A Thousand Flappers and Hobbledehoys

My name is Doug Wykstra, and this is some of the stuff I've read and watched.

Whose Body? Review

“It’s impossible,” said his reason, feebly; “credo quia impossibile,” said his interior certainty with impervious self-satisfaction. “All right,” said conscience, instantly allying itself with blind faith, “what are you going to do about it?”

For a genre whose founding character is an inveterate rationalist, the detective novel has counted a surprising number of the religious among its adherents, from G.K. Chesterton to Agatha Christie, and the above passage, in which Lord Peter Wimsey suddenly realizes the central contradiction at the heart of the mystery that would seem to make his theories impossible, is as good an explanation for this phenomenon as any.

The point where the detective solves the mystery at its climax contains the characteristics of divine revelation: a moment of inspiration that assembles the disordered and piecemeal scraps of evidence and testimony into a coherent narrative that leaves no question unanswered. It is order out of chaos, the world out of the Word, and whether the detective be a logician, a scientist, or a priest, they are all ultimately evangelists for the story that comes to them in that moment of eureka.

And, as the above quote makes clear, such a revelation cannot be confined to the inside of one’s head, but must be brought to bear on the world. The central mystery of Whose Body? is not especially religious in nature (nor, it must be said, especially difficult for veterans of the genre to figure out), but it is deeply interested in the question of what people do in the world once they have come up with an explanation for questions that seem unanswerable.

The central such question is a mystery surrounding the relationship between two bodies—one dead, which mysteriously appears in a suburban bathtub, and one alive, which disappears no less mysteriously—but it also keeps turning up in the characters, from the policeman who joined the force after studying theology in college, to the doctor who believes he has proven that all the “higher” emotions are simply the result of biological adaptation, to the aristocratic detective who began solving crimes in an attempt to distract himself from the PTSD he acquired in World War I.

Each of these characters (and a few more) has some knowledge of the world, and each feels the need to apply this knowledge practically to the world around them. Sayers’s greatest strength is how she draws these characters and their surrounding cast, from the detective’s photography-obsessed butler (who uses his hobby to take pictures of the evidence) to his domineering dowager mother. If the ending seems a bit too easily-solved, it is perhaps due to her strength of letting us know the motives and weaknesses of each of her characters in a few brief, vivid lines. “But Lord bless you, sir, these criminals are all alike,” says one, inadvertently summing up the entire Christian doctrine of sin in a single line. Sayers’s novel admits this is so, and yet it looks at the differences anyway–not because they matter in a theological sense, but because some practical good might come of them.

Interested in reading this? I’m an Amazon Affiliate, meaning that I link products from Amazon, and if anyone clicks those links to buy the product, they pay me a commission. If you’re interested in purchasing Whose Body?, just follow the link below:

Whose Body?

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This entry was posted on 5 October 2019 by in Elegant Extracts and tagged , , , .
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