I admit that the TV version of the sleuth sticks in my mind more than the description in the promotional copy on the back of one of the earlier books, “The lonely, sex-preoccupied, intelligent, relentless, beer-drinking Inspector Morse…” and indeed, in the books he is all of those things and they must have cleaned him up a bit for TV. We should have a new sub-genre of British detective novels and that should be the dysfunctional detective. Of course, when I bring most British detectives to mind, there seems to be something dysfunctional or quirky about all of them. Maybe their poor social skills or awkward background are the things that make them good detectives.
Before the mystery even starts, we know that Lord Peter Wimsey is an eccentric man of particular care. On leaving to begin the investigation he says, “I knew a man once, Parker, who let a world-famous poisoner slip through his fingers because the machine on the Underground took nothing but pennies. There was a queue at the booking office and the man at the barrier stopped him, and while they were arguing about accepting a five-pound note (which was all he had) for a two-penny ride to Baker Street, the criminal had sprung into a Circle train and was next heard of in Constantinople, disguised as an elderly Church of England clergyman touring with his niece.” So from the very beginning, we see Lord Peter as deliberate, thoughtful, but with a not so subtle sense of the ridiculous.