Have His Carcase
First US edition
|Author||Dorothy L. Sayers|
|Series||Lord Peter Wimsey|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz (UK)
Brewer, Warren, Putnam (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Five Red Herrings|
|Followed by||Murder Must Advertise|
Have His Carcase is a 1932 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her seventh featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and her second novel in which Harriet Vane appears. The title is taken from William Cowper's translation of Book II of Homer's Iliad: "The vulture's maw / Shall have his carcase, and the dogs his bones."
During a hiking holiday to Wilvercombe, a seaside resort in Devon, after her acquittal on a murder charge in Strong Poison, Harriet Vane discovers the body of a man, with his throat cut and the blood still liquid, on an isolated rock on the shore. There are no footprints in the sand other than the man's and Harriet's. She takes photos and preserves some evidence, but the corpse is washed away before she can fetch help.
Alerted by a reporter friend about Harriet's discovery of the body, Lord Peter arrives shortly afterwards to offer his help, and he and Harriet make investigations alongside the police. The dead man is quickly identified as Paul Alexis, a young professional dancing partner at a local hotel, who was of Russian extraction and engaged to a rather foolish rich widow in her fifties, Mrs. Weldon. The death, staged to look like suicide (as if Alexis had cut his own throat), is gradually revealed by Wimsey and Harriet to be the result of an ingenious and complex murder plot: The romantic Alexis, an avid reader of Ruritanian romances, had believed himself a descendant of Russian royalty, and the widow's son, Henry Weldon (himself ten years older than his mother's would-be lover), appalled at the prospect of his mother's remarriage to a gigolo and the loss of his inheritance, conspired with a friend and his wife in a cunning plot that would play upon Alexis' fantasies. Convinced that he was being called to return to Russia in triumph as the rightful Tsar, Alexis was lured to the rock and murdered by Henry, who rode a horse along the beach through the incoming tide to avoid leaving tracks, whilst his co-conspirators supplied his alibi.
After the death of Alexis is reported, Henry returns to Wilvercombe to monitor the investigation while ostensibly comforting his mother after her loss. He is by all appearances a simple, brutish and loutish man, yet Wimsey and Harriet both eventually realise that Weldon is not a fool, but a dangerous and cunning criminal who has been living under two different identities. Wimsey and Harriet ultimately break the case when they realise that Alexis had suffered from haemophilia, explaining the still-liquid and unclotted blood when Harriet had discovered the body—despite its being hours after the death is eventually pinpointed to have taken place. The time of death and explanation for the state of the blood—which had originally misled the entire investigation into confusion over the time of death—eventually helps to unmask Henry and the conspirators, who are undone by their attempts to reshuffle their alibis to match the shifting assumptions about the time of death.
Even as Harriet and Peter solve the case and lead the police to the conspirators, it is implied that Mrs. Weldon has already moved on to another gigolo at the hotel, a sympathetic French dancer named Antoine, in a development strongly implying that the pattern of life in Wilvercombe will continue to move along the same vaguely pitiable patterns as before.
Characters in Have His Carcase
- Lord Peter Wimsey - protagonist, an aristocratic amateur detective
- Miss Harriet Vane - protagonist, a novelist with whom Wimsey is in love, having saved her from the gallows
- Paul Alexis (deceased) - a professional dancing partner at a hotel
- Mrs Weldon - an elderly wealthy widow, engaged to the much younger Alexis
- Henry Weldon - a farmer with money troubles, only son of Mrs Weldon
- Haviland Martin - a suspicious camper who proves hard to trace
- Bright - an itinerant hairdresser with a cloudy past who gives evidence to suggest Alexis's death was suicide
- Inspector Umpelty - the local policeman in charge of the investigation
Literary significance and criticism
"A great achievement, despite some critics' carping. The people, the motive, the cipher, and the detection are all topnotch. Here, too, is the first (and definitive) use of hemophilia as a misleading fact. And surely the son, the mother, and her self-deluded gigolo are definitive types."
All the chapter heads feature quotes from the works of dramatist and poet Thomas Lovell Beddoes.