|The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club /|
Dorothy L. Sayers
NEL Books, 1981, c1928
This entry in the series is quick moving, with a mystifying murder, many suspects, and Peter and Bunter are on top of the whole mix.
As it opens, Lord Peter is at his club, the Bellona. It's the old joke; so many of the ancient men who sit reading papers all day might as well be dead. In this case, General Fentiman is discovered to be dead behind his paper, by both Peter and one of Fentiman's heirs who has just been talking with Peter.
The race to figure out this strange decease begins. There are a number of likely suspects, especially as the General's sister died just a few hours before he did, if estimated time of death can be believed, and this throws both estates into great confusion. Both George and Robert Fentiman, brothers, stand to benefit from the will, but then so does Ann Dorland, their estranged aunt's ward. Which one of the three has the most cause for murder? And how was it done?
There were so many red herrings and likely evidence proving false in this story, I could hardly keep up. I was sure I knew who the culprit was, but then before too long that was clearly not right. So I had to build another case! This was a cleverly constructed and amusing mystery, with some interesting sidelines in the plot. Bunter is much in evidence, taking photos and investigating in the servant class. And Peter is becoming more of a person, showing off his sweet nature and his dislike of the natural end of a case, the arrest of the culprit - which at this time meant hanging was next.
This is a tricky novel based on time -- time of death, timing of movements etc -- and it seems that Dorothy Sayers pokes fun at herself in later novels when she says there's no-one like a detective writer for clocks. I found this one entertaining, with a great set-up, interesting characters, likely motives, and a plot just tricky enough not to quite figure out until the end.
It feels like Sayers was getting more comfortable with her characters, and thankfully didn't rely on too many dated tropes in this book. Probably my favourite so far.