Unnatural Death is the third novel in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series. Set in the early 20th century, it is a classic whodunit murder mystery that showcases the wit and intelligence of the aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey.
The story begins when Wimsey’s friend, Miss Climpson, enlists his help in investigating the sudden death of an elderly woman, Miss Agatha Dawson. The initial verdict was death by natural causes, but Miss Climpson, who has been hired by Miss Dawson’s friends to investigate the death, suspects foul play. As Lord Peter delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of deceit and murder that goes back years.
The plot of Unnatural Death is intricate and engaging, with a number of red herrings that keep the reader guessing until the end. As the investigation progresses, the suspects and their motives become increasingly complex, and it is only Wimsey’s sharp mind and analytical skills that enable him to unravel the mystery. The character of Wimsey is once again brilliantly portrayed by Sayers, as he balances his aristocratic background with his sharp wit and humor, making him a highly likable and engaging detective.
One of the key themes of the novel is the corruption of the legal system. Sayers portrays the police and the judicial system as flawed, and it is only Wimsey’s unorthodox methods that ultimately lead to the resolution of the case. This theme is explored through the character of Inspector Umpelty, who is portrayed as lazy and incompetent, and who Wimsey frequently outmaneuvers. The novel also touches on the theme of the manipulation of the vulnerable, as Miss Dawson’s death is connected to the exploitation of vulnerable young women, and the abhorrent practice of eugenics.
In addition to the plot and themes, the novel is also notable for its vivid and complex characters. Miss Climpson, for example, is a fiercely independent and intelligent woman who challenges societal norms and expectations. Similarly, Miss Dawson is portrayed as a strong and compassionate woman who dedicated her life to helping others, despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles. The characters are all multifaceted and nuanced, which adds depth and realism to the story.
Sayers’ writing style is also noteworthy, with her use of clever wordplay and humor adding an additional layer of enjoyment to the reading experience. She also uses a variety of narrative techniques, such as switching between first and third person narration, to create a sense of complexity and depth.
One of the few weaknesses of the novel is that some of the plot developments and twists may seem a bit contrived or far-fetched to modern readers. However, this is a common feature of Golden Age detective fiction, and it should not detract from the overall enjoyment of the book.
Unnatural Death is a masterfully crafted murder mystery that showcases the wit and intelligence of Lord Peter Wimsey. The complex plot, vivid characters, and engaging themes make it a must-read for fans of the Golden Age of detective fiction. Sayers’ writing style is both witty and intelligent, making for an enjoyable reading experience from start to finish. Overall, this novel is a testament to Sayers’ skill as a writer and her enduring legacy in the genre of detective fiction.