Have His Carcase, p.1Part #7 of Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers
Have His Carcase
Dorothy L. Sayers
First published in Great Britain in 1932 by Victor Gollancz Ltd
First published in paperback by New English Library in 1974
Hodder and Stoughton: An Hachette Livre UK Company
Introduction © Susan Elizabeth George 2003
The right of Dorothy L. Sayers to be identified as the Author
of the Work has been asserted in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any
means without the prior written permission of the publisher,
nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other
than that in which it is published and without a similar
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title
is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 978 1 848 94374 2
Book ISBN 978 0 450 02712 3
Hodder and Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK Company
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
In The Five Red Herrings, the plot was invented to fit a real locality; in this book, the locality has been invented to fit the plot. Both places and people are entirely imaginary.
All the quotations at the chapter heads have been taken from T. L. Beddoes.
My grateful acknowledgements are due to Mr John Rhode, who gave me generous help with all the hard bits.
Dorothy L. Sayers
I. The Evidence of the Corpse
II. The Evidence of the Road
III. The Evidence of the Hotel
IV. The Evidence of the Razor
V. The Evidence of the Betrothed
VI. The Evidence of the First Barber
VII. The Evidence of the Gigolos
VIII. The Evidence of the Second Barber
IX. The Evidence of the Flat-Iron
X. The Evidence of the Police-Inspector
XI. The Evidence of the Fisherman
XII. The Evidence of the Bride’s Son
XIII. Evidence of Trouble Somewhere
XIV. The Evidence of the Third Barber
XV. The Evidence of the Ladylove and the Landlady
XVI. The Evidence of the Sands
XVII. The Evidence of the Money
XVIII. The Evidence of the Snake
XIX. The Evidence of the Disguised Motorist
XX. The Evidence of the Lady in the Car
XXI. The Evidence of the Inquest
XXII. The Evidence of the Mannequin
XXIII. The Evidence of the Theatrical Agent
XXIV. The Evidence of the L.C.C. Teacher
XXV. The Evidence of the Dictionary
XXVI. The Evidence of the Bay Mare
XXVII. The Evidence of the Fisherman’s Grandson
XXVIII. The Evidence of the Cipher
XXIX. The Evidence of the Letter
XXX. The Evidence of the Gentleman’s Gentleman
XXXI. The Evidence of the Haberdasher’s Assistant
XXXII. The Evidence of the Family Tree
XXXIII. Evidence of What Should Have Happened
XXXIV. Evidence of What Did Happen
Lord Peter Wimsey Title
Lord Peter Wimsey Biography
I came to the wonderful detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers in a way that would probably make that distinguished novelist spin in her grave. Years ago, actor Ian Carmichael starred in the film productions of a good chunk of them, which I eventually saw on my public television station in Huntington Beach, California. I recall the host of the show reciting the impressive, salient details of Sayers’ life and career – early female graduate of Oxford, translator of Dante, among other things – and I was much impressed. But I was even more impressed with her delightful sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and I soon sought out her novels.
Because I had never been – and still am not today – a great reader of detective fiction, I had not heard of this marvellous character. I quickly became swept up in everything about him: from his foppish use of language to his family relations. In very short order, I found myself thoroughly attached to Wimsey, to his calm and omnipresent manservant Bunter, to the Dowager Duchess of Denver (was ever there a more deliciously alliterative title?), to the stuffy Duke and the unbearable Duchess of Denver, to Viscount St. George, to Charles Parker, to Lady Mary. . . . In Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels, I found the sort of main character I loved when I turned to fiction: someone with a ‘real’ life, someone who wasn’t just a hero who conveniently had no relations to mess up the workings of the novelist’s plot.
Dorothy L. Sayers, as I discovered, had much to teach me both as a reader and as a future novelist. While many detective novelists from the Golden Age of mystery kept their plots pared down to the requisite crime, suspects, clues, and red herrings, Sayers did not limit herself to so limited a canvas in her work. She saw the crime and its ensuing investigation as merely the framework for a much larger story, the skeleton – if you will – upon which she could hang the muscles, organs, blood vessels and physical features of a much larger tale. She wrote what I like to call the tapestry novel, a book in which the setting is realised (from Oxford, to the dramatic coast of Devon, to the flat bleakness of the Fens), in which throughout both the plot and the subplots the characters serve functions surpassing that of mere actors on the stage of the criminal investigation, in which themes are explored, in which life and literary symbols are used, in which allusions to other literature abound. Sayers, in short, did what I call ‘taking no prisoners’ in her approach to the detective novel. She did not write down to her readers; rather, she assumed that her readers would rise to her expectations of them.
I found in her novels a richness that I had not previously seen in detective fiction. I became absorbed in the careful application of detail that characterized her plots: whether she was educating me about bell ringing in The Nine Tailors, about the unusual uses of arsenic in Strong Poison, about the beauties of architectural Oxford in Gaudy Night. She wrote about everything from cryptology to vinology, making unforgettable that madcap period between wars that marked the death of an overt class system and heralded the beginning of an insidious one.
What continues to be remarkable about Sayers’ work, however, is her willingness to explore the human condition. The passions felt by characters created eighty years ago are as real today as they were then. The motives behind people’s behavior are no more complex now than they were in 1923 when Lord Peter Wimsey took his first public bow. Times have changed, rendering Sayers’ England in so many ways unrecognizable to today’s reader. But one of the true pleasures inherent to picking up a Sayers novel now is to see how the times in which we live alter our perceptions of the world around us, while doing nothing at all to alter the core of our humanity.
When I first began my own career as a crime novelist, I told people that I would rest content if my name was ever mentioned positively in the same sentence as that of Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m pleased to say that that occurred with the publication of my first novel. If I ever come close to offering the reader the details and delights that Sayers offered in her Wimsey novels, I shall consider myself a success indeed.
Huntington Beach, California
May 27, 2003
THE EVIDENCE OF THE CORPSE
‘The track was slippery with spouting blood.’
Thursday, 18 June
The best remedy for a bruised heart is not, as so many people seem to think, repose upon a manly bosom. Much more efficacious are honest work, physical activity, and the sudden acquisition of wealth. After being acquitted of murdering her lover, and, indeed, in consequence of that acquittal, Harriet Vane found all three specifics abundantly at her disposal; and although Lord Peter Wimsey, with a touching faith in tradition, persisted day in and day out in presenting the bosom for her approval, she showed no inclination to recline upon it.
Work she had in abundance. To be tried for murder is a fairly good advertisement for a writer of detective fiction. Harriet Vane thrillers were booming. She had signed up sensational contracts in both continents, and found herself, consequently, a very much richer woman than she had ever dreamed of becoming. In the interval between finishing Murder by Degrees and embarking on The Fountain-Pen Mystery, she had started off on a solitary walking-tour: plenty of exercise, no responsibilities and no letters forwarded. The time was June, the weather, perfect; and if she now and again gave a thought to Lord Peter Wimsey diligently ringing up an empty flat, it did not trouble her, or cause her to alter her steady course along the south-west coast of England.
On the morning of the 18th June, she set out from Lesston Hoe with the intention of walking along the cliffs to Wilvercombe, sixteen miles away. Not that she particularly looked forward to Wilvercombe, with its seasonal population of old ladies and invalids and its subdued attempts at the gay life, seeming somehow themselves all a little invalid and old-ladyish. But the town made a convenient objective, and one could always choose some more rural spot for a night’s lodging. The coast-road ran pleasantly at the top of a low range of cliffs, from which she could look down upon the long yellow stretch of the beach, broken here and there by scattered rocks, which rose successively, glistening in the sunlight, from the reluctant and withdrawing tide.
Overhead, the sky arched up to an immense dome of blue, just fretted here and there with faint white clouds, very high and filmy. The wind blew from the west, very softly, though the weather-wise might have detected in it a tendency to freshen. The road, narrow and in poor repair, was almost deserted, all the heavy traffic passing by the wider arterial road which ran importantly inland from town to town, despising the windings of the coast with its few scattered hamlets. Here and there a drover passed her with his dog, man and beast alike indifferent and preoccupied; here and there a couple of horses out at grass lifted shy and foolish eyes to look after her; here and there a herd of cows, rasping their jawbones upon a stone wall, greeted her with heavy snufflings. From time to time the white sail of a fishing-boat broke the seaward horizon. Except for an occasional tradesman’s van, or a dilapidated Morris, and the intermittent appearance of white smoke from a distant railway-engine, the landscape was as rural and solitary as it might have been two hundred years before.
Harriet walked sturdily onwards, the light pack upon her shoulders interfering little with her progress. She was twenty-eight years old, dark, slight, with a skin naturally a little sallow, but now tanned to an agreeable biscuit-colour by sun and wind. Persons of this fortunate complexion are not troubled by midges and sunburn, and Harriet, though not too old to care for her personal appearance, was old enough to prefer convenience to outward display. Consequently, her luggage was not burdened by skin-creams, insect-lotion, silk frocks, portable electric irons or other impedimenta beloved of the ‘Hikers’ Column’. She was dressed sensibly in a short skirt and thin sweater and carried, in addition to a change of linen and an extra provision of footwear, little else beyond a pocket edition of Tristram Shandy, a vest-pocket camera, a small first-aid outfit and a sandwich lunch.
It was about a quarter to one when the matter of the lunch began to loom up importantly in Harriet’s mind. She had come about eight miles on her way to Wilvercombe, having taken things easily and made a detour to inspect certain Roman remains declared by the guide-book to be ‘of considerable interest’. She began to feel both weary and hungry, and looked about her for a suitable lunching-place.
The tide was nearly out now, and the wet beach shimmered golden and silvery in the lazy noonlight. It would be pleasant, she thought, to go down to the shore – possibly even to bathe, though she did not feel too certain about that, having a wholesome dread of unknown shores and eccentric currents. Still, there was no harm in going to see. She stepped over the low wall which bounded the road on the seaward side and set about looking for a way down. A short scramble among the rocks tufted with scabious and sea-pink brought her easily down to the beach. She found herself in a small cove, comfortably screened from the wind by an outstanding mass of cliff, and with a few convenient boulders against which to sit. She selected the cosiest spot, drew out her lunch and Tristram Shandy, and settled down.
There is no more powerful lure to slumber than hot sunshine on a sea-beach after lunch; nor is the pace of Tristram Shandy so swift as to keep the faculties working at high pressure. Harriet found the book escaping from her fingers. Twice she caught it back with a jerk; the third time it eluded her altogether. Her head drooped over at an unbecoming angle. She dozed off.
She was awakened suddenly by what seemed to be a shout or cry almost in her ear. As she sat up, blinking, a gull swooped close over her head, squawking and hovering over a stray fragment of sandwich. She shook herself reprovingly and glanced at her wrist-watch. It was two o’clock. Realising with satisfaction that she could not have slept very long, she scrambled to her feet, and shook the crumbs from her lap. Even now, she did not feel very energetic, and there was plenty of time to make Wilvercombe before evening. She glanced out to sea, where a long belt of shingle and a narrow strip of virgin and shining sand stretched down to the edge of the water.
There is something about virgin sand which arouses all the worst instincts of the detective-story writer. One feels an irresistible impulse to go and make footprints all over it. The excuse which the professional mind makes to itself is that the sand affords a grand opportunity for observation and experiment. Harriet was no stranger to this impulse. She determined to walk out across that tempting strip of sand. She gathered her various belongings together and started off across the loose shingle, observing, as she had often observed before, that footsteps left no distinguishable traces in the arid region above high-water mark.
Soon, a little belt of broken shells and half-dry seaweed showed that the tide-mark had been reached.
‘I wonder,’ said Harriet to herself, ‘whether I ought to be able to deduce something or other about the state of the tides. Let me see. When the tide is at neaps, it doesn’t rise or fall so far as when it is at springs. Therefore, if that is the case, there ought to be two seaweedy marks – one quite dry and farther in, showing the highest point of spring tides, and one damper and farther down, showing today’s best effort.’ She glanced backwards and forwards. ‘No; this is the only tide-mark. I deduce, therefore, that I have arrived somewhere about the top of springs, if that’s the proper phrase. Perfectly simple, my dear Watson. Below tide-mark, I begin to make definite footprints. There are no others anywhere, so that I must be the only person who has patronised this beach since last high tide, which would be about – ah! yes, there’s the difficulty. I know there should be about twelve hours between one high tide and the next, b
She capered a few paces accordingly, noticing the greater depth of the toe-prints and the little spurt of sand thrown out at each step. This outburst of energy brought her round the point of the cliff and into a much larger bay, the only striking feature of which was a good-sized rock, standing down at the sea’s edge, on the other side of the point. It was roughly triangular in shape, standing about ten feet out of the water, and seemed to be crowned with a curious lump of black seaweed.
A solitary rock is always attractive. All right-minded people feel an overwhelming desire to scale and sit upon it. Harriet made for it without any mental argument, trying to draw a few deductions as she went.
‘Is that rock covered at high tide? Yes, of course, or it wouldn’t have seaweed on top. Besides, the slope of the shore proves it. I wish I was better at distances and angles, but I should say it would be covered pretty deep. How odd that it should have seaweed only in that lump at the top. You’d expect it to be at the foot, but the sides seem quite bare, nearly down to the water. I suppose it is seaweed. It’s very peculiar. It looks almost more like a man lying down; is it possible for seaweed to be so very – well, so very localised?’
She gazed at the rock with a faint stirring of curiosity, and went on talking aloud to herself, as was her rather irritating habit.
‘I’m dashed if it isn’t a man lying down. What a silly place to choose. He must feel like a bannock on a hot girdle. I could understand it if he was a sun-bathing fan, but he seems to have got all his clothes on. A dark suit at that. He’s very quiet. He’s probably fallen asleep. If the tide comes in at all fast, he’ll be cut off, like the people in the silly magazine stories. Well, I’m not going to rescue him. He’ll have to take his socks off and paddle, that’s all. There’s plenty of time yet.’
Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes