things I wouldn’t necessarily like in the normal way of things: claret-colored frocks (just kidding, I would look amazing in a claret-colored frock), the name Harriet (let’s face it, you wouldn’t have wanted to be friends with Harriet the Spy), Sheridan le Fanu (well…probably! One day! When I try him!), punting (ditto), sonnets, etc. Harriet Vane! She is the best! In her claret-colored frock! (She bought a claret-colored frock! Never ever able to stop myself from having a teeny little squeeee about this.)

(That’s right. I don’t care for sonnets. I just don’t care for them.)

If you are thinking of taking up Dorothy Sayers, I direct you to Strong Poison. If you don’t love it, read Have His Carcase. If you don’t like that, you must be crazy but nevertheless, read Gaudy Night. Have His Carcase is a damn enjoyable book, but one of the enduringly nicest things about it is that you finish it and you get to ready Gaudy Night. Oh Gaudy Night! Oh Gaudy Night and your beautiful exploration of gender and your just general beautifulness! I cannot fathom how anyone could read Gaudy Night and not love it to shreds. It’s one of my favorite books in all the land, and what’s even better, it’s one of those books I can reread almost any time and love it. I’m rereading it now. God it’s good.

What book am I supposed to be talking about again? Have His Carcase? In sum, Harriet gets a claret-colored frock, and the murder might be a suicide. Don’t live a Harriet-Vane-less life. A Harriet-Vane-ful life is better.

See also:

things mean a lot
Stella Matutina
Ela’s Book Blog
Notes from the North
Becky’s Book Reviews

Tell me if I missed yours!