Literature: Lord Peter Wimsey
Wimsey, Peter Death Bredon, DSO; born 1890, 2nd son of Mortimer Gerald Bredon Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver, and of Honoria Lucasta, daughter of Francis Delagardie of Bellingham Manor, Hants.
* Educated: Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford (1st class honours, Sch. of Mod. Hist. 1912); served with H.M. Forces 1914/18 (Major, Rifle Brigade). Author of: "Notes on the collecting of Incunabula", "The Murderer's Vade-Mecum", etc.
* Recreations: Criminology, bibliophily; music; cricket
* Clubs: Marlborough; Egotists'.
* Residences: 110A Piccadilly, W.; Bredon Hall, Duke's Denver, Norfolk.
* Arms: Sable, 3 mice courant, argent; crest, a domestic cat crouched as to spring, proper; motto: As my Whimsy takes me.
The hero of eleven books, a play, and a number of short stories, by Dorothy L Sayers
, with three sequels by Jill Paton Walsh
. Though ostensibly mystery novels, modern readers may see them as more like deconstructions of
, parodies of, and occasionally paeans to British culture in the Interbellum
, that happen to be about murder.
In order of publication, the novels are:
- Whose Body? (1923)
- Clouds of Witness (1926)
- Unnatural Death (1927)
- The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
- Strong Poison (1931)
- The Five Red Herrings (1931)
- Have His Carcase (1932)
- Murder Must Advertise (1933)
- The Nine Tailors (1934)
- Gaudy Night (1935)
- Busman's Honeymoon (1937)
There are, further, three collections of short stories:
- Lord Peter Views the Body (1928; containing 15 stories):
- "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers"
- "The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question"
- "The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will"
- "The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag"
- "The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker"
- "The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention"
- "The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran"
- "The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste"
- "The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head"
- "The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach"
- "The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face"
- "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba"
- In the Teeth of the Evidence (1933; containing 2 Lord Peter stories):
- "In the Teeth of the Evidence"
- "Absolutely Elsewhere"
- Hangman's Holiday (1939; containing 4 Lord Peter stories)
- "The Image in the Mirror"
- "The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey"
- "The Queen's Square"
- "The Necklace of Pearls"
Three further short stories, "Striding Folly," "The Haunted Policeman," and "Talboys", were collected posthumously in the anthology Striding Folly
in 1971. All the short stories were subsequently anthologized in the compendium Lord Peter
(1972). A collection of mock-historical studies by Sayers and various friends, notably including professional herald C.W. Scott-Giles, of the Wimsey family was printed privately and finally published in 1977 under Scott-Giles's name and the title, The Wimsey Family
, with Scott-Giles's illustrationsnote
. One unfinished novel, Thrones, Dominations
, was completed by novelist Jill Paton Walsh in 1998, who went on to write three sequels on her own: A Presumption of Death
in 2002, The Attenbury Emeralds
in 2010, and The Late Scholar
in 2013. A series of "letters written by various members of the Wimsey family" and generally referred to as The Wimsey Papers
appeared in the Spectator
magazine between November 1939 and January 1940; these have not yet been anthologized, though various excerpts from them appear in A Presumption of Death
The Wimsey stories take place between 1922 and 1936, and (a bit unusually for a mystery series) the characters age in real time: Lord Peter is thirty-two in Whose Body?
and forty-six in Busman's Honeymoon.
Lord Peter is the younger brother of the Duke of Denver, the richest peer in the United Kingdom. As he has no need for a job, he spends his time collecting rare books and acting as a police consultant in murder and grand larceny cases. His main ally in the police is Charles Parker, who later marries Peter's sister.
Other recurring characters include Harriet Vane, Peter's love interest and a rare example of an Author Avatar
done exceptionally well; Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster whom Peter sometimes sends on fact-finding missions; Mervyn Bunter, Peter's valet and old army buddy; The Honourable Freddy Arbuthnot, financial genius, and one of the oldest Boisterous Bruisers
in the book; Peter's mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver; and a sleazy actress named Miss Vavasour who seems to be a Weirdness Magnet
of some strange kind.
The books are considered to be among the best pre-World War II
mysteries. The sequels by Paton Walsh take Peter and Harriet into the war and beyond.
While there is an film
called The Silent Passenger
made in Sayers's lifetime based on the character, she disliked it, a feeling seemingly reciprocated by the public and fandom, as it has not survived. In the 1970s, the BBC produced five miniseries starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter (Clouds of Witness
, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
, Five Red Herrings, Murder Must Advertise
, and The Nine Tailors
). Carmichael also starred in the BBC's radio drama series from the '70s to the '80s which adapted nearly all the novels, save for Gaudy Night,
which was finally adapted in 2005. The '80s saw Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter adapt the three main Harriet Vane novels, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase,
and Gaudy Night.
Carmichael brought both humor and depth to the role, while Petherbridge emphasized the melancholy and romantic sides of the sleuth.
The books provide examples of:
- Above Good and Evil: Sir Julian Freke believes that morality is a neurological reflex, redundant in a modern, individualist society, and that one who can commit immoral acts without guilt or shame is therefore a more enlightened human being. This is part of his motivation for committing at least one murder.
- Absence of Evidence: The Five Red Herrings turns on the absence of a tube of white paint from the crime scene. A dog-in-the-night-time-style example appears in "The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention", when a horse that is terrified of an allegedly haunted heath doesn't react at all to a phantom coach driven by a headless horseman.
- Absent-Minded Professor: Miss Lydgate of Shrewsbury College. Also, the Reverend Venables is an amateur rather than a professional scholar, but is otherwise a textbook example.
- Actually Not a Vampire: One witness in The Five Red Herrings is chased out of a disused part of the house by what she thinks is a zombie. She realises, on reflection, that this apparition was actually a badly-injured man hiding in the attic, which is almost as frightening.
- Adaptation Expansion: Busman's Honeymoon was expanded from a stage play.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Critics at the time doubted that Unnatural Death's method of murder would work. Not only would it work, it was actually employed by a number of real-life murderers.
- All Witches Have Cats: In the short story "The Incredible Elopment of Lord Peter Wimsey", Wimsey poses as a wizard in a remote and backwards village. Nine white cats form part of his disguise.
- Always Murder: Every novel involves a murder, mysterious death, or at least attempted murder. Gaudy Night predominantly concerns lesser crimes, though, and violence doesn't emerge until the criminal has been pursued for some time.
- Amusingly Lampshaded in Thrones, Dominations, where Harriet becomes worried that the corpse in her latest mystery might be the victim of manslaughter or unlawful death rather than true murder. She explains that a murder is an absolute necessity for a successful mystery story; anything less won't sell.
- Ambiguously Gay: "Sir Impey Biggs is the handsomest man in England, and no woman will ever care twopence for him."
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In Unnatural Death, Miss Climpson relays a racist rant by another character, about a "nasty dirty black man" who should have been thrown out of the house, including that the mere sight of him turned the ranter's stomach... then apologises for mentioning stomachs in polite company.
- Ascended Extra: Lord Peter himself. He started out as a secondary character in a Sexton Blake fanfic that Sayers was writing. Details here.
- Artifact of Doom: The church bells in The Nine Tailors
- Author Avatar: Harriet Vane is certainly an author avatar. Sayers herself strenuously, though not entirely convincingly, denied this.
- Miss Meteyard, a rather ladettish, Oxford-educated advertising copywriter in Murder Must Advertise is actually an excellent candidate for this. She even has some kind of romantic history that she'd rather was kept secret from her straight-laced boss. She's a pretty minor character, though, so has never drawn the attention Harriet did.
- Badass Boast: Wimsey, when asked by a drunken Pomfrett why he won't stand up and fight: "First, because I'm twenty years older than you. Secondly, because you're six inches taller than I am. And thirdly, because I don't want to hurt you."
- Badass Bookworm: Small, bookish martial artist Peter. Harriet, Parker and Bunter fit as well, all being highly well-read and -spoken, and pursuing intellectual hobbies, as well as being strong and highly capable.
- Battle Butler: Bunter is quite a competent detective in his own right, and, like Peter, he's an ex-soldier.
- Because I'm Good at It: Harriet in "Gaudy Night" is asked why she writes detective literature — isn't it trivialising crime? She replies in part "I know what you're thinking — that anybody with proper sensitive feelings would rather scrub floors for a living. But I should scrub floors very badly, and I write detective stories rather well."
- Beardness Protection Program: Nobby enters it in The Nine Tailors.
- Beautiful Dreamer: Harriet watches Lord Peter nap in a punt in Gaudy Night.
- Best Friends In Law: Peter and Parker, eventually.
- Beta Couple: Freddy Arbuthnot/Rachel Levy and Parker/Lady Mary both serve as foils to Peter and Harriet, representing inter-class relationships with extended courtships, facing familial disapproval and social, financial and gender inequality.
- Big Bad: The drug lord Cummings is directly or indirectly responsible for all the crimes in Murder Must Advertise.
- Bilingual Bonus: Many stories include French dialogue or quotations, offered without translation. The reader is simply assumed to be educated enough to read them, and in the short story "The Entertaining Episode Of The Article In Question," a knowledge of French grammar provides a crucial clue — although people who speak French tend to write it off as a typo until the end, which was doubtless the author's intent.
- Bluffing the Murderer: In the climax of Strong Poison, Lord Peter tricks the murderer into thinking he's eaten poisoned food — which, if he was really the murderer, he would be immune to. Rather than feign illness, the murderer makes a run for it and is promptly arrested.
- Blue Blood: Peter and his family are some of the highest nobility in the realm, as are a great many of their friends. Peter sadly notes that, by the 1930s, they're suffering from inbreeding, their traditional lands are basically worthless, and their countless relatives are the most tiresome snobs.
- Boisterous Bruiser: The Duke of Denver is a proper old-fashioned British country gentleman - gruff, short-tempered, and fond of shooting and shouting.
- Brand X: All the products and advertising campaigns in Murder Must Advertise are, of course, fictional. With one exception, for which see Shout-Out, below.
- Brats with Slingshots: The murder weapon in Murder Must Advertise.
- Breather Episode: After the brutal killings of Unnatural Death, the darkly comic examination of post-war malaise of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and the emotional turmoil of Strong Poison, The Five Red Herrings is a light, mechanical railway-timetable mystery Peter investigates while on holiday, with a relatively happy ending.
- Another relatively lighthearted entry: Cloud of Witnesses, comes in between the truly grisly murder of Whose Body and the even darker Unnatural Death.
- Busman's Holiday:
- The Five Red Herrings: Lord Peter takes time out of a fishing holiday in Scotland to investigate a killing made to look like a painting accident.
- Have His Carcase: Harriet's walking tour is interrupted by a murder mystery.
- The Nine Tailors: Lord Peter's visit to friends in Norfolk is interrupted by a car accident... which, four months or so later, leads to his involvement in a murder mystery.
- Busman's Honeymoon: Lord Peter's honeymoon is interrupted by a murder mystery. The title is a deliberate reference to this trope.
- But I Digress: The Dowager Duchess tends to change the subject four or five times — in rapid succession — whenever she opens her mouth.
- The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Used in Absolutely Elsewhere - a murderer has their accomplice place the call from another town, and picks up the extension when the call goes through, as a way of faking an alibi.
- Changing of the Guard: The stories experimented with perspective shifts from the beginning, but we see Harriet's point of view more and more as the books go on. Gaudy Night only has one scene that features Peter without Harriet, and Busman's Honeymoon is shared between them as a couple.
- The Charmer: Lord Peter is very quick-witted and talented at getting people on side - or, when it becomes necessary (or he's bored), mocking or manipulating them. In the early books, he comes across as rather too prickly and facetious - he moderates this as he ages and expands his social circles. Bunter takes over this role when dealing with working-class folks - especially female servants, who appreciate his dark good looks and flirtatious manner.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Peter was one in his youth. His uncle, who claims to have taught Peter all he knows, is a Chivalrous Dirty Old Man.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Averted — Sayers was a respected Anglican theologian and knew her denominations. Catholicism and High Anglicanism appear in several stories, but so do a number of Protestant and Orthodox faiths.
- Christmas Cake: Harriet, in her mid-thirties when she marries Peter.
- Clear Their Name: The plot of Strong Poison.
- Clock Discrepancy: Have His Carcase has a discrepancy that's based on medical evidence rather than timepieces. Harriet finds the body of the victim with still-liquid blood pooled around it; then the body is washed out to sea before it can be autopsied. Peter and Harriet spend most of the book assuming the murder happened almost immediately before she found the body, because the blood didn't have time to clot; in actuality, the victim was a hemophiliac and the murder happened several hours earlier.
- Competition Coupon Madness: Lord Peter's "Whiffling" advertising scheme in Murder Must Advertise is described as becoming a nationwide obsession.
- Complaining about Shows You Don't Watch: In-Universe, Harriet attends a literary party, where a gang of authors take turns theorising why some thoroughly arty and undeserving novel has been awarded a reviewer's prize - because of advertising deals, or political loyalties, or familial connections, or other underhand reasons. Naturally, none of them have actually read the book, or have the faintest idea what it's even about.
- Conspicuous Gloves: In the novel Have His Carcase, the fact that the victim was wearing gloves is a clue to his haemophilia, which figures in the plot.
- Cool Old Lady: The Dowager Dutchess.
- The Coroner: Several coroner's inquests take place throughout the books, but Dr Horner, assistant to forensic examiner Sir James Lubbock, is an example of the "medical examiner" model: he's a hearty, cheerful man who chatters, jokes and sings while he's sawing through the skull of a weeks-old corpse.
- Could Have Avoided This Plot: The antagonist in Unnatural Death murders her own aunt, her maid and her best friend, and attempts to murder Lord Peter, Parker, Miss Climpson and a London solicitor, before finally killing herself, all to secure a fortune that, as we discover in Gaudy Night, they would have inherited anyway.
- Crime Reconstruction: At the end of Five Red Herrings, Lord Peter and the police re-enact the events of the murder and the following day, accumulating evidence as they go.
- Cut-and-Paste Note: The poison-pen writer in Gaudy Night uses letters cut from newspapers for her notes. A search for the source papers forms part of the investigation.
- Dead Artists Are Better: In Strong Poison, Lord Peter suggests this as a motive for murder: the murderess kills her lover, so his books become bestsellers. Then when she's arrested and hanged, her books will become bestsellers, too.
- Deadpan Snarker: Bunter's humorous dialogue is always delivered as part of his highly formal, old-fashioned and subservient manner of speaking.
- Deadly Doctor: The murderer in Whose Body? kills his victim, and then dissects the body as part of a lecture to his students.
- Disguised in Drag: Jacques "Sans-culotte" Lerouge, who disguises himself as a flirtatious, gamine lady's maid in order to infiltrate wealthy houses and pilfer their valuables.
- Dogged Nice Guy: Lord Peter pursues Harriet for something like five years.
Lord Peter: I shall, with your permission, continue to propose to you at decently regulated intervals, as a birthday treat, and on Guy Fawkes' Day and on the Anniversary of the King's Ascension. But consider it, if you will, a pure formality. You need not pay the slightest attention to it.
Harriet: Peter, it's foolish to go on like this.
Lord Peter: And, of course, on the Feast of All Fools.
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Harriet's reaction to Peter's declaration of love.
- Do Wrong, Right: Bill Rumm in Strong Poison is a reformed burglar, who knows how wrong it is to break into safes. But if it should become necessary to break into a safe, the only way to do it is pick the lock. Blowing the door off is inartistic.
- Downer Ending: In Have His Carcase, it's implied that there isn't enough solid evidence to hold or convict the murderers, even though Peter and Harriet figured out how they did it.
- In Gaudy Night we're told that at least one of them was convicted.
- And the end of Unnatural Death sees Wimsey musing that almost certainly, fewer people would have died if he hadn't involved himself — and the man who originally asked him to investigate isn't even grateful.
- Drives Like Crazy: Peter, as he explains in Busman's Holiday:
I don't happen to be afraid of speed — that's why I like to show off.
- Driven to Suicide: At least three of the series' various murderers.
- In Murder Must Advertise, suicide is a choice to keep the villain's innocent family from guaranteed poverty and social ostracism; and in Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, it was seen as the only honourable way out of the situation—which was not unusual in those days, at least in certain realms of fiction.
- In Strong Poison, the grief-stricken Ryland Vaughan tells Peter his suicide plan, and shows him the drugs he intends to use. We never find out what happens to him.
- Eureka Moment: Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness and Have His Carcase, among others, are solved with Eureka Moments. Whose Body? discusses the phenomenon in some detail.
- Everybody Lives: Each of the novels has at least one major death, at least in the backstory; Gaudy Night is the least bloody, as the death was some years ago and all of the criminal's victims survive.
- Everybody Smokes: Peter, Parker, Harriet and St George all smoke, as do many supporting characters. Peter's masterwork while working in advertising is a campaign for Whifflets Cigarettes.
- Evil Counterpart: In Whose Body?: Sir Julian Freke, a genius who kills without remorse, motivated by sexual jealousy and anti-Semitism, is contrasted with Lord Peter who catches criminals for the fun of it and feels deep guilt.
- Evil Matriarch: Helen, Duchess of Denver, is a rather unpleasant person, and nobody in her family much likes her. She's openly antagonistic towards Peter and Harriet in the later books.
- Evil Twin: Appears in the short story The Image in the Mirror. A pair of mirror-image twins, born out of wedlock, are Separated at Birth — one is raised by a kindly aunt as her own, while the other is taken to the colonies by the mother and left alone and resentful after her death.
- Expy: Bunter is explicitly compared to Wodehouse's Jeeves; Lord Peter and Freddy Arbuthnot both resemble Bertie Wooster.
- Face Death with Dignity: Murder Must Advertise
- Faking the Dead: "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba," where Peter stays publicly dead for two years while undercover — even Parker believed him dead (although no one seems too surprised when Peter turns up alive).
- Family Versus Career: One of the major themes of Gaudy Night, and of Harriet's arc as a whole. The staff and students of the college reflect a range of approaches to the issue, from Miss Hillyard who Does Not Like Men and hates family women and thinks career should always come first, to Annie Wilson, who believes women should serve their husbands and Stay in the Kitchen. Harriet contrasts both extremes with fellow alumna Phoebe Tucker, who has three children and a flourishing archaeology career alongside her husband.
- Food Porn: Lord Peter, being a noted gourmet, often indulges in such meals. The judge's summing-up in Strong Poison is a darker example, as it shows how inappropriate his treatment of the case is.
- Follow That Car: Several times; lampshaded in Murder Must Advertise
- Freudian Excuse: Discussed in Clouds of Witness - the Dowager Duchess of Denver is firmly opposed to modern psychology, and doesn't believe in "subconsciousness" or "repression." Later stories - particularly Gaudy Night - involve a greater deal of psychological analysis, of heroes and villains alike.
- Friend on the Force: Lord Peter has two: Chief Inspector Charles Parker, his best friend who freely consults him on cases, and Sir Andrew Mackenzie, chief of Scotland Yard, who ensures he has formal access to evidence when necessary.
- Gambit Roulette: Unnatural Death. Also, many agree that the plans Peter uses to outwit the villains in Strong Poison and Murder Must Advertise are nothing short of L-worthy.
- Genius Ditz: Freddy Arbuthnot has a deep understanding of the stock market, but in all other matters is a blithering Upper-Class Twit.
- Genre Savvy: Peter and other characters often reference how people act in detective stories and the extent to which it fits "reality."
- Genre Shift: It doesn't stick, but The Nine Tailors definitely takes a hard left turn into Magic Realism, and in Busman's Honeymoon the existence of the Wimsey family ghosts is an easily accepted fact.
- Genteel Interbellum Setting
- Gentleman Thief: Nobby Cranton wants to be one, but he's more of an aspirational burglar and spiv, and is not well-spoken or -mannered.
- Good Old Ways: Lord Peter tries to uphold them; the positive and negatives of such an approach (including the arrogance and entitlement of the male-dominated aristocratic elite) are freely discussed.
- Go-to Alias: Peter generally uses "Death Bredon".
- Grande Dame Helen, Duchess of Denver is a humourless, stuffy Society woman; Lady Hermione Creethorpe, in "The Queen's Square," is a more typical elderly example.
- The Great Depression: Not a major factor, as it didn't hit England as hard as some other countries, but it is mentioned in the later books.
- Greedy Jew: Averted. Lord Peter and his fellow aristocrats associate with a number of Jewish financiers, jewellers, and so forth, who are invariably presented sympathetically. The anti-Semitism of the era is discussed, but the only characters who express it themselves are either villainous or rather stupid.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Several villains are motivated by severe jealously, including Sir Julian Freke, William Grimethorpe, Eric P. Loder, and Standish Weatherall.
- Hanging Judge: The magistrate in Clouds of Witness and the judge in Strong Poison both deliberately steer their juries toward a guilty verdict on a capital charge. Fortunately, the former has no sentencing power, and the latter is stymied by an obstinate juror.
- Height Angst: After he fails to identify a clue relating to a tall man's murder in Busman's Honeymoon, a passage describes the 5'9" Lord Peter as opining: '"If I'd had more inches," said Peter, regretfully (for his height was a sensitive point with him) ...'
- He Who Fights Monsters: Peter has sent so many people to their deaths, even though most of them were murderers themselves, that he has come to view himself as a killer just as evil as those whom he brings to justice—if not more so, since he does it for his own amusement.
- Heroic BSOD: Peter was badly shell-shocked in World War One, some years before the series begins; during the series, he has two intense breakdowns: one in Whose Body? and another in The Nine Tailors. He also feels his innocence and his very morality slowly slipping away over the course of the series.
- High-Class Glass: Peter has several but doesn't actually need any of them...for his vision, anyway
- Honor Before Reason: Lord Peter suffers from this in his early cases. In Whose Body?, he feels compelled to visit the criminal shortly before they are arrested, and this warning very nearly allows them to escape justice.
- Gerald appears to be doing this for much of Clouds Of Witness. Subverted, though, in that he feels (not without some reason) that the harm he will cause to someone else by speaking out may be as great as the harm he may suffer by keeping silent.
- Honorary Aunt: Viscount St George cajoles Harriet into being this. Later, of course, she becomes a real aunt.
- Hollywood Atheist: Averted; Peter was raised in the Church of England, and, though he's unsure of his own beliefs, he knows Christianity inside-out and bears it no ill will. He's friendly with a number of clergymen, consults them for moral advice, and politely attends church services and assists in ringing the bells.
- Hooked Up Afterwards: Unpleasantness ends with Robert Fentiman taking Ann Dorland out to a show.
- Huge Schoolgirl: Hilary Thorpe
- Identification by Dental Records: Though the identification is usually subverted. For example, in "In the Teeth of the Evidence," an evil dentist fakes his own death by deliberately faking a patient's teeth to look like his, then murdering the patient. The Nine Tailors also featured a failed dental identification.
- Idle Rich: Discussed with scathing contempt by Antoine in Have His Carcase.
- If We Survive This: When they were serving together in the army, Lord Peter offered Bunter a job if they both survived.
- Imagine Spot: In Have His Carcase when Peter gently mocks Harriet for not being able to ride, she pictures him on a large, spirited horse. Her imagination then makes a "terrific effort" and places her by his side, riding an even larger, more spirited horse.
- Inter-Class Romance: Peter, the younger son of a duke, courts Harriet, the orphan of a country doctor. Mary, daughter of a duke, courts Parker, a middle-class police inspector.
- Interdisciplinary Sleuth: Usually Peter is an Amateur Sleuth, but occasionally his sleuthing intersects with his bibliophily, his classical education and/or his historical training.
- I Owe You My Life: Harriet feels this way toward Peter after Strong Poison, and resents him for the debt, for the continuing scandal she endures after the trial, and for restoring her to life and then pursuing her affections.
- I Remember Because...: One witness in Unnatural Death notes that she remembers Miss Dawson's maids' surname because it was such a silly name: "Gotobed". Averted in Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness, where investigators and witnesses spend several pages painstakingly reconstructing memories with reference to physical records, and where I Remember Because... explanations are specifically referred to as inadmissible in court.
- Subverted in Strong Poison; the servants remember in detail everything Boyes could possibly have eaten or drank in their house because the murderer is their master and he made sure they remembered, to create the impression he couldn't have been poisoned on their premises.
- Ironic Echo: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas, and Tailor Paul. Nine Tailors Make a Man.
- Also, the first spoken word in Whose Body? is the same as the final spoken word in Busman's Honeymoon, and is said by the same person, but in a very different context and mood.
- It Never Gets Any Easier: Regularly sending people to the gallows eventually causes Peter to view himself as an evil person, the cause for the He Who Fights Monsters and Hollywood Atheist tropes above.
- It's for a Book: A book or a bet is the usual excuse for Peter's and Miss Climpson's investigations. Inverted in Strong Poison.
- The Jeeves: Bunter is famously efficient and deferential, and is explicitly compared to Jeeves.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Inspector Sugg spends Whose Body? bullying witnesses, arresting the wrong suspects, and trying to keep Lord Peter out of his investigation. He's next seen in Clouds of Witness helping Peter, Parker and Freddie Arbuthnot safely home after a drunken night out.
- Kissing Cousins: The duke and his wife, as Harriet points out when Peter worries about children.
- Knife Nut: Cummings's gang
- Knight Templar: At the climax of Strong Poison, Lord Peter tells Norman Urquhart that he has just given him a massive dose of arsenic and asks why he isn't showing symptoms. This prompts Urquhart to break down and confess that he has made himself immune to arsenic, and so was able to kill his cousin by splitting an arsenic-laced omelette with him. Then Parker arrests him. Of course, Peter says that he was lying about the arsenic in the sweets, but there's also a possibility that he wasn't...
- Also, using a Hannibal Lecture to get the murderer to shoot himself at the end of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.
- Knows A Guy Who Knows A Guy: In Strong Poison, The Hon. Freddy saw a man who knows a fellow who has it from a chappie that the villain is in financial trouble. The man owed Freddy a favour, and can have the fellow put him in touch with the chappie in exchange for another favour — for the chappie, that is, not for the fellow, or the man. Y'see?
- Lampshade Hanging: Repeatedly. For the entire mystery genre
- Laser-Guided Karma: Lord Peter gets a blackmailer to return the stolen items by turning the tables.
- Last Name Basis: The SCR all refer to each other by title or honorific, except for very close friends, who use last-name-based nicknames, like "Teddy" for Miss Edwards.
- Leave Behind a Pistol: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
- Less literally in Murder Must Advertise it's actually 'redeem yourself by walking straight into an obvious 'nasty accident' trap'
- Likes Older Women: Reggie Pomfret in Gaudy Night, an undergraduate of twenty or so, is taken with Harriet (who's in her early-to-mid-thirties).
- Line-of-Sight Name: Mr. Oliver, from a copy of Oliver Twist, in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
- Literary Allusion Title: Not just the books, usually each chapter too
- Little Old Lady Investigates: Miss Climpson investigates solo in Unnatural Death and Strong Poison.
- Long List: Peter rattles off a particularly impressive one in The Nine Tailors, consisting of all the things he's figured out about the case. The only thing missing from it is the identity of the murderer.
- Lost in Character: In Murder Must Advertise, Peter gets enough into the character of Death Bredon and the details of his Whiffle campaign that an interruption from Scotland Yard with evidence related to his actual case is greeted with genuinely heartfelt cursing.
- Loveable Rogue: Jock Graham in The Five Red Herrings; Nobby Cranton in The Nine Tailors.
- Magical Negro: Hallelujah Dawson, a handsome, elderly West Indian clergyman who's falsely accused of murder and takes it in his stride while charming everyone around him.
- Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Invoked, and debunked, in Have His Carcase.
- Malicious Slander: The villain in Gaudy Night distributes slanderous letters to turn her victims against each other and themselves.
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In Strong Poison — who knows who is the father of the children born to an infamous actress?
- The Masochism Tango: Peter and Harriet spend five years going on emotionally fraught dates and insulting each other (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) before they've sorted themselves out enough to begin again and have a healthy relationship.
- Matter of Life and Death: Sir Julian's attempt to get into Parker's cab and there murder him has him urging this.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The solution to The Nine Tailors — rationally plausible, but spooky. The Image in the Mirror suggests that twin brothers might share a psychic connection, though it lampshades the unlikelihood.
- Meaningful Name: Hallelujah Dawson. Yes, that's his real name. Yes, he's a missionary. How did you guess? Then there's the venerable Rev. Venables (see The Vicar, below) and the equally Reverend Tredgold (named in anticipation of Heaven's golden streets). Arguably, Wimsey's own name is an example, and lampshaded in the series: his coat of arms bears the motto "As My Whimsy Takes Me."
- Mega Corp.: Pym's Publicity in Murder Must Advertise, although it's obviously less extreme than others of the type.
- Several characters lost money in the collapse of the Megatherium Trust.
- Minor Injury Overreaction: In Five Red Herrings, the wealthy painter Gowan has his friends and servants arrange an elaborate alibi, and skips the country in the middle of the night, because Campbell cut off his prized beard.
- Motive Rant: Annie Wilson at the end of Gaudy Night berates the S.C.R. for what she sees as a betrayal of the feminine ideal (never mind that the S.C.R. are actually for the most part fairly girly — they're bluestockings, not tomboys). She is arguably the only ideologically-motivated villain in the entire series (although revenge also plays a part, and the scene in question is both highly effective and unbelievably offensive and disturbing. This single scene is typically considered Sayers's masterpiece.
- More Hero Than Thou: In Nine Tailors, two men try to shield each other from blame for murder, unaware that neither of them did it.
- Murder-Suicide: Peter stops the murderer from committing suicide in Whose Body?, and encourages it (more or less) in Murder Must Advertise.
- Mysterious Note: Mysterious poison-pen letters (together with pranks and outright vandalism) are part of a plot against Shrewsbury College, Oxford in Gaudy Night.
- Mystery Writer Detective: Harriet Vane is best known for her detective novels. She takes an active part in the investigations of Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast : Sir Julian Freke, William Bright (because Light Is Not Good).]]
- Necessarily Evil: Peter hates himself a lot.
- Noodle Incident: The Attenbury Emeralds case. Also, an incident with a pig, during the war.
- Not a Game: Investigating murder. Parker points this out explicitly in Whose Body?
- Not Proven: Have His Carcase ends with Peter and Harriet knowing who committed the murder, how it was done, and that there's no possible way he could ever be convicted for it.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Peter and Climpson seem to use this as their entire modus operandi.
- Of Corpse He's Alive: Both The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Five Red Herrings.
- Old Flame Fizzle: Harriet finds going to Gaudy Night to see an old friend doesn't work out well.
- Oh, Crap: Younger brother of an Upper-Class Twit, Lord Peter goes out of his way to cultivate an Upper-Class Twit image himself. The hapless criminals of Britain think of him as "Bertie Wooster playing detective"; by the time they find themselves face to face with Lord Peter's frightening intelligence, it's much too late.
- Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Wimsey and Harriet Vane go punting in Gaudy Night, and the scene is retained in the 1987 BBC television production. Such boating excursions are traditional at Oxford, where the story is set. The modern twists on this are their practical discussion of Harriet's poison pen prankster investigation and the "spot of celibacy" Harriet is maintaining, despite Wimsey's numerous proposals of matrimony.
- Once for Yes, Twice for No: Climpson stages a seance using this at the climax of Strong Poison.
- Only a Flesh Wound: Peter is shot in the shoulder in Clouds of Witness, and seems barely wounded at all — he tells the shooter that if he'd hit him "in the head, or the heart, or anywhere that matters," they'd really be in trouble.
- On One Condition: In "The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will", the will specifies a puzzle that must be solved in order to locate the actual bequest.
- Oop North: Clouds of Witness begins in rural Yorkshire, complete with dour, taciturn farmers and boggy moors. The Five Red Herrings is set largely in the south of Scotland, but occasionally crosses the border. Parker is originally from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
- Open Sesame: The words Open Sesame must be spoken in Peter's voice to open the inner compartment of the safe in The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba.
- Oxbridge: Gaudy Night is a love letter to academic life, set in Oxford and steeped in dons, gowns and punts.
- The Pardon: The post-World War I pardon of deserters is a plot point in Nine Tailors.
- Parental Marriage Veto: Several parents attempt this, including Lady Levy's and Lady Dormer's, because the prospective spouse is middle-class and/or Jewish. Often, the couple frustrate them by eloping. The Levys go on to veto The Hon. Freddy Arbuthnot's suit to Rachel Levy, but he proves himself by courting her for seven years and agreeing to raise their children Jewish.
- Passed Over Inheritance: In The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, he's brought in determine who is it.
- Pastimes Prove Personality: In Murder Must Advertise, Lord Peter is arrested for murder just after leading an amateur cricket team to victory; the manager of the opposing team immediately avers that nobody who plays cricket like that could possibly be a murderer.
- At the same time however, Wimsey's innings in that game blows his "Death Bredon" cover, as someone recognises his batting style.
- Planet of Steves: Several quite unusual names - Gotobed, Pomfret, Jukes - reappear throughout the books, attached to presumably unrelated characters.
- The Poppy: The absence of one becomes a plot point in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.
- Promotion to Parent: Peter becomes trustee of a fortune left to the orphaned Hilary Thorpe in The Nine Tailors, letting him ensure she gets the best education and pursue her career, despite the objections of her old-fashioned uncle and guardian.
- Psycho Lesbian: Whitaker
- Pun-Based Title: Lots of these in the short stories, for example:
- "The Entertaining Episode Of The Article In Question"
- "In The Teeth Of The Evidence"
- "The Undignified Melodrama Of The Bone Of Contention"
- Rats In A Box: In The Nine Tailors, neither Wimsey nor the police can figure out which of two brothers murdered the victim, so they put the brothers alone in a room and secretly listen to what they say to each other. It turns out that neither of them did it, but both thought the other did, and so they had been unnecessarily covering for each other.
- Reality Ensues: In Have His Carcase, Harriet is accustomed to writing scenes where people examine horribly mutilated corpses in the calmest manner. Then she discovers a dead man whose throat has been cut, and finds it a much more distressing experience than she'd imagined.
- Reality Is Unrealistic: Contemporary critics thought the method of murder used in Unnatural Death was laughable. Not only is it plausible, it was used as a method of execution by the Nazi medical system, and was the M.O. of at least one real-world serial killer.
- Redemption Equals Death: Tallboy; Will Thoday
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Male members of the Wimsey family usually turn out this way, according to their chronicler. From the other Wiki:
"Most Wimseys were like the 16th Duke, and his father: 'Bluff, courageous
, physically powerful
' but not very intelligent
; of hearty and voracious appetites of all kinds
. They could be 'cruel, yet without malice or ingenuity
.' The other type is physically slighter
, with great nervous energy
, and 'lusts no less powerful
, but more dangerously controlled to a long-sighted policy
.' These became churchmen, statesmen, traitors; but sometimes poets and saints.
- Refuge in Audacity: The murderer's plot in Whose Body?, which is even less audacious than their original plan — to make it look like Sir Reuben disappeared into thin air, leaving behind a pile of empty clothes.
- Releasing from the Promise: Lord Peter to his first fiancee
- Remember That You Trust Me: Lord Peter to Ann Dorland in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, when the police come to question her just as he's finally getting her to share the facts that prove her innocence.
- Rich Bitch: Dian de Momerie; weirdly, also a Hard-Drinking Party Girl. Also, Helen, Peter's sister-in-law.
- Rich Boredom: Harriet admits that Peter catches murderers for fun, but it's still good work.
- Rich Idiot with No Day Job: Peter's standard pose. He does actually manage his property — substantial real estate holdings — but is far too well-bred to ever discuss them.
- Rightful King Returns: Invoked in Have His Carcase
- Right on the Tick: At the end of Busman's Honeymoon. Lord Peter falls apart at 8am, because he knows that's when the murderer he caught is being hanged.
- Royal Blood: Invoked in Have His Carcase. Harriet wonders if the victim really did have imperial blood, which provides a Eureka Moment for Peter: Did he have haemophilia, like the Russian royal family?
- Rube Goldberg Hates Your Guts: The solution to Busman's Honeymoon. The murderer weighted a metal flowerpot that hung above the radio, such that when the victim switched the radio on, the flowerpot would drop and kill him.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Discussed in Whose Body?, when Peter considers ceasing investigating the railway baron Milligan because he made a generous donation to the Duke's Denver church. Parker reminds him that he has a duty to catch criminals even if they're rich, or charitable, or likeable.
- Second Love: Harriet, for Lord Peter (his first love was Barbara, to whom he briefly alludes in Strong Poison).
- Secret Test of Character: As mentioned under Silly Will below, one of Lord Peter's cases involves figuring out why a fabulously rich and extremely eccentric uncle had left to his medical student nephew the uncle's digestive tract, and all contents thereof. The explanation turns out to be that the uncle purchased and swallowed a fortune in gemstones just before jumping out a window. If the nephew could work this out, he would legally inherit all those gemstones, which would be more than enough money to last him a lifetime.
- Serial Killer: Mary Whitaker is the Black Widow variant, and relies on a low-profile, Make It Look Like an Accident method.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Huge whacks of Busman's Honeymoon
- She Is All Grown Up: Wimsey in his early thirties is bony and gawky, and regarded as so funny-looking that caricaturists tone him down a bit when drawing him. Wimsey in his late forties is considered very handsome. Maturity was evidently kind to him.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: During the First World War, Peter was buried alive in a collapsed dug-out, and suffers from what would nowadays be called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His friend George Fentiman in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club has an even worse case, suffering frequent psychotic episodes. Sayers's own husband was a shell-shocked ex-soldier, so she knew whereof she wrote.
- Shout-Out: In Murder Must Advertise, Death Bredon creates an innovative advertising campaign that he predicts (accurately) will be "the biggest advertising stunt since the Mustard Club"; the Mustard Club was a famous Real Life advertising gimmick for Colman's Mustard. Murder Must Advertise was inspired by the time Sayers spent working in advertising before the Wimsey novels took off — and now, three guesses who came up with the Mustard Club...
- One of the characters in Strong Poison refers to the advertising slogan "Guinness is good for you." Guess who came up with that slogan? (If you go into an "Oirish Pub" and see one of those old Guinness ads with zookeepers and toucans, you may be satisfied to learn that that was Sayers, too.)
- Peter's address, 110 A Piccadilly, is a subtle salute to Sherlock Holmes, who lived at 221 B Baker Street.
- It's a rare Wimsey story that doesn't include a Shout-Out to Gilbert and Sullivan, Alice in Wonderland, or both.
- In Five Red Herrings, there are mentions of several other detective novels. At least two of them are deliberate hints to the solution of the murder: "Sir John Magill's Last Journey" in which the murderer impersonates his victim to conceal the true time of death, and "The Two Tickets Puzzle", in which a vital railway ticket is forged.
- Silly Will: In "The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach", a wealthy man leaves his stomach to his great-nephew, a medical student. When Lord Peter decides he wants to see the actual wording of the will, he poses as an author collecting examples of comic wills.
- Smart People Know Latin: And Peter and Harriet are smart enough that he proposes to her, and she accepts, in Latin.
- Truth in Television for educated English people of that generation. Also, the specific words he uses (placetne, magistra?) are a Shout-Out to the Oxford degree ceremony. note
- Smart People Play Chess: Averted — while a few gifted players appear among the supporting characters, neither Peter nor Harriet can play very well.
- Spirited Young Lady: Lady Mary Wimsey, country lady and socialist activist.
- Spousal Privilege: Invoked in The Nine Tailors as the reason why the police can't allow the Thodays to marry.
- Straw Feminist: Miss Hillyard in Gaudy Night, whose prejudice against "womanly" women, married women and mothers, especially in the workplace, is implied to arise from simple jealousy and is contrasted against the various more reasoned models of feminism displayed by the university staff and students.
- Stronger Than They Look: Lord Peter is a small, slight man, and gets thrown around when caught in a scrum, but has terrific strength in his arms and body, and can't be overpowered one-on-one.
- The Summation: Once per book, but most epically in Gaudy Night.
- Surprise Witness: Lord Peter himself in Clouds of Witness, when he appears in court having just completed a transatlantic flight.
- Sweet Tooth: Norman Urquhart has a serious one, which leads to his downfall. Peter's lack of one saves his life at least once.
- Taking the Heat: Lady Mary attemps this in Clouds of Witness. It turns out the suspect she's protecting didn't do it - he's just too paranoid to come forward and exonerate himself.
- Taking the Veil: An uncle did this, Gender Flip, in the Back Story of Unnatural Death, being quite a scandal
- Tampering with Food and Drink: Strong Poison It was in the cracked egg.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In Clouds of Witnesses Peter delivers a richly deserved one to Mary's fiancee, Goyles when, after spending half the book tracking him down it turns out that Goyles hadn't shot Cathcart at all, only stumbled across his body in the dark and ran off in a panic.
- This Is Reality: Very common among the Genre Savvy protagonists.
- Thrifty Scot: Peter makes a lot of Thrifty Scot jokes. Of the many Scottish characters in the stories, only Great-Uncle Joseph from The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach seems noticeably thrifty.
- Time-Delayed Death: Busman's Honeymoon as well as Have His Carcase — though that has its own spin on this trope.
- Tomboy: It's hard to find a little girl in the books who isn't a tomboy of some sort — usually a car/motorbike fanatic. Five Red Herrings has two!
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: Sylvia Marriott and Eiluned Price, particularly in the 1987 Edward Petherbridge series.
- The Tooth Hurts: The reason Lord Peter visited his dentist in In the Teeth of the Evidence? A tooth broke.
- Tranquil Fury: Peter's first letter to his nephew in Gaudy Night
- Trickster Mentor: Meleager Finch's posthumous plan to make his niece Hannah more frivolous, involving two wills and a crossword puzzle.
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-universe, Peter meets a number of bohemian thinkers who hold to this belief, expressing that, for instance, "Scenes which make emotional history should ideally be expressed in a series of animal squeals."
- Unable To Support A Wife:
- George in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club — unusually, the condition arises after he marries.
- Why Denver was able to dismiss Goyles in Clouds of Witness
- One Dawson family member lost his fiancee when his family lost its money, in Unnatural Death
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: Invoked in the invention of Peter's identical cousin, Death Bredon, in Murder Must Advertise and The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste.
- Undercover When Alone: In The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba.
- Unusual Chapter Numbers: Each book has a different system. Some have plain numbers; some are named for that chapter's chief character; some are thematic.
- Upper-Class Twit: Peter's brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver; Gerald's wife Helen, the Duchess of Denver
- Viewers Are Geniuses: Well, readers anyway. The books are stuffed with obscure literary allusions, and just try to solve the crossword puzzle clue in The Fascinating Problem Of Uncle Meleager's Will...
- The Vicar: Several across the stories, reflecting Sayers's interest in theology. The Reverend Tredgold in Unnatural Death is High Church and conscientious, and offers Peter sensible moral counsel. The Reverend Boyes in Strong Poison is long-suffering, poor and notably tender-hearted. The Reverend Venables in The Nine Tailors is High Church (again), energetic, long-winded and obsessed with his pet subject of campanology. The Reverend Goodacre in Busman's Honeymoon is a classic bumbling Vicar, complete with an inept attempt at a sherry party. Mr Hancock in The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention is High Church (yet again!), over-earnest, and out of his depth in a conservative rural parish. All of these, especially the Rev. Venables, are based to a greater or lesser degree on Sayers' father.
- The Watson: Parker, Bunter, Harriet or a local policeman typically serve as Peter's Watson, and various members of the SCR serve as Harriet's. These Watsons are generally very bright themselves, and serve as sounding-boards to more speculative theories or areas of highly-specialised exposition.
- Wax Museum Morgue: In The Abominable History of the Man With the Copper Fingers. The last statue the jealous sculptor made of his mistress... isn't quite a statue.
- Wham Episode: The cricket match chapter in Murder Must Advertise ends with Lord Peter getting arrested. Howzat?
- What Happened to the Mouse?: In The Five Red Herrings, part of the evidence against Waters is the absence of his bicycle, and the police note that they don't know whether to arrest Waters, or make a search for a bicycle thief. Waters is innocent, and the bicycle thief is never mentioned again.
- Wine Is Classy: Lord Peter is a big time oenophilenote and so this trope comes up often.
- Wishful Projection: Dr Penberthy in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club accuses a number of women around him of having an obsession with sex, until it becomes clear that he's got one himself.
- With Due Respect: Bunter frequently addresses Lord Peter in this manner, with equal parts sincerity and criticism. Naturally, he's always right.
- World War One: Though he was a capable soldier, decorated for valour, Peter's wartime experiences basically left him shattered.
- Zany Scheme: Clouds of Witness has pretty nearly every character trying to pull one of these on the others