18) Dorothy L Sayers — The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
The fourth Lord Peter Wimsey book. It’s Armistice Day, and ninety-year-old General Fentiman is found dead in his favourite armchair at his club. Unsurprising for a man of his age, but it turns out that the exact time of death determines who inherits a very large sum of money, for his sister died on the same day. Lord Peter happens to be on the scene, and thus gets involved when it seems merely a matter of sorting out the inheritance, but the case gradually takes on a more sinister aspect as Lord Peter realises that he may be investigating a murder.
That the case begins on Armistice Day is directly relevant to the plot, because Lord Peter isn’t the only shell-shock victim amongst the cast. The book was written and set in 1928, the tenth anniversary of the end of the war. As with the first book of the series, there is a fine and chilling description of what the Great War did to some of the survivors, but here it’s not just one scene. The whole book is suffused with the after-effects of the war, not just on the soldiers who served in the trenches, but on their whole society. There’s an entertaining mystery to be had here, but it’s wrapped in a superb portrait of 1928 England. The book is by turns heart-breaking and heart-warming, as Sayers turns in a virtuoso display of showing rather than telling what has happened to even the characters who on the surface seem unscathed.