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Title: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #4
Author: Dorothy Sayers
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
On the afternoon of 10 November, ninety-year-old General Fentiman is called to the deathbed of his estranged sister, Lady Dormer, and learns that under the terms of her will he stands to inherit most of her substantial fortune – money sorely needed by his grandsons Robert and George Fentiman. However, should the General die first, nearly everything will go to Lady Dormer’s companion, Ann Dorland.
Lady Dormer dies the next morning, Armistice Day, and that afternoon the General is found dead in his armchair at the Bellona Club. Dr Penberthy, a Club member and the General’s personal physician, certifies death by natural causes but is unable to state the exact time of death. As the estate would amply provide for all three claimants, and as it is unknown whether the General or his sister died first, the Fentiman brothers suggest a negotiated settlement with Ann Dorland, but she surprisingly and vehemently refuses. Wimsey is asked to investigate.
Unusually, nobody saw the General arrive at the Club at his usual time of 10 am. His manservant reports that the General did not return home after visiting his sister the day before. An unknown man by the name of Oliver telephoned to say that the General would be spending the night with him. Robert Fentiman says that he knows of Oliver, and much time is spent chasing the elusive individual though several countries before Robert admits that he does not actually exist.
Wimsey discovers that after seeing his sister the General had felt ill and had consulted Dr Penberthy. He then travelled to the Club, meeting George Fentiman en route. There he informed Robert of the terms of the will and very shortly afterwards was found dead in the library, apparently of natural causes. Piqued at losing his inheritance, Robert concealed the body overnight, and invented Oliver to cover up the death. The next day, while the Club members had stepped outside to observe the usual two minutes’ silence at 11 am, Robert moved the body to an armchair to be found later.
Wimsey is still unsatisfied as to the cause of death, and has the body exhumed and re-examined. The General had been poisoned with an overdose of the heart medication digitalis. When this becomes known, Ann Dorland, who has an obvious motive, suddenly and suspiciously agrees to the proposed compromise with the Fentimans.
Wimsey finds Ann Dorland distressed by the callous and humiliating behaviour of Dr Penberthy, to whom she had been secretly engaged. It was he, with an eye on her expected inheritance, who had insisted she should refuse the compromise and fight for the whole estate. However, as soon as it became known that the General had been poisoned he broke the engagement off, ensuring Ann’s embarrassed silence by giving highly insulting reasons.
Wimsey works out what had happened. When the General had consulted Dr Penberthy after seeing his sister, he had mentioned the will, and Penberthy realised that if the General did not die at once his fiancée would not inherit. He gave the General a massive dose of digitalis, to be taken later that evening when Penberthy would not be in attendance. He was however present next day when the body was discovered and, in spite of Robert’s intervention which confused the time, was able without raising suspicions to certify a natural death.
Penberthy writes a confession publicly exonerating Ann Dorland, then shoots himself in the Club library. In an epilogue, it is revealed that the three original claimants to the estate have divided it equitably, and that Robert is now dating Ann.
Another good entry, hurray!
This was a great murder(or was it?) mystery and the obvious suspects were so obvious that I had to dismiss them even while having no way to figure out who actually did. That type of thing was annoying to me when Poirot would do that to the readers, but here, we’re getting things from Wimsey’s view so of course our knowledge is limited. So for whatever reason, not knowing or being able to figure stuff out didn’t bother me. Probably helps that Wimsey isn’t a self-righteous, arrogant, piece of crap like Poirot. Detective Parker is a good foil to Wimsey and I have to admit I wish he’d been a little more involved
I don’t have a lot to say about this even while thoroughly enjoying the story. While not a palate cleanser (mainly because I was looking and my SFF reading, while still a majority, has taken a steep nosedive in terms of percentages) it was just a nice, undemanding, relaxing and generally pleasant read. Wimsey’s ego doesn’t impinge in my own, so we’re going to get along famously.
And I suspect I will be able to copy/paste that previous paragraph for all the books, unless more french letters and lawyers get involved!