I recently ordered a copy of The Documents in the Case and it arrived today. It’s going directly onto the bookshelf as I have no immediate interest in reading it. This is for several reasons. The main reason is that it is written in the form of a series of letters. That’s not necessarily bad, but it takes the right frame of mind to deal with as it has at best a resemblance to a narrative flow. It was done fairly well in the beginning of Busman’s Honeymoon, but that section was mercifully short.
The Documents in the Case was published in 1930, putting it between Strong Poison and Five Red Herrings. It was a collaboration with Robert Eustace, who provided the scientific knowledge, and is quite a departure from Lord Peter. Interestingly, Sayers had intended to kill off Lord Peter in Strong Poison, or rather to retire him and cease writing about him. She proved unable to do so, as she couldn’t get Harriet to agree to marry Lord Peter and when she humanized him for Harriet’s sake she found she made him interesting to her. She probably did not know that at the time that she wrote The Documents in the Case, though, which makes me wonder whether it was originally intended as a new direction, rather than a one-off experiment.
The Five Red Herrings was published the next year, in 1931, and is far and away my least favorite of the Lord Peter stories. Far from humanizing Lord Peter none of the characters in the book were human beings. Have His Carcase came the next year, 1932, and brings a far more human Lord Peter Wimsey, so this was not far off. I’d wonder if The Documents in the Case marked the beginning of Sayers considering a turn toward a more strictly puzzle-oriented type of mystery, except that she actually referred to it in her essay in Titles To Fame as a step in the right direction of making her detective novels more novels than detection.
I did read a page or two, out of curiosity, and came across something very interesting. The woman writing the first letter (after a brief cover letter to the attached documents giving us the barest sense of what’s going on) mentions that in England at the time (the letter is dated 9 September 1928) there were two million women more than men. Presumably this is related to World War 1, though looking it up only about a million men from the British Empire died in World War 1 (I say “only” in regard to the supposed surplus of women). If true, this would certainly go decent way to explaining the loosening of sexual morality at the time, though it had certainly been happening prior to the start of World War 1. I’ll have to look into this more to see whether it really was the case.