The Documents In The Case (1930) by Dorothy L Sayers and Robert Eustace

So, the other day, I went to see the doctor. I’ve been suffering from insomnia and I wondered if there was a medical reason and/or if there was something he could prescribe to help me sleep.

We went through the usual questions, mostly is there anything causing me stress at the moment? As it happens, there isn’t, as my Dad seems to be on the mend and my wonderful students did really well in their exams. The doctor looked at me, pondering my situation, and eventually scribbled something on a piece of paper.

This confused me – prescriptions haven’t been handwritten for a decade or two – so I unfolded the paper with a little trepidation. Squinting at his stereotypically bad handwriting, I looked at him curiously. “The Doughnuts In The Cake?” I asked. “No,” he replied witheringly. “The Documents In The Case”.

Now my doctor knows that I like to read murder mysteries – no idea how he knew that my book club had chosen this book for this month – but I wasn’t as yet familiar with this one. He wasn’t paying attention as I frantically summoned Wikipedia on my phone finding out a few details of the book.

“Hang on,” I said. “This sounds rather interesting, being told entirely through letters and other communications, detailing the slow rising of tensions within a group of flats that eventually leads to a poisoning.” “Oh,” said the doctor, “don’t read the blurb. If you know who dies, that does suck almost any interest out of the first half of the book.”

Now I was concerned. The epistolary idea can work well – Tread Softly by the mighty Flynn springs to mind – but Brian wasn’t daft enough to do the whole of the first section in this manner, only alternating chapters. “So we here the voices of all of the inhabitants of the flats?” I asked hopefully. “No,” he replied, “only about three of them.”

“Surely it picks up once the person dies,” I responded, with what was left of my fading hope that this book would be worth my time. “Although I can’t see how the investigation of a crime can be presented in document form.”

“Oh, it’s not. It’s basically a couple of people investigating the death and then writing in unrealistic detail to someone else whatever they did. There’s one section where someone who doesn’t really understand the science reproduces in excruciating detail the science in question. No idea how they could do that?”

“But what about the ending? After trawling through all this chaff, surely there’s an exciting climax!”

The doctor almost needed the Heimlich manoeuvre at that point, as he had chosen to bite into his emergency Snickers at entirely the wrong point. When he recovered, he looks me straight in the eye.

“That depends on your definition of exciting. Does a prolonged discussion on science and religion sound exciting to you?”

So I trudged out of the surgery. I suppose I needed to read this book, if only to cure my insomnia. And the moral of the story is always trust your doctor. After one chapter, I was sleeping like a baby…

9 comments

  1. I vaguely remember trying to read this one back in the day. Sayers is extremely variable for me at the best of times. I love Murder Must Advertise, but couldn’t stand the railway timetables one, and think that Documents might have been another such snooze fest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I acknowledge that the trend is otherwise, but I have a handwritten prescription on my desk right now.

    I generally find myself wanting to defend Sayers against the dislike manifested in some of the mystery blogs. But in this case, I can’t. I read the book once, and that was enough. I remember nothing about it except that someone said that a particular batch of cooked mushrooms “smelt very savoury.”

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  3. I read this long ago and this prompted me to go see what I wrote about it:

    The Documents in the Case is the one full-length mystery novel penned by Dorothy L. Sayers that doesn’t star Lord Peter Wimsey. Before I’d read it, I knew of it merely as “the one with the mushrooms.” Now I’ll know it as “the really boring one with the mushrooms.”

    Liked by 2 people

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