Unnatural Death by Dorothy Sayers

Unnatural DeathUnnatural Death
by Dorothy Sayers
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #3
Publication Date: January 1, 1927
Genre: mystery
Pages: 264

When a terminally ill woman dies much earlier than expected, Lord Peter suspects murder…

Though never quick-witted, Agatha Dawson had an iron constitution and a will to fight that never abated in her old age. Even after three operations failed to rid her of her cancer, she refused to give in. But as her body began to weaken, she accused lawyers, nurses, and doctors of trying to kill her and snatch her fortune. The town physician, an expert in cancer, gives her six months to live. Three days later, she is dead. Though the autopsy reveals nothing surprising, the doctor suspects that Agatha’s niece had some hand in the old woman’s death. When Lord Peter Wimsey, the dashing gentleman detective, looks into the matter, he finds that death stalks all those who might testify. How can he continue his investigation when every question marks another innocent for murder?


This was a very enjoyable installment of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Peter’s relationship with Parker becomes more collegial, and we are introduced to a new character by the name of Mrs. Climpson. I hope Mrs. Climpson sticks around, because she is wonderful.

The book begins with Parker and Wimsey having dinner at a club on a pleasant April evening. They are talking of murder, of course, and a young doctor interrupts their pleasant discussion to tell them a tale of a suspected murder most foul: an elderly woman who was quite ill, but who died so suddenly that the young doctor suspects foul play.

Unnatural Death is a lot of fun. Before Lord Peter can solve the murder, he must prove that a murder has been committed.

“This is the real sleuth—my friend Detective-Inspector Parker of Scotland Yard. He’s the one who really does the work. I make imbecile suggestions and he does the work of elaborately disproving them. Then, by a process of elimination, we find the right explanation, and the world says, ‘My god, what intuition that young man has!’ Well, look here—if you don’t mind, I’d like to have a go at this. If you’ll entrust me with your name and address and the names of the parties concerned, I’d like very much to have a shot at looking into it.”

And he does, and of course, he discovers that the murderer has committed a near perfect crime, and for the basest of motives. The murderer in this book is quite a nasty piece of work, and before long, bodies are piling up like cord wood.

Lord Peter’s Daimler Twin-Six makes its first appearance in this book as well. For those of you not familiar with the Daimler, it looks something like this:

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

Overall, this is probably my favorite of the Lord Peter mysteries so far. I love the legal twist to the motive, the murderer is both clever and exceptionally cold-blooded.

4 comments

  1. Are you continuing this series? I saw your “like” on “Have His Carcase” and so came over to see if you’d reviewed it. With these reviews being from 2018 I wasn’t sure if you’d stopped the series or just reviewed them elsewhere.

    I started out enjoying the Wimsey series very much and and not so much now. Just wondering if it’s me or the series 😀

    1. I have read all but a couple. I gave up on Five Red Herrings for exactly the reason you identified, and I haven’t yet read the final full-length mystery Busman’s Honeymoon. I love them – but I think you nailed it when you identified why the books don’t work for you.

      I would recommend that you give Murder Must Advertise a try because I found it to be a ton of fun. Nine Tailors can be a bit of a slog with all of the bell ringing although, again, I really love that book.

      Gaudy Night is, for me, a desert island book. I will read it every few years until I am cold in my grave. But I don’t read it for the mystery, I read it because it is a feminist manifesto masquerading as a mystery by a brilliant woman who smashed the patriarchy through sheer force of will. The interactions between the women of fictional Shrewsbury College (standing in for the real Somerville College, where Sayers actually attended before women were allowed to receive degrees if they “graduated) has been so important to me as I have had experiences as a woman lawyer that, while not so obviously misogynist as what Sayers and other brilliant women of her day encountered, have made me realize that we have a long way to go in this world to treat women like full human beings.

      So, I don’t know if it will resonate with you the way it did with me.

      Dorothy Sayers never writes the same book twice, so it’s possible, I’m sure, to like some and not others.

      If you want to give another really interesting mystery author from the same time period a try, check out Josephine Tey! She also never wrote the same book twice.

        1. Daughter of Time has won all sorts of accolades, but I think that I would start you with something different – either The Franchise Affair or Brat Farrar. BrokenTune & Themis are also tremendous Tey fans, so you might query them as well!

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