Setting: 1920s, C20th, Interwar Europe
‘O, Who hath done this deed?’ – Othello
Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice.
After solving the mystery of Whose Body Lord Peter Wimsey holidays in the wilds of Corsica, but, tiring of the rustic and wanting a bit of luxury he heads to Paris where he gets the shocking news that his brother, the Duke of Denver, has been arrested for murder. And the victim was Denis Cathcart, his sister’s fiancée. Wimsey heads for home straight away, and together with Inspector Parker he begins to investigate what actually happened.
The title of this book
alludes to Hebrews 12:1: “we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” In solving the mystery, Lord Peter’s problem is the opposite of the usual case: rather than having too few clues to go on, there are too many, and Peter pursues several avenues that turn out to be false before hitting on what really happened.
For me, however, the plot takes second place. I enjoyed the plot and figuring out what had happened, but I loved the characters, and the way the story was told.
And the conversation between the characters is just perfect. Read what Sir Impey has to say about “the truth”, is this not the perfect example of a lawyer
“Damn it all, we want to get at the truth!”
“Do you?” said Sir Impey drily. “I don’t. I don’t care twopence about the truth. I want a case. It doesn’t matter to me who killed Cathcart, provided I can prove it wasn’t Denver. It’s really enough if I can throw reasonable doubt on its being Denver…”
While I merely enjoyed the first in this series, I really loved this book, although I felt that Lord Wimsey himself wasn’t quite such a complex character. The effects of the war on him came across as less pronounced, but, that is understandable. After all, if you’d read the first book then you would be well aware of his PTSD and of the origin of the relationship between himself and Bunter.
In many ways this reminded me of Georgette Heyer’s romances; both authors have a wonderful turn of phrase and can portray a certain character in just a few short sentences. We also get to see how important class and standing are. And of course, honour and a man’s word.
“I’m presumed innocent, aren’t I, till they prove me guilty? I call it a disgrace. Here’s a murder committed, and they aren’t taking the slightest trouble to find the real criminal. I give ‘em my word of honour, to say nothin’ of an oath, that I didn’t kill Cathcat – though, mind you, the swine deserved it – but they pay no attention. Meanwhile, the real man’s escapin’ at his confounded leisure. If only I were free, I’d make a fuss about it.”
I really should have ordered book 3 before I read this one shouldn’t I?