What a stunt! But it serves to demonstrate there there’s always more than meets the eye in a mystery—or at least there can be, since in this book Sayers narrator does not permit the reader to see into Peter’s mind which seems mildly unfair. On the other hand, it does keep one reading if only to be told what Peter was holding back, and, as I said, two hundred more pages in the story. Anyway, with Peter’s mad dash across the Continent, the case the reader thought was solved goes in a new direction and Lord Peter is revealed to be not nearly the daft loony he pretends. The trick’s on the reader, I suppose, and should be considered part of the fun, if not Sayers’ own exploration of the genre’s possibilities, but it’s a definite challenge for any reader who thinks she can get to the solution before Lord Peter himself. Sorry, not going to happen in this one. I’m glad Sayers gives up this particular trick.
The spinning of the plot, as I call it, does start immediately with the opening exchange.
“What in the world, Wimsey, are you doing in this Morgue?” demanded Captain Fentiman. . .
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it that,” retorted Wimsey amiably. “Funeral Parlour at the very least. Look at the furnishings. Look at the palms and the chaste bronze nude in the corner.”
“Yes, and look at the corpses. Place always reminds me of that old thing in Punch, you know—‘Waiter, take away Lord Watsisname, he’s been dead two days’ . . .”
Maybe I’m naive, but this exchanged produced in me a slight disorientation—Where are we?--then an amused admiration, for in fact, as these two pals soon discover, there is a corpse among all those nearly motionless, but still breathing, members of the Bellona Club—and it’s no obvious corpse either, slumped into a heap on the floor. Rather it’s General Fentiman’s corpse, dead in situ, sitting up just as he always does in his regular leather chair reading his paper. Has he really been like that for two days? Did no one notice his dying? How very strange! (I do admit to loving the way Sayers’ casually drops her corpses into the most unexpected places.) Anyway, it’s this situation that presents a pretty little problem referred to above. It sets up a nice little thematic contrast between Peter’s high energy—frivolous and otherwise—and the eternal stillness of the old boys hanging out in silence at the Bellona Club. It’s a contrast to keep in mind when reading this book, as Lord Peter spins in all sorts of directions, but what looks like an irrelevant aside is all brought neatly together for the final solution.
Finally, I’d like to say something about this business of “Unpleasantness” of the title. Is this merely a display of Sayers’ humorous social satire or something else? She does repeat the word “unpleasant” often enough in the novel to be noticeable, e.g. with regard to the general’s death (the most obvious “unpleasantness”) but also the noisy intrusion of Bunter and his camera taking photographs of the scene as well as the police asking awkward questions of club members, the phones being out of order, the staff changing their hours, and so on. The murder takes place on Armistice Day, by the way, which back in the twenties represented more than just a bank holiday—the Great War in all its horror, lingering suffering, and social upheaval—was fresh in living memory. Lord Peter, as you recall, himself still suffers bouts of “shell shock” (PTSD) as does Robert’s brother George. Despite Peter's episodes of silliness (such episodes have decreased in this, her fourth book), most readers don’t miss the darker cast of this mystery. Anyway, I think “unpleasantness” is meant less as a comment on stuffiness of the old Edwardian men’s club than as an ironic thread woven throughout the web of this story, signallling Sayer's awareness of her own frivolity in writing mysteries about the untimely death of sick old people (recall the victim in An Unnatural Death) while the rest of Europe mourns the loss of so many young men from war. Such elements, for me, give Sayers her special punch.