People in detective stories have a way of finding dead bodies. Really, it’s ridiculous. Anyone would think from reading mysteries that murder is more common than speeding.
Harriet Vane, being a character in a detective story, naturally stumbles upon a dead body soon after the novel begins. She is quick to report the incident to the local police, and Lord Peter Wimsey—able to resist neither Harriet nor an interesting murder—wades into a case involving missing gold, deadly razors and sentimental old ladies.
Should readers, like Lord Peter, entangle themselves in this mystery?
I’m all for interesting murders—in fiction, I mean—but this is definitely one to skip.
There are basically two kinds of detective stories. They can be called magician stories and policeman stories. I prefer call them great stories and dull stories.
In the first kind of story, the detective is like a magician. As a magician produces rabbits from empty hats, the detective produces answers from clues that appear meaningless. When the detective weaves these clues into a brilliant solution, it seems almost magical.
In the second kind of story, the detective is like a policeman. As a policeman does dreary procedural stuff, the detective does the same: checking alibis, comparing timetables, interviewing suspects and eliminating options until a solution is reached. This kind of story is more realistic, and also less interesting.
Have His Carcase is a policeman story, and a dull one. There are few surprises or interesting revelations. I recall only one clever plot twist in the entire novel. This twist came right at the end of the novel, after many chapters of slow, realistic, boring investigation. It wasn’t worth it.
As an example of how tedious the novel can be, Lord Peter and Harriet spend an entire chapter solving a complex encrypted message and outlining every single step of the process. That’s pages and pages of dense, nigh-unreadable explication. After one or two paragraphs, I gave up trying to understand any of it.
There’s some interesting chemistry between Lord Peter and Harriet, but it’s mostly lost in the dull minutiae of their investigations. Apart from those two—and Lord Peter’s wonderful butler, Bunter, who I swear must be related to Jeeves from the novels by P.G. Wodehouse—the characters in the book are pretty forgettable.
In fact, the entire novel is forgettable. Dorothy Sayers wrote some great short stories starring Lord Peter Wimsey—true magician stories—but Have His Carcase is a disappointment.