Book Review: The Documents in the Case

This is the fifth Dorothy Sayers mystery I’ve read, and it was different from the rest. In the first place, as the title indicates, it is not a straightforward third-person narrative. It is a series of documents (some letters, some written statements) regarding a man’s mysterious death. In the second place, it is the only book which Sayers co-wrote. And in the third place, it does not involve Sayers’s famous detective, Peter Wimsey.

For all the unusualness, it was an interesting read. The earliest of the documents begins well before the man’s death, so the death itself does not take place until nearly halfway through the book. There are a few places where the narrative lags, but I’ve come to appreciate these places in Sayers’s books. They are where she (in the words of her characters) tends to make her most thought-provoking statements about the nature of human existence. For example, this conversation took place near the end of the book between Perry, a priest and Matthews, a biologist:

“So here we all are. I never thought you’d stick to it, Perry. Which has made your job hardest–the War or people like us?”

“The War,” said Perry, immediately. “It has taken the heart out of people.”

“Yes. It showed things up a bit,” said Matthews. “Made it hard to believe in anything.”

“No,” replied the priest. “Made it easy to believe and difficult not to believe–in anything. Just anything. They believe in everything in a languid sort of way–in you, in me, in Waters [a chemist], in Hoskyns [a physicist], in mascots, in spiritualism, in education, in the daily papers–why not? It’s easier, and the various things cancel out, and so make it unnecessary to take any definite steps in any direction.” (200-201)

If you are a fan of Sayers, you’ll enjoy this book. But for those who are just starting with Sayers, I’d recommend beginning with a book that has Peter Wimsey in it.

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