Monday, August 29, 2011
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club: Review
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers is another lovely, classic, Golden Age mystery. Old General Fentiman is found peacefully passed away, sitting in his favorite chair by the fireplace in the Bellona Club. Nothing strange about a ninety-year-old gentleman falling asleep and never waking up. Or is there? Lord Peter Wimsey immediately notices a few oddities about the corpse, but as the doctor in charge doesn't say anything, he decides to refrain from pointing them out. But then the lawyers get involved. For it seems that it matters a great deal exactly what time General Fentiman moved on from this mortal coil. In fact, it matters about half a million pounds worth. Because General Fentiman's sister, Lady Dormer, has passed away on the same day and depending on who died first, somebody is going to be awfully wealthy.
Lord Peter is brought into the case by Mr. Murbles--his own man of business, as well as the representative for the Fentimans. Wimsey tries to convince the lawyer that it would be best if he were to convince his clients to settle, but it seems that Lady Dormer's legatee doesn't see it quite that way. What follows is a fun Golden Age romp with out of service telephones, the elusive Mr. Oliver, the mystery of the missing item from General Fentiman's clothing, and the question of why the elderly gentleman's knee swung freely when the rest of him was quite stiff with rigor mortis. There will be a trek across Europe and a party about glands before it's all over. And, of course, Lord Peter will follow all the threads to their proper source.
I always enjoy Lord Peter. And, while I have thought about it before, I was quite struck this time by how Ann Dorland seems to be a precursor to Harriet Vane. There's the artistic leanings, and the intelligence, and the respect that Lord Peter has for her. There's her sense of humor, her unhappy love affair, and part of the description of her looks--particularly the eyebrows. I definitely think that Harriet was percolating away in the mind of Sayers just waiting to appear in Strong Poison. A thoroughly enjoyable reread--with slightly more serious undertones than either Whose Body? or Clouds of Witness. We're given a very good look at what WWI, gassing, and shell-shock did to the young men who made it back from the war. Poor George Fentiman really thinks he might have been capable of poisoning his grandfather. Four stars.
I also would like to add that the filmed version of this with Ian Carmichael is absolutely delightful. The scenes with him and Mrs. Munns (landlady to George Fentiman and his wife, Sheila) is worth the price of admission. Not strictly to the letter with the novel--but great fun!