Have His Carcase, Dorothy Sayers

Poor old Have His Carcase! I read it in a bad temper in 2009 and wrote a terse little post about it that didn’t come close to giving it its due. This time around, the normal thing happened, which is that I grabbed it to read while I was brushing my teeth, became addicted, and ended up reading all three Vane-Wimsey books. (Not Busman’s Honeymoon, I don’t like the mystery in that one.) Having just finished Gaudy Night, I am sorry that I criticized Peter for pestering Harriet to marry him. He is actually quite a good character, and for fictional characters in a series of detective novels, Harriet and Peter have quite an impressively good relationship: complex without making the reader feel she’s being strung along (neither avoiding nor amping up the emotions), plus they obviously really enjoy each other’s company. Enjoy each other’s company! Other writers, make note.

Mystery writer Harriet Vane discovers a body while on vacation in Wilvercombe, and Peter Wimsey, friend and detective and would-be husband, comes along to detect things with her. This is the only book when the two of them really get to have sumptuous fun detecting things, and I love seeing them work together. All the suspects have alibis in varying levels of suspiciousness. All the elements of the case are like something out of a trashy adventure novel: too absurd to be believable, or too humdrum to be bothered with.

Please forget everything I said in my stroppy mood in 2009, if you read it then. Have His Carcase is excellent. The mystery is complicated and unintelligible right to the end, but then it has a tidy solution. Meanwhile there are so many good character moments for Peter and Harriet! Strong Poison shows them together a few times, and of course a number of things happen in Gaudy Night, but Have His Carcase is the book where they spend the most time together. You see exactly why they like to be around each other, and exactly why Harriet won’t let it become something more.

WHO I LOVE. I made that clear, right? I LOVE THEM. Or, well, I love Harriet, and the fact that Peter falls in love with her and she likes being around him makes me like him better than I otherwise might. Harriet Vane is one of my favorite characters in all of literature. She makes me like all sorts of things I wouldn’t necessarily like in the normal way of things: claret-colored frocks (just kidding, I would look amazing in a claret-colored frock), the name Harriet (let’s face it, you wouldn’t have wanted to be friends with Harriet the Spy), Sheridan le Fanu (well…probably! One day! When I try him!), punting (ditto), sonnets, etc. Harriet Vane! She is the best! In her claret-colored frock! (She bought a claret-colored frock! Never ever able to stop myself from having a teeny little squeeee about this.)

(That’s right. I don’t care for sonnets. I just don’t care for them.)

If you are thinking of taking up Dorothy Sayers, I direct you to Strong Poison. If you don’t love it, read Have His Carcase. If you don’t like that, you must be crazy but nevertheless, read Gaudy Night. Have His Carcase is a damn enjoyable book, but one of the enduringly nicest things about it is that you finish it and you get to ready Gaudy Night. Oh Gaudy Night! Oh Gaudy Night and your beautiful exploration of gender and your just general beautifulness! I cannot fathom how anyone could read Gaudy Night and not love it to shreds. It’s one of my favorite books in all the land, and what’s even better, it’s one of those books I can reread almost any time and love it. I’m rereading it now. God it’s good.

What book am I supposed to be talking about again? Have His Carcase? In sum, Harriet gets a claret-colored frock, and the murder might be a suicide. Don’t live a Harriet-Vane-less life. A Harriet-Vane-ful life is better.

See also:

things mean a lot
Stella Matutina
Ela’s Book Blog
Notes from the North
Becky’s Book Reviews

Tell me if I missed yours!

  • I had a claret-coloured frock when I was 12, with a lace collar I shudder to add. This was a time when my mother was insisting on having a heavy hand in my buying decisions. My goodness me, it is good to be grown-up sometimes. So, to the book: is this the one with the guy and his slit throat atop a rock? I think I have read that one, also many moons ago, and I remember it as good. Love what you say about the relationship between Harriet and Peter – so true, so pertinent. There is nothing funner in books than being with characters who are enjoying each other’s company and showing it.

    • Mm, I think a lace collar would not be present on the claret-colored frock of my imagination. :p Yes, this is the one with the guy and his slit throat atop the rock, and you remember it accurately as good. Not as good as Gaudy Night but then, what is?

  • Now I want to read them all again! (Including Busman’s Honeymoon, because even though I agree that the mystery isn’t the best I love it as a love story that goes beyond the usual “happy ever after). Jodie has my copy of this one at the moment, but once she’s done with it I think a re-read is in order.

    (If you see this comment, Jodie, it’s not meant to rush you AT ALL! Take your time; I want you to read them when you’re in the right mood for them and love them as much as the rest of us do.)

    • Yes, see, that’s the thing about Busman’s Honeymoon. I like all the stuff with Peter and Harriet — aw, I love it when she buys him that John Donne manuscript — but I actively dislike the mystery, to the point where I almost never reread the book. :/ I keep hoping I’ll have a Diana Wynne Jones-style breakthrough with it someday.

  • To add to what litlove said: The WORST thing is when fictional characters are in love, madly! but they never have any conversations which indicate any meeting of minds or delight in the other’s company. I cannot buy into characters like that. Their relationships are as dust to me.

    You don’t like sonnets, really? I love sonnets, I love their clever clever structure. Madeleine L’Engle wrote a book called A Winter’s Love and the girl in it wrote a sonnet that I was sort of ridiculously fond of. It’s not about Love, it’s about an historical character who’s about to be executed.

    • As dust to me also, Mumsy darling. I’m all for mad passions but they must be backed up by a shared sense of humor in order to please me.

      I do not like sonnets and I never have. It makes me feel rather a Philistine.

  • I tried to read these out of order, and was hopelessly unhappy! I read Gaudy Night first, and had such a hard time figuring out what the heck was going on with the characters! It sounds like I need to go back and begin at the beginning. They sound like books that I would really love and get a lot out of, and I trust your opinion implicitly. I also now want a claret colored frock, and seek to find one. The things that a great book can turn you one to are just amazing! This was a great review, by the way.

    P.S.- I don’t like sonnets either.

    • Of course you would be unhappy! If only you had consulted me I’d have told you not to read them out of order. Start with Strong Poison and you will fare much better. Ask Ana! She voiced the idea that she might read these books out of order and I basically screamed NOOOOOO until she changed her mind. :p

  • What a timely post! Rereading Gaudy Night sounds exactly like what I want to be doing right now. I love reading other people gush over Harriet and Peter, I feel like they deserve the attention.

    A claret-colored frock sounds deliciously decadent. It reminds me of how I have wanted a yellow silk gown ever since reading Anne of the Island, when Aunt Jimsie says it would be just like wearing sunshine.

    • Aaa, I can’t believe it took me a month to approve this. I suck, I’m sorry. I was not ignoring you! I am just dumb.

      DUDE. I HAVE GOT a yellow silk dress. My lovely friend got it for me. It’s miles too fancy to wear to any event to which I have so far been invited, but when the correct event occurs, I will be ready. It’s the most gorgeous dress and it IS like wearing sunshine. It is sort of like Kate Hudson’s dress in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, except a brighter yellow. Aaaaaa, it’s so pretty.

      …But I still want a claret-colored frock.

      • Ohmygosh, I am so jealous! Kate Hudson’s dress was the best part of that movie. I have spent years looking for the perfect yellow silk dress and have yet to find one that meets my expectations. Claret frocks remind me of Samantha’s taffeta Christmas dress (of American Girl fame). I COVETED that dress.

        • Now that I have the beautiful silky Kate Hudsony dress (absolutely the best part of that movie), I’ve gotten embarrassed about how much I don’t look like Kate Hudson and thus don’t necessarily deserve the dress. :/

          I know what dress you’re talking about! I liked that one but I liked Felicity’s dresses a bit better. A bit, a smidge. I liked both.

  • Thanks for the gushing review, Jenny! I want to read ‘Have his Carcase’ now! I want to do a Dorothy Sayers reading festival and read all her mysteries from the start to the end 🙂

    • That sounds fun! I’d like to do that too but I don’t own all of them (yet). I want to get a big collection of all the Peter Wimsey short stories, because I don’t think I’ve ever read any of the short stories. Just the novels!

  • The only Dorothy L Sayers I’ve read is Busman’s Honeymoon, which was a few years ago for bookclub. I wasn’t overimpressed with it, but I’ve heard Strong Poison and Gaudy Night are worth trying – I’ll add this one to the list, too.

    • It’s by far the weakest one of her books I’ve read, if that makes you feel any better about it. Strong Poison, this, and Gaudy Night are by far the best — Busman’s Honeymoon is mainly (in my opinion) good for the fan-service-y Peter and Harriet bits (which aren’t any fun for you if you haven’t read the previous books about them), not for the mystery (which is quite lame).

  • I need to re-read me some Sayers. I love the vintage quality of the settings, and of course, Lord Peter and Harriet Vane.

    • Yes, aren’t they wonderful? 🙂

  • One of these days I am going to read Dorothy Sayers… I have had the first book out from the library a couple times, but haven’t managed to read it.

    • I hope you are able to read it soon! It’s so good, I swear!

  • DUDE. Lord Peter is not that great. I have now read at least two (possibly three?) books that feature him and am completely unimpressed. I do not understand what Harriet Vane would see in him and I just can NOT motivate myself to read more in this series.

    • Oh Aarti! If you had started by reading the books with Harriet Vane you would like him better. I swear that you would. The books that don’t include Harriet Vane aren’t any more a series than the Hercule Poirot books, so you don’t NEED to read those ones in order. Skip them all and read Strong Poison, I swear. Harriet Vane’s liking Peter will make you like him more. And his falling in love with Harriet will make you like him more also.

  • I first met Harriet Vane via a stage adaptation of STRONG POISON, and there was this dream sequencey bit where Lord Peter fantasizes about Harriet in a claret-coloured frock. It was a lovely bit. It made me want a claret-coloured frock, too. (Not that I didn’t already. I love me some claret-coloured things.)

    Harriet Vane also made me curious about punting. (Well, her and the cast of TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Conne Willis.) I wanted to try it when I went to Christchurch, but it turns out punting is quite expensive and you have to have someone punt for you. You cannot punt for yourself. So I went kayaking instead, on the same river as the punters and their passengers. It was much cheaper, and it gave my arms a fun and satisfying workout.

    • I know, isn’t claret a good word for a color?

      Can you really not punt for yourself? As in days of yore? I mean, I wouldn’t know how, but if someone taught me, would I still not be able to punt for myself? 🙁 Kayaks are fun but not as cool as punts, for punts are much like gondolas.

      • I don’t think Christchurch trusts punters (as in, people who opperate punts, not British consumers) not to ram them into the riverbank and/or the ducks and/or and/or other small boats. 🙁 They have gentlemen and ladies in striped waistcoats and flat-topped straw hats who work the punts and give tours of Christchurch at the same time. The bits of Christchurch you can see from the river, that is. I did that for myself, from my kayak.

        I should specify that this is the Christchurch in New Zealand. I’m not sure if the Christchurch in the UK lets you punt for yourself. I’d hope they would, since punting is a time-honoured tradition immortalized in literature and film, but there’s no accounting for how people treat these things.

  • trapunto

    I do not know what color claret is, but I imagine it as burgundy. But if it were burgundy, why wouldn’t it be called “burgundy?” How many colors can a grape be?

    I have seen the BBC adaptations and read Strong Poison, but the rest are ahead of me. Yay! Your review makes me excited.

    • Claret is a deep red, but I think lighter than burgundy. I also always think of burgundy as a slightly purpler red than claret. I mean I like burgundy also! But I like claret better AND it is fun to say. It makes your tongue do a pleasing little click.

      I’m excited for you! They’re so good! You will love them so!

  • *light bulb* when I dipped into these, years ago, I didn’t know there was an order and reacted much like Aarti. Maybe I should begin with Strong Poison, too.

    • Yes, you should! There is an order and it must be respected!

  • Ela

    Laughed (sorry!) at your mention of Wolverhampton, Jenny, since it’s in the middle of the country and doesn’t have a coast! Wilvercombe (an entirely imaginary place) is where the mystery happens.

    And I agree entirely about Busman’s Honeymoon – Sayers wrote it originally as a play and later turned it into a novel, which explains a lot, I think.

    You can punt for yourself in Oxford and Cambridge (you may be able to do it at other places but I’ve only been punting there) in the UK. There is indeed a lot of to and fro-ing across the river if you’re not an expert… I don’t think anyone punts in Christchurch, UK, since the rivers flowing into the harbour are tidal.

    Oh, and nice review!

    • *facepalm* I am dumb and wrote this very late at night and wasn’t paying attention.. Fixed it now.

      I really want to give punting a try! After, of course, being instructed by someone who is a good punter, and probably doing it very early in the morning so as to avoid bashing into more experienced punters and sinking them.

  • HUGE fan of Harriet & Lord Peter here! Gaudy Night is one of my all time favorite books ever. I think I am way overdue for a reread. Great post!

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