As with any collection of short stories, this collection is a mixed bag, and some stories worked better for me than others. There is a common theme in these stories, tho – bodies.
I originally read this collection a few years ago, and before having read all of the Wimsey novels. This did not work for me. At the time, I noted that the stories were lacking something – either the development of other characters or a hook. I still stand by this observation. However, my view changed slighty: I believe the stories will work differently for readers who have read the other Wimsey novels.
Many of the characters in the short stories are recurring characters from the novels, and so the missing characterisation becomes secondary because the seasoned Wimsey reader will be able to flesh out many of the characters – Sir Impey Biggs, the Dowager Duchess, Detective Inspector Parker, the Honourable Freddie, and of course Bunter – from their acquaintance with this colourful cast over the course of the novels.
I still would not recommend the short stories for the Wimsey – or Sayers – novice.
Also, I have come across a really handy reference to the chronology of Wimsey stories, which may provide further context to how the stories fit within the greater canon. (Note: the dates on the website relate to when the stories are set, not when they were written. The book, Lord Peter Views the Body, lists a copyright date of 1928.)
The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers – Oh, this was brilliantly Gothic and quite horrific. Not what I expected but what a brilliant story to keep me on the edge of my seat. – Rating: 5*
The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question – Well, it was entertaining but not great. There is a Jeeves and Wooster episode that includes pretty much the same plot, and it is far more gratifying. – Rating: 2.5*
The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will – This one was not for me. The puzzle content was not something I enjoyed at all. I also got the feeling that I’ve seen this story before, but not as a Wimsey story. If only I could remember where I’ve come across it… – Rating: 2.5*
The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag – Clearly inspired by the story of Dr. Crippen and quite funny in parts, but also quite grim. Loved it, even tho a couple of plot turns are too convenient to be believable. – Rating: 4*
The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker – Clearly inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, and some of my favourites at that. I also get the impression that Wimsey and Holmes may have shared a similar outlook on the notions of chivalry and honour:
“You seem to understand,” said Mrs. Ruyslaender. “How unusual.”
“I understand perfectly. Though let me tell you,” said Wimsey, with a wry little twist of the lips, “that it’s sheer foolishness for a woman to have a sense of honour in such matters. It only gives her excruciating pain, and nobody expects it, anyway. Look here, don’t let’s get all worked up. You certainly shan’t have your vengeance thrust on you by an ampelopsis.”
It’s not a perfect story, but I loved it simply for the feel of it and for introducing me to the word ampelopsis. – Rating: 5*
The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention – Too long, too drawn out, too boring. I get the point about greedy relatives, but it was not worth waiting for. – Rating: 2*
The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps that Ran – Simple and straight-forward, but without much flair or anything that makes it stand out. – Rating: 3*
The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste – I’m sure this was meant to be delightful, but I found it to be utterly pretentious – Rating: 2*
What is interesting about these stories is that there are some details which are inconsistent with the main novels. For example, in this story the Wimsey family home is referred to a King’s Denver, when it is Duke’s Denver in the novels. In another of these short stories, reference is made to the Attenbury diamonds, rather than to the better-known Attenbury emeralds. It’s nerdy to spot these things but so be it.
The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head – Oh, the mystery in this one is a rather pulpy treasure hunt but the story revolves around a 10-year-old Viscount St George (Gherkins) being looked after by his uncle, and that is just adorable. The story really only lives off knowing the characters from the later novels, which really makes me think whether Sayers had already outlined the future family history at this point. Written in 1926. – Rating: 3.5*
“You’re coming, Gherkins, I suppose? God knows what your mother would say. Don’t ever be an uncle, Charles; it’s frightfully difficult to be fair to all parties.”
The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach – This was rather fun. Unusual, but rather fun. I also like the notion that seagulls have always been a source of contempt. – Rating: 4*
The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face – A slow start but I really liked this. Again, there was something Holmesian to this story, a dark angle of justice if you like. I also liked the references to The Picture of Dorian Gray and how much the story reminded me of Anne Meredith’s Portrait of a Murderer, even tho the plot is entirely different. I liked the concept here. – Rating: 4*
The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba – What a fantastically decadent story. I have always had a soft spot for Agatha Christie’s (pretty ridiculously awful) mystery The Big Four, and this short story takes similar ideas but executes them so, so much better. I loved it. – Rating: 4*