When a terminally ill woman dies much earlier than expected, Lord Peter suspects murder
Though never quick-witted, Agatha Dawson had an iron constitution and a will to fight that never abated in her old age. Even after three operations failed to rid her of her cancer, she refused to give in. But as her body began to weaken, she accused lawyers, nurses, and doctors of trying to kill her and snatch her fortune. The town physician, an expert in cancer, gives her six months to live. Three days later, she is dead. Though the autopsy reveals nothing surprising, the doctor suspects that Agatha’s niece had some hand in the old woman’s death. When Lord Peter Wimsey, the dashing gentleman detective, looks into the matter, he finds that death stalks all those who might testify. How can he continue his investigation when every question marks another innocent for murder? (from Goodreads)
Okay, so, I’m not entirely sure if this is a reread or not. It seems VERY FAMILIAR, the plot and the characters and everything, but I can’t find it listed in any of my “books read” lists. Maybe I started it and didn’t finish it?
ANYWAY, whether I’ve read it before or not: I very much enjoyed Unnatural Death. It’s an early Lord Peter mystery, so it’s lighter and less twisty than the later books. Sort of. The killings are rather brutal, and the villain is a truly terrible person, but the overall mood is lighter, know what I mean? Like, bad things were happening, but I knew it’d all work out okay, so I wasn’t tense or nervous or anything. Depending on what sort of book you like, that could be either a good or a bad thing. I happen to prefer the somewhat less complicated Lord Peter mysteries, so I really liked this one.
Miss Climpson shows up! I love Miss Climpson; I’d read a book entirely about her and the rest of the bureau solving mysteries while Lord Peter puttered around in the background or something. She’s kind of like a Miss Marple, the nosy spinster type, y’see. Unlike Miss Marple, though, Miss Climpson doesn’t annoy me. I find Miss Climpson HILARIOUS! She’s so over-the-top and yet restrained-Victorian. It’s a great combination to have in a character.
Special shout out the inclusion of several lesbian couples in this book. One couple is adorable and (apparently) spent their whole lives happy together; the other couple is manipulative and murderous and reminds me a little of Heavenly Creatures. It’s a slightly wobbly protrayal of gay people: on the one hand, happy couple, on the other, depraved homosexual trope.
To be fair (kinda), the narrative flirted a little bit with “this lady doesn’t find Lord Peter sexually attractive and thus she is evil” but never actually crossed that line (I think). I read that scene more as she was acting against her nature in order to lure Lord Peter into his death, and the lying is what tipped LP onto her villainy, but maybe I’m wrong.
Other problem: racist characters talking about racist things, though the narrative isn’t directly racist against the only non-white character I ever remember seeing in a Lord Peter mystery. Have there really never been any other non-white characters in this series? There must be at least ONE more, right?
Oh! Oh! I nearly forgot: the ending of Unnatural Death is a sneak peek into the problems Lord Peter has at the end of Busman’s Honeymoon. Being a detective isn’t all sunshine and roses. Namely, he struggles with the fact that if he hadn’t gotten involved in the mystery in Unnatural Death, at least three people would still be alive. It’s dreadful that his trying to do good caused so much harm, isn’t it?
Read: February 4-6, 2014