Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Series #3)

Unnatural Death (Lord Peter Wimsey Series #3)

by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Overview

From Dorothy L. Sayers, the mistress of the Golden Age mystery, the third mystery featuring the dashing and brilliant Lord Peter Wimsey

The wealthy old woman died much sooner than the doctor expected. Did she suddenly succumb to illness—or was it murder? The debonair detective Lord Peter Wimsey begins to investigate, with the help of his trusted manservant, Bunter, and Miss Alexandra Katherine Climpson, a gossipy spinster with a gift for asking the right questions. The intricate trail leads from a beautiful Hampshire village to a fashionable London flat, where a deliberate test of amour, staged by the detective, will expose the elusive truth once and for all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062311924
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/07/2014
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey Series , #3
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 142,042
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency. In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world's most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

Date of Birth:

June 13, 1893

Date of Death:

December 17, 1957

Place of Birth:

Oxford, England

Education:

B.A., Oxford University, 1915; M.A., B.C.L., 1920

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

OVERHEARD

"The death was certainly sudden, unexpected, and to meMysterious.

LETTER FROM DR. PATERSON TO THE REGISTRAR IN THECASE OF REG. V. PRITCHARD.

But if he thought the woman was being murdered--"

"My dear Charles," said the young man with the monocle, "it doesn't do for people, especially doctors, to go about 'thinking' things. They may get into frightful trouble. In Pritchard's case, I consider Dr. Paterson did all he reasonably could by refusing a certificate for Mrs. Taylor and sending that uncommonly disquieting letter to the Registrar. He couldn't help the man% being a fool. If there bad only been an inquest on Mrs. Taylor, Pritchard would probably have been frightened off and left his wife alone. After all, Paterson hadn't a spark of real evidence. And suppose he'd been quite wrong--what a dust-up there'd have been!"

"All the same," urged the nondescript young man, dubiously extracting a bubbling-hot Helix Pomatia from its shell, and eyeing it nervously before putting it in his mouth, "surely it's a clear case of public duty to voice one's -suspicions."

"Of your duty--yes," said the other. "By the way, it's not a public duty to eat snails if you don't like 'em. No, I thought you didn't. Why wrestle with a harsh fate any longer? Waiter, take the gentleman's snails away and bring oysters instead.... No-as I was saying, it may be part of your duty to have suspicions and invite investigation and generally raise hell for everybody, and if you're mistaken nobody says much, beyond that you're a smart, painstaking officer though alittle over-zealous. But doctors, poor devils! are everlastingly walking a kind of social tight-rope. People don't fancy calling in a man who's liable to bring out accusations of murder on the smallest provocation."

"Excuse me."

The thin-faced young man sitting alone at the next table had turned round eagerly.

"It's frightfully rude of me. to break in, but every word YOU say is absolutely true, and mine is a case in point. A doctor-you can't have any idea how dependent he is on the fancies and prejudices of -his patients. They resent the most elementary precautions. If you dare to suggest a postmortem, they're up in arms at the idea of 'cutting poor dear So-and-so up,' and even if you only ask permission to investigate an obscure disease in the interests of research, they imagine you're hinting at something unpleasant. Of course, if you let things go, and it turns out afterwards there's been any jiggery-pokery, the coroner jumps down your throat and the newspapers make a butt of you, and, whichever way it is, you wish you'd never been born."

"You speak with personal feeling," said the man with the monocle, with an agreeable air of interest.

"I do," said the thin-faced man, emphatically. "If I had behaved like a man of the world instead of a zealous citizen, I shouldn't be hunting about for a new job today."

The man with the monocle glanced round the little Soho restaurant with a faint smile. The fat man on their right was unctuously entertaining two ladies of the chorus; beyond him, two elderly habitues were showing their acquaintance with the fare at the "Au Bon Bourgeois" by consuming a Tripes 6 la Mode de Caen (which they do very excellently there) and a bottle of Chablis Moutonne 1916; on the other side of the room a provincial and his wife were stupidly clamouring for a cut off the joint with lemonade for the lady and whisky and soda for the gentleman, while at the adjoining table, the handsome silverhaired proprietor, absorbed in fatiguing a salad for a family party, had for the moment no thoughts beyond the nice adjustment of the chopped herbs and garlic. The head waiter, presenting for inspection a plate of Blue River Trout, helped the monocled man and his companion and retired, leaving them in the privacy which unsophisticated people always seek in genteel tea-shops and never, never find there.

"I feel," said the monocled man, "exactly like Prince Florizel of Bohemia. I am confident that YOU, Sir,' have an interesting story to relate, and shall be greatly obliged if you will favour us with the recital. I perceive that you have finished your dinner, and it will therefore perhaps not be disagreeable to you to remove to this table and entertain us with your story while we eat. Pardon my Stevensonian manner-my sympathy is none the less sincere on that account."

"Don't be an ass, Peter," said the nondescript man. "My friend is a much more rational person than you might suppose to hear him talk," he added, turning to the stranger, "and if there's anything you'd like to get off your chest, you may be perfectly certain it won't go any farther."

The other smiled a little grimly.

"I'll tell you about it with pleasure if it won't bore you. It just happens to be a case in point, that's all."

"On my side of the argument," said the man called Peter, with triumph. "Do carry on. Have something to drink. It's a poor heart that never rejoices. And begin right at the beginning, if you will, please. I have a very trivial mind. Detail delights me. Ramifications enchant me. Distance no object. No reasonable offer refused. Charles here will say the same."

"Well," said the stranger, "to begin from the very beginning, I am a medical man...

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Unnatural Death 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Perfect for people who love mysteries and the noble English gentleman detective. Definitely a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster.
NancyLibrarian More than 1 year ago
This is not the best title of the series, but I still like it. Sayers introduces a new member to the cast of characters around Lord Peter, who appears in many further books: Miss Katherine (Kitty) Climpson, a 50-ish spinster of gentility, poverty and determination. As usual with DLS characters, she is well-drawn, appealing, and at times quite funny. Lord Peter and his close friend Detective Inspector Charles Parker are asked by a young doctor to investigate the death of a cancer patient of 3 years past. He thought Miss Dawson was good for months more, and when he expressed concern, local gossip forced him to leave the area. Lord Peter soon realizes that a change in the inheritance laws probably had something to do with Miss Dawson's hasty death, but the how and the why make a good read. Sayers was chagrined to realize later she had a key medical error in her plot, which I will not give away, and ever after was much more careful in checking her facts--she even lists a doctor as a co-author in her book The Documents In the Case, about mushroom poisoning. Enjoy Miss Climpson, who has an even greater role in Strong Poison, and become further acquainted with the histories of the Wimseys and Parker in this 3rd title in the series.
mmyoung on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
NOTE: "**********" marks the beginning of a quote "##########" marks the return to the reviewWarning: for those who have not yet read all the Wimsey books the text of the ¿Biographical Note¿ (purportedly written at Sayers request by Wimsey's uncle) contains spoilers for books published later than this one._Unnatural Death_ begins with a scene that situates Wimsey clearly within a particular social milieu. Wimsey is sharing a meal with Charles Parker (Scotland Yard detective and friend) in an upscale restaurant. The difference in class between the two men is established when conversation makes it clear that Parker is neither used to eating snails nor comfortable with the idea. The reader is given further cues to the appropriate social and cultural outlook by the descriptions of the other people in the room:**********"The fat man on their right was unctuously entertaining two ladies of the chorus; beyond him, two elderly habitués were showing their acquaintance with the fare at the ¿Au Bon Bourgeois¿ by consuming a Tripes à la Mode de Caen (which they do very excellently there) and a bottle of Chablis Moutonne 1916; on the other side of the room a provincial and his wife were stupidly clamouring for a cut off the joint with lemonade for the lady and whisky and soda for the gentleman".(14)[1]##########The first two descriptions still ¿work¿ for the modern reader but the third bears further examination. How does the observer know that the couple is ¿provincial?¿ Is it their clothes? Can the listener detect a regional accent in their speech? Surely that is not enough to warrant their dining request to be characterized as ¿stupid.¿ Clearly they are unaware of the type of food (or food combinations) that one ordered in an expensive restaurant in Soho. If they had been richly dressed foreigners their confusion might have been considered charming but as ¿provincials¿ (read¿moderately well-off non-gentry) any lack of prior knowledge of minutia of local food etiquette will be characterized as stupidity. For the modern reader this is a sudden insight in the pernicious nature of the British class/social system of the time. There was even a set way to be a noncomformist and absent aristocratic relatives anyone who didn't adhere to a narrow set of behaviours, tastes and interests was judged ¿not quite the thing¿ and excluded from much of social life.Although this story is set almost a decade after the Great War passing comments make it clear how close ¿the old days¿ actually were in terms of gender expectations:********** " A dear old friend of mine used to say that I should have made a very good lawyer,¿ said Miss Climpson, complacently, ¿but of course, when I was young, girls didn¿t have the education or the opportunities they get nowadays, Mr. Parker. I should have liked a good education, but my dear father didn¿t believe in it for women. Very old-fashioned, you young people would think him.¿(35)[1]##########The reader will also notice casual verbal racism as in this description of the quality of the ham in a sandwich:********** "Observe the hard texture, the deep brownish tint of the lean; rich fat, yellow as a Chinaman¿s cheek;" (64)[1]##########At one point in the book a rather remarkable letter is penned by the very proper Miss Climpson to Lord Peter (for whom she was sleuthing) about the judgmental and self-consciously proper behaviour of the former housekeeper of the woman Wimsey thinks may have been murdered when a dark-skinned man paid a call on the lady of the house:********** " In fact, it appears she refused to cook the lunch for the poor black man¿(after all, even blacks are God¿s creatures and we might all be black OURSELVES if He had not in His infinite kindness seen fit to favour us with white skins!!)¿and walked straight out of the house!!! So that unfortunately she cannot tell us anything further about this remarkable incident! She is certain, however, that the `nigger¿ had a visiting-card, with the name `Rev. H
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I¿ve had this book on my shelf for a while, ever since I bought it used in a bookstore near where I used to live in Brooklyn. My interest in Sayers¿s novels resurfaced a couple of months ago, and since I¿m reading her books in order of publication, this one was up on deck next after Clouds of Witness.One day, Lord Peter and his confederate, Inspector Parker, hear the tale of an elderly woman who died apparently of natural causes¿but the young doctor in the case thinks there¿s something suspicious in the circumstances under which she died¿circumstances in which the old woman¿s niece has a lot to gain or loose by her death. When Lord Peter investigates the story, he starts to unravel a tangled web of legal and medical issues, made more interesting by a sort of twist about halfway through the book.As a character, Lord Peter doesn¿t evolve much in favor of the story (beyond a biographical note at the beginning of the story, which didn¿t help very much), but there are some great supporting characters, including Miss Climpson, a spinster who becomes Wimsey¿s eyes and ears during the investigation¿especially important considering that most of the main characters in the case never even have speaking roles, and Miss Cimpson¿s letters to Wimsey give the reader a great idea of what¿s going on. Miss Climpson is one of the sharpest women out there, and her skills are invaluable in the pursuit and catching of the murderer (yes, it¿s murder that happens¿it¿s just the matter of how and why that need clearing up, and that are so much more important). The legal jargon that Sayers uses was a bit much for me, but in all I thought this was a strong mystery. It¿s maybe not as good as some of Sayers¿s other books, but I still enjoyed it.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another interesting mystery that LPW took on just because of a casual meeting, then he couldn't stop chasing the problem. This leads to a moral dilemma. The pursuit of the killer leads to further deaths. Would it have been better for him to have left the whole mystery alone after the first death which may or may not have been natural? Poor Lord Peter, always on the verge of depression. Fortunately a version of the famous cattery is featured. That's become my favorite part of Sayers' books.
BenBennetts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The least satisfying and most cliched of Sayers's novels. Full review to follow.
atimco on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An elderly woman, bedridden in the later stages of terminal cancer, dies suddenly and unexpectedly at her country home, attended only by her niece and a hired nurse. Her doctor is puzzled, but his suspicions seem groundless and no inquest is held. Three years later, Lord Peter Wimsey learns of the case and decides to investigate. In this 1927 mystery by Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter is determined to discover if Agatha Dawson's death was natural ¿ or unnatural. The case is cold and there doesn't seem to be either a motive or opportunity for foul play. But something isn't right. What really happened? Well, this is a murder mystery, so of course we know it's murder. The method of murder itself, while theoretically brilliant, is not actually physically possible as Sayers describes it. (She took a little heat for that, actually, and it does weaken the whole set-up. I'm glad I didn't know anything about it beforehand so I could enjoy the story.) Plotwise, things are a little forced, especially once the elaborate set-up of a gang is introduced. As is typical in many mysteries of this period, there is some incidentally racist material, which is generally expressed by the characters and is not, I think, indicative of the attitude of the narrator. Indeed, Sayers seems to sneer at the way the "black gang" idea is seized upon with such unthinking acceptance and revulsion by the main newspapers and their readers. Miss Climpson is along for the adventure this time, and who couldn't love her? She is so much fun, with her prim old-maidishness that is surprisingly flexible and insightful. She is a quick thinker, very observant, and I think she and Miss Marple would get along swimmingly. I love when she pops up in the Lord Peter stories!I read this in a day and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes, some of the plot points are a bit strained and eventually things get a little over the top, but it's a highly entertaining over-the-top, and Sayers' characters are unfailingly fascinating. My one quibble with Dorothy Sayers is this: she didn't write enough Lord Peter novels. I'm close to the end of her oeuvre, and I'll be sad to finish it off (ha ha). But then, of course, one can always reread.
JaneSteen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Where I got the book: My bookshelf. A re-read. Well I've already failed in my attempt to re-read the Wimsey books in order, because I always thought Clouds of Witness came AFTER Unnatural Death. Wimsey seems younger in the latter, somehow. The Wimsey books, in general, are superb examples of Golden Age detective fiction: intricate plots which give you all the clues on the page and yet count on misdirection to keep you guessing. The plot of Unnatural Death seems to arise from a question: do doctors ever suspect wrongdoing around their patients' deaths? Wimsey meets such a doctor by chance, and sets about investigating the slightly premature decease of an old lady who refused to make her will. There are three interesting points I'd like to note about this book. First, the initial signs of Wimsey's transformation into the godlike figure of the later books are there, notably in the hints about his vast experience of women and skill as a lover. Not to mention his ability to climb drainpipes and locate a body in a large expanse of countryside. Second, we see the hammering home of a theme Sayers weaves through the Wimsey novels: what right does Wimsey have to go around detecting given that his interfering inevitably seems to result in more deaths? I love the way Sayers makes her detective think about the internal logic of detective novels. Third, Sayers gets to tackle the topic of LESBIANS without actually being able to clarify that point to the reader, since the book was written in the 1920s and homosexuality could only be hinted at in the broadest manner. It always makes me laugh that the main "proof" of the villain's same-sex preference is that she doesn't fancy Wimsey. Nice to be so irresistible. Black marks on this book, always quoted by Sayers' critics, are her casual use of racially offensive terms; but the reader needs to remember that this kind of speech was the norm in her day, and if anything she shows greater sympathy toward non-Christians or non-whites than many writers of her time. Clouds of Witness now loaded on my Kindle. Onward!
dknippling on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think this is the first appearance of Miss Climpson. Huzzah! I like her. Nerves of steel under a pile of tea-stained lace doilies.
MrsLee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Recently re-read this with a group. It is a fine example of Lord Peter Wimsey. Not a lot of Bunter in it. The mystery is not difficult to solve, but the characters involved are interesting and fun to follow along in their detecting. Introduces Miss Climpson.
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Question his interference. He will at least be sparred his usual angst at the end sawyer was stuck with his trying to get a murder and not the desth penalty and often by passes the result so as to avoid reminding ever one that shell shock trama can return in whose body the psychiatrist gives his a sound reason for why it returns very sensuble and accurate for that time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She smiled at him.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smiles
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im there