- Whose Body (1923)
- Clouds of Witness (1926)
- Unnatural Death (1927)
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
- Strong Poison (1930)
- Five Red Herrings (1931)
- Have His Carcase (1932)
- Murder Must Advertise (1933)
- The Nine Tailors (1934)
- Gaudy Night (1935)
- Busman's Honeymoon (1937)
- Lord Peter--The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories, 2nd Edition (1972) which gathers together all 21 Wimsey stories found in Lord Peter Views the Body (1928), Hangman's Holiday (1933), In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939), and Striding Folly (1972).
- OR Dorothy L. Sayers: The Compete Stories (2002), all of the above as well as 23 others
A current reviewer might well nominate Whose Body to be a starred and charming “debut” mystery by a new young writer who happens to be the daughter of an Oxford vicar (how fitting) as well as one of the first female graduates of that great university. And so we are introduced to the silly, wise-cracking Lord Peter Wimsey and his sturdy valet Mervyn (Mervyn?!) Bunter, not to mention Lord Peter’s older brother, the dim-witted aristocratic Duke of Denver, as well as their short, well padded Dowager Mum, superficially dithering but always correct, if not wise. Harriet Vane, of course, comes later.
Anyway, Lord Peter enters suffering from occasional bouts of shell shock (today’s ‘twould be named post traumatic stress disorder—PTSD) brought on by the horrors of the Great War. It was the war that brought Peter and Bunter together—Bunter being the sergeant who saved Lord Peter’s life, for which service he earned his domestic position, proving himself to be both a perfect servant as well as an almost perfect, but very skillful with the camera, assistant in detection.
Solving clever crimes is Peter’s hobby, the antidote for his PTSD, a hobby he indulges somewhat irregularly but for free whenever a particularly intriguing crime attracts his attention (often thanks to Bunter's careful reading of the papers). Always though Peter works in the shadow of his very regular policeman friend Mr. Parker, which of course provides a nice plot element for Sayers, one that allows Lord Peter (and the writer) to escape most of the boring grunt work of detection, like checking details and alibis, as well as the heavy muscle or the intricacies of law that result in actually arresting suspects. Peter focuses his brain on the puzzle of whodunit, and he's brilliant—of course. Dowager Mum helps out now and then through her aristocratic connections, while the dukely brother hunts with the hounds, drinks excellent port, hangs out in his London club, and smokes cigars. Have you noticed all the smoking that goes on in the books of this period?
Somewhere between a novella and today’s standard 258 page page-turner, Whose Body might well work simply as an amusing piece of period social satire--that is if you don't like mysteries. There's lots of lovely tongue-in-cheek cracks and repartee, poking fun at the remnants of stuffy Edwardian England. Peter, to his mother’s sighing regret, is distinctly a member of the wilder, liberated young set.P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster is clearly in the wings. I've heard that some readers don't like the twenties slang and upper-class locutions that Peter puts on when feeling silly, but I do. I suppose if Sayers were with us today, she'd appreciate some of the silly retro comedies like Mad Men or Parks and Rec and probably Lord Peter was wear the cloak of a cranky war vet and speak in the funky rhythms of the inner city or the San Fernando Valley. Sayers other obvious "influence" is Sherlock--that brilliant, bored, eccentric Victorian reincarnated for the twenties; in fact, Peter's monocle probably originates in Sherlock's magnifying glass coupled with Sherlock's fondness for disguise. Very cute.
The narrative of Whose Body launches from a thoroughly outrageous situation: I mean what would you do, if like silly Mr. Thipps, an architect hired to design a new roof for the church at Denver, you arrived home after a few days out of town on a project to find a body wearing nothing but a golden pince-nez in your bathtub? (It's that eye piece thing again!) Mr. Thipps is beside himself. It's the body of a perfect stranger! He calls the police, who bumble in and arrest him for murder. This of course delays the church roof repair, bringing the crime to the attention of the dowager, who with great charity takes in old Mrs. Thipps—now left alone what with her son’s arrest. Mrs. Thipps, deaf but not entirely dumb, asks Peter, who is languishing around with nothing to engage his active and clever brain, to please see what he can do to get her son released.
And so the riddle plot begins to spin out, in a pleasingly complicated manner, more internally complex than anything Christie ever dreamed up, which is why I like Sayers so much. Christie, you see, works mostly by misdirection, using smoke and mirrors to surprise readers by hiding the answer right there in plain sight. In the end her plots of relatively simple, if we’d only had the wit to see through the masquerade. But Sayers like her puzzles delightfully complicated, with several neatly overlapping stories that create several different but equally plausible solutions for Peter to disentangle and then knit back up. I dare you to summarize a Sayers plot in a sound bite--it's doable with Christie--or Conan Doyle for that matter. Humor, and characters, and complicated plots--what more can one ask?