Tuesday, October 4, 2011
The Documents in the Case
If so, her faithful readers will not want to miss Dorothy L. Sayers's The Documents in the Case (1930) a marvel of a murder mystery told entirely in the correspondence and written statements of the key figures in the case.
George Harrison, a likable chap devoted to his family and his pastimes, is unceremoniously poisoned by a stew of amanita muscaria, a mushroom famous for its deadly venom. See the photo at right and beware not to mistake it for amanita rubescens, or the comparatively benign and edible 'warty caps.'
Miss Lemon finds more than just the meta-form of this novel intriguing. Its creation is something of a curiosity, too. The copy Miss Lemon read, published by the New English Library in 1978, clearly names Robert Eustace as co-author. Yet many other editions -- and bibliographies of Sayers's work -- do not.
Eustace, the nom de plume of Eustace Robert Barton, a doctor and novelist in his own right, is credited by some sources with supplying Sayers with the central plot point and supporting medical and technical details that make The Documents in the Case such a marvel. At the same time, those details are what sometimes interfered with Miss Lemon's willing suspension of disbelief. The technical whys and scientific wherefores are such that Miss Lemon found it hard to believe such minutia could be recalled in a letter or a written statement. Unless, of course, the author was an inventive novelist himself.
How much of this work is Sayers's? And how much is Eustace's? Literary sleuths will enjoy puzzling out that question as much as they will the case of one very suspicious death.