Whose Body?

The page numbers are from the U.S. paperback edition published in 1961 by Avon Books.

Want a new copy with maps and footnotes that explain Sayers’ references? Support my work and click on the link to buy it from Amazon in trade paperback or the Kindle.



Muriel “Jim” Jaeger, a longtime friend of Sayers who encouraged her to write the novel.



7 ~ Piccadilly Circus

A major road junction in London’s West End where Piccadilly Road intersects with Regent and Glasshouse streets, Shaftesbury Avenue and Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square. The American equivalent would be Times Square in New York City. The word circus is derived from the Latin word meaning “circle.”

7 ~ 19 ’bus, 38-B

The names of two London bus routes. The ‘bus is a shortened form of the word omnibus.

7 ~ catalogue

Lord Peter is heading to an auction of rare books. High-end auction houses issue catalogues describing their offerings in detail, allowing buyers to decide their bidding strategy.

7 ~ Savile Club

A club for gentlemen, not to be confused with today’s “gentlemen’s clubs” which are really strip clubs with a fig leaf of respectability. Clubs such as the Savile, Boodle’s (founded in 1762) and White’s (founded in 1693) were once part of a grand tradition in which upper-class gentlemen would gather to dine, drink, network and, occasionally, die in the smoking room (see “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club”). During the 20th century, many clubs were forced to merge or close as the number of wealthy men able to support such establishments declined, but many still exist.

The Savile Club was established in 1868 at Trafalgar Square. Its membership consists of a mix of professionals such as scientists, doctors and lawyers, and artists such as actors, composers and writers. Between 1882 and 1927, it was located at 107 Piccadilly, almost next door to Lord Peter’s flat, hence the cab driver’s confusion. It is now at 69 Brook Street in Mayfair.

7 ~ 110 Piccadilly

Sayers housed Lord Peter on a busy street in one of the best neighborhoods in central London. A short stroll west of his home is Hyde Park. Across the street is Green Park, bounded on its south side by Buckingham Palace, and to its east the government seat at Whitehall and the Thames. Lord Peter is also a short cab ride west of the nightlife district in the West End.

7 ~ white maggots breed from Gorgonzola

Some cheeses, including a type of gorgonzola, can be made with the help of small white worms, the “maggots” in Sayers’ description. For example, a Sardinian sheep milk cheese called casu marzu is fermented by introducing the eggs of the cheese fly. The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the cheese and break down its fats in the digestive system. Of course, you have to eat the cheese while the maggots are still alive. Eating it with decaying maggots would be gross.

This is the first description we get of Lord Peter, and it’s not an attractive one. Sayers sets him apart from the popular fictional detectives of her time, such as Sherlock Holmes, who debuted in 1887, and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot (1920). He’s less heroic and more comical, almost kin to P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster, who first appeared in 1917. Certainly, Sherlock Holmes would never burble about finding a body in the bath.

7 ~ flats

An apartment on a single floor of a building. Derived either from the Scots flet, meaning the inner part of the house, or the Old English word for a floor or dwelling.

7 ~ Green Park

A 47-acre park in London consisting of wooded meadows and paths. It is one of eight Royal Parks owned and run by the Crown, including Hyde, St. James’ and Greenwich Park. Some were former hunting grounds and many have bandstands and open-air stages where regular free concerts and plays are held.

7 ~ throttled stridency

Throttled. Strangled or choked. Stridency. A harsh, shrill or discordant sound.

8 ~ Denver

A village in the county of Norfolk, a coastal area northeast of London. Duke’s Denver, Lord Peter’s family seat, is located several miles east of the village.

8 ~ latchkey

A key used to open a lock on an outside door.

8 ~ Dowager Duchess

A dowager is a woman who possesses a dower, or life interest in her deceased husband’s property. A duchess is the wife of a duke. The current Duke of Denver is Lord Peter’s eldest brother, Gerald.

8 ~ cut us off

Phone calls were timed so that you could talk for three minutes before incurring an additional charge. Since an operator, who connects callers by plugging wires into a board, might be monitoring several conversations at the same time, mix-ups could cause calls to be prematurely terminated.

8 ~ pince-nez

A pair of glasses consisting of two lenses connected by a metal bridge, sometimes with a string attached that is looped around the neck or a vest button. The word is derived from the French pincer, to pinch, and nez, nose.

9 ~ vicarages

A vicar is the title given to a parish priest. In the Anglican Church, England is divided into parishes and grouped into dioceses, each overseen by a bishop. Depending on who appointed him and how he is paid, the priest of the parish could be called a rector, vicar, curate (a sort of assistant to the parish priest) or even a perpetual curate (who acts as a parish priest but over a small parish). The vicarage, therefore, is the home of the vicar. It doesn’t mean that a rector lives in a rectorage. He lives in a rectory.

9 ~ Battersea

A district on the south side of the Thames, near the center of the city.

9 ~ 59, Queen Caroline Mansions, opposite the Park

Battersea Park. A 200-acre green space opened in 1858 that’s home to a children’s zoo and the London Peace Pagoda. It is bounded on the north by the River Thames, the east by Queenstown Road, the south by Prince of Wales Drive, and the west by Albert Bridge Road.

Queen Caroline Mansions. On Prince of Wales Drive are buildings with names such as Park Mansions, Primrose Mansions and Prince of Wales Drive Mansions, that are rented as apartments. Queen Caroline Mansions doesn’t exist, but it could fit in very nicely among them.

9 ~ Eton and Balliol

Eton College is an independent school, that is — not funded by the state — for boys aged 13 to 18. Founded in 1440, it is one of nine English public schools regulated under the Public Schools Act of 1868, and are attended mostly by sons of the English upper and upper-middle classes. They are called public schools because they are open to all who can pay the (usually) high fees. Balliol is a college, founded in 1263, and one of 38 that form the University of Oxford, itself founded in the 10th century. Balliol currently has 400 undergraduate and 400 postgraduate students, and its alumni include three former prime ministers, and eminent writers and scientists such as Aldous Huxley, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Hilaire Belloc and Algernon Swinburne. Sayers’ son, John Anthony Fleming, also went to Balliol.

10 ~ Folio Dante

Lord Peter collects incunabula: books printed in the latter half of the 15th century, after the introduction of moveable type.

A reference to the 1481 edition of the works of Dante Alighieri (c.1265-1321), containing his “Divine Comedy” that describes his journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. Books are categorized according to the size of their pages, and a folio is one of the largest, with each page about 8¼ inches by 13 inches. During the last decade of her life, Sayers worked on translating the “Comedy,” completing “Hell” and “Purgatory” and most of “Paradise.”

10 ~ de Voragine — Golden Legend — Wynkyn de Worde, 1493

A collection of the lives of the saints compiled by Jacobus de Voragine (c.1230-1298), the archbishop of Genoa. Although called “Legenda Sanctorum” (Readings of the Saints), it was more commonly known as “Legenda Aurea” (Golden Legend), because it was considered worth its weight in gold. It was a work popular during medieval times, with versions were published in every major European language after the invention of the printing press. Wynkyn de Worde (died 1534) was an English printer who worked with printer William Caxton (c. 1415-1422-c. 1492) and was one of the first to produce books for the mass market rather than for noble patrons.

10 ~ Four Sons of Aymon

A medieval French romance telling of Charlemagne’s struggles with the four chivalrous noblemen of the title. Although the epic poem dates from the late 12th century, the version printed in English by William Caxton in 1489 that Lord Peter wanted is unique in that it’s the earliest known edition in English.

10 ~ frock-coat

A man’s knee-length coat worn primarily during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It was commonly cut tight at the waist and could be single- or double-breasted.

10 ~ overlook my trousers

Gentlemen of the time dressed for the morning in top hat, frock coat and striped trousers, while an undertaker would wear all black.

10 ~ undertaker

A word dating from the 15th century for mortician or funeral director.

10 ~ Niccolo di Lorenzo. Aldine 8 vo. edizione rarissima

Also known as Lorenzo di Niccolò, a painter active in Florence from 1391 to 1412. Little is known of him. Aldine is the name of the printing house founded in 1495 by Aldo Manuzio (1449-1515) in Venice. 8 vo refers to the number of volumes. Edizione rarissima means “rare edition” in Italian.

10 ~ signatures

A portion of a book. A book is published a signature at a time, in which several pages are printed, front and back, on a large sheet of paper, which is then folded one or more times, trimmed and bound.

10 ~ colophon

A publisher’s trademark or insignia, found usually on the title page. It is also a description of the book’s typography, paper weight and other information, usually found at the end of the book.

11 ~ hobbies at once

A reference to a hobby horse, a toy consisting of a stuffed horse’s head mounted on a stick, sometimes with a small wheel attached at the base. Understandably, trying to ride two of them at once can lead to confusion.

11 ~ monocle

A corrective lens consisting of a circular lens encircled by a wire to which a string is attached. A monocle could be worn to correct eyesight, as a magnifying glass, or because it was stylish to wear, particularly among the upper classes.

11 ~ Malacca

A variety of rattan or palm plant, named for the town in western Malaysia. Unlike most palm plants, Malacca has a solid stem, making it ideal for use as a cane.

11 ~ Battersea Park

A 200-acre green space opened in 1858 that’s home to a children’s zoo, a lake for boating, and the London Peace Pagoda. It also contains several gardens — including one devoted to sub-tropical plants — lodges, shelters and war memorials.

11 ~ condescension

Why should Mr. Thipps be grateful to Lord Peter’s condescending behavior? Because the first definition of condescension is the “voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior,” according to Merriam-Webster. In Britain’s class system, how you act toward a person depends on whether they rank higher or lower than you. A sprig of the nobility ranks above a common architect. Lord Peter is not obliged to take notice of Mr. Thipps, so the fact that he not only willingly does so, but calls at Mr. Thipps’ home to help, is commendable behavior.

12 ~ retired


12 ~ regular habits

Mr. Thipps meant living according to an unvarying schedule: getting up at the same time every morning, going to bed at the same time each night, attending church, and not carousing or getting into trouble. In short, not doing anything that would cause the neighbors to gossip about you.

12 ~ mother-naked

As naked as the day you were born.

13 ~ police-inspector

A supervisory rank in the British police, above sergeant but below chief inspector. They’re called inspectors today.

14 ~ two keys to every door

Indicating that Mr. Thipps is a very cautious, careful man.

15 ~ coal-holes

A hatch in the sidewalk used to access an underground coal bunker outside a building or a home. Delivery men would lift the hatch (which would be latched down from inside otherwise) and pass down sacks of coal which the homeowner or servant would store. This made delivery convenient and kept dusty workmen out of the house.

15 ~ Harley Street

A street in the City of Westminster in London, known as a home for doctors and medical organizations since the 1800s.

16 ~ screwed his monocle

A monocle custom-made for the wearer is easy to keep in place. When it is not, or, in this case, when Sayers wanted to emphasize Lord Peter using his lens as a magnifying glass, he worked his monocle so that it fit snugly.

16 ~ soot blowing in

In the 1920s, London’s more than 7 million inhabitants made it the most populous city in the world. That also meant hundreds of thousands of chimneys burning coal for fuel and depositing soot that caused serious health problems. The Great Smog of 1952, when weather conditions wrapped London in a thick blanket of smog for four days, reportedly caused at least 4,000 premature deaths — later studies suggest as many as 12,000 — and led to the Clean Air Act of 1956 which banned the use of coal for domestic use in cities.

16 ~ dandy

Someone who pays exaggerated attention to his personal appearance. Possibly a shortened version of “jack-a-dandy” from the 1780s.

16 ~ parma violet

A perfume made with a member of the violet family.

16 ~ Joseph Chamberlain

A British businessman and politician (1836-1914) who, while he never made prime minister, was one of the most influential statesmen of the 19th and 20th centuries. He favored sporting an orchid in his buttonhole, and his collection was renowned in his day.

17 ~ Prince of Wales Road

Prince of Wales Drive, which runs along the south edge of Battersea Park, was previously known as Prince of Wales Road.

17 ~ Denver

A reference to the home of his brother, the Duke of Denver.

17 ~ bawled kindly

Cry out loudly.

17 ~ towards the station.

Battersea Park railway station at the southeast corner of the park. To return home, Lord Peter would catch a train to Victoria Station, a major railway terminus south of Buckingham Palace, and either catch a cab or walk up Grosvenor Place along the west side of Buckingham Palace’s gardens.


18 ~ Harold Skimpole

The villain from Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House,” believed to be based on the critic and essayist Leigh Hunt (1784-1859). At first, Skimpole seems like a genial, childish fellow, but he is revealed as a monstrous parasite, sponging off people by acting like a child naïve about money and the ways of the world. However, Skimpole says nothing close to Lord Peter’s quote. He could have been thinking of Richard Carstone, who was as feckless about money as Skimpole was about debt. Consider this scene, when Carstone is returned the money he had given the bailiff to pay off Skimpole’s debt. Instead of seeing it as money recovered, Carstone thinks of it as five pounds earned and should be spent:

“Let me see!” he would say. “I saved five pounds out of the brickmaker’s affair; so, if I have a good rattle to London and back in a post-chaise, and put that down at four pounds, I shall have saved one. And it’s a very good thing to save one, let me tell you; a penny saved, is a penny got!”

18 ~ liqueur glass

A small glass used to serve liqueur such as brandy, typically after dinner.

18 ~ imperturbable

A person who is extremely calm, impassive and steady, even in stressful situations.

18 ~ Jacob’s voice

A reference to Genesis 27:22, in which Jacob steals the birthright of his first-born twin brother, Esau, from their father, the patriarch Isaac. Old, blind and wanting to pass his authority to Esau, Isaac sends him to hunt for meat, with which he would use to bless Esau. While Esau was gone, his mother, Rebekah dressed Jacob in his brother’s clothes, laid goatskins on his arms to simulate Esau’s hairiness, and sent him in with meat. Isaac, feeling the goatskins, says, ‘The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau,’ ” but blesses Jacob anyway.

18 ~ Double Anastigmat

A lens that corrects a defect in the optical system that creates a blurred image. A double anastigmat refers to the use of two lenses working together.

18 ~ on the plate

Early cameras recorded photographic images onto chemically treated glass plates. Bunter’s suggestion would make it easier to produce more detailed photos of crime-scene evidence.

19 ~ Greek to me

A common expression that was probably in use before Shakespeare lifted it for “Julius Caesar.” In act I, scene 2, when Casca was asked if Cicero gave a speech at a festival in which Caesar was offered a crown, he replied:

CASCA: Ay, he spoke Greek.

CASSIUS: To what effect?

CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.

19 ~ in a dead language

Lord Peter was referring to his recent acquisitions at auction, some of which were written in Latin.

19 ~ Lady Worthington

Obviously not a real person, but there is a Lady Worthington in “Won by Waiting” (1879), the first novel by Edna Lyall (a pseudonym for Ada Ellen Bayly). Bayly (1857-1903) was a popular novelist whose support for political causes, including women’s emancipation, were reflected in her works. Except for the name, there doesn’t seem to be a connection between “Whose Body?” and Lyall’s Lady Worthington, who is portrayed as graceful, young and generous, but whose strong dislikes “was perhaps the reason why she was often not so much appreciated as she ought to have been.”

19 ~ noblesse oblige

Honorable, generous and responsible behavior demanded from those of high rank or birth. From the French for “obligations of the nobility,” the phrase has been traced back to 1837.

19 ~ at home

A polite lie made possible only when you have a servant running interference for you.

20 ~ bachelor rooms

An apartment consisting of a sitting room, bedroom and a bath, sometimes with a kitchenette, ideal for a bachelor, but not for a respectable woman who would either be living with her family or husband.

20 ~ primrose

Although the flower by that name comes in a multitude of shades, the color is yellow with a hint of black to it.

20 ~ Chesterfield sofa

A very masculine-looking sofa, usually rectangular, made of rich, polished leather and held in place with rows of studs. It is typically associated with English clubs.

20 ~ houris

In Islam, the beautiful women who reside in paradise.

20 ~ Sèvres vases

A vase named for the commune — an administrative district that’s the equivalent of a village — known for manufacturing porcelain since 1756. It is located in the southwestern suburbs of Paris.

20 ~ night as this

Lord Peter is quoting from the meeting between the lovers Lorenzo and Jessica in Act V of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” Comparing themselves to history’s great lovers, Lorenzo begins by bringing up, “in such a night as this”:

“When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,
And they did make no noise, in such a night,
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls,
And sigh’d his soul toward the Grecian tents,
Where Cressid lay that night.”

Cressida ends up betraying Troilus by falling in love with the Greek hero Diomedes. Jessica replies by praising Thisby, who dies as a result of her love for Pyramus. The couple’s joke becomes apparent as they continue to bring up ill-fated lovers as examples of their love for each other.

Likewise, Lord Peter sees the humor in eagerly anticipating hearing a tale of “arson and murder” from Inspector Parker.

20 ~ a body in the bath

Lord Peter is improvising. “For in spite of all temptations / to go in for cheap sensations” is from “HMS Pinafore” by Gilbert & Sullivan. When a common sailor is caught by the captain of the Pinafore in the act of running off with his daughter, the crew defends his act because he is an Englishman:

“For in spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations
He remains an Englishman,
He remains an E-e-e-e-e-e-englishman!”

20 ~ Gin a body

Lord Peter is improvising from “Comin’ Through the Rye” by Robert Burns (1759-1796). Beak is a judge in the Cockney dialect, and while magistrate John Fielding (1721-1780) was called “the blind beak of Bow Street,” it is not certain if he inspired the phrase.

O Jenny’s a’ weet [wet], poor body,
Jenny’s seldom dry:
She draigl’t [dragged] a’ her petticoatie [petticoats],
Comin thro’ the rye!

Comin thro’ the rye, poor body,
Comin thro’ the rye,
She draigl’t a’ her petticoatie,
Comin thro’ the rye!

Gin [Should] a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the rye,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need a body cry?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the glen,
Gin a body kiss a body,
Need the warld ken [world care]?

Gin a body meet a body
Comin thro’ the grain,
Gin a body kiss a body,
The thing’s a body’s ain [own].

21 ~ Star

An evening newspaper founded in London in 1888. Its circulation grew rapidly as a result of its coverage of the Jack the Ripper case, and it is suspected that its reporters wrote the “Dear Boss” letter which gave the Whitechapel murderer his name.

21 ~ Sugg of the evening

Lord Peter is parodying a parody. The original was a popular song by James M. Sayle called “Star of the Evening,” which was converted by Lewis Carroll in “Alice in Wonderland” to “Soup of the Evening”:

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Soo – oop of the e – e – evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Beau – ootiful Soo – oop!
Soo – oop of the e – e – evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

21 ~ Semitic-looking stranger

Jewish looking. The word is derived from Shem, one of the three sons of Noah, and was originally applied to the family of languages of Middle Eastern origin, including the ancient and modern forms of Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic. It was first applied to Jews as “anti-Semitic” in 1879 by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr in his pamphlet “The Victory of Germandom over Jewry.”

22 ~ Adolf Beck

A notorious scandal in the 1890s, Beck was mistakenly identified and convicted as the man who defrauded numerous women, for which he served five years in prison. Three years later, he was convicted again for a similar crime, only the real criminal was captured and Beck was pardoned. Beck’s ordeal pointed out the weakness of witness identification in criminal cases and led to the creation of a court of appeals.

22 ~ Tower of Babel

A story from Genesis about the origin of the world’s many languages. In Chapter 11, when “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech,” a city and tower was built on the plain of Shinar “whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Lord chose to “confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” and “scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”

22 ~ ‘and deceives the heye

The complete phrase, typical of a magician’s stage patter is “the quickness of the hand deceives the eye.” Lord Peter adds a Cockney accent for humorous effect. The Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1911 notes that the magician’s motto is inaccurate, because the success of a trick depends more on misdirection rather than speed.

22 ~ 9a, Park Lane

A major north-south road in central London that forms the eastern boundary of Hyde Park, around the corner from Lord Peter’s flat at 110 Piccadilly. At this time, it was the home of a considerable number of mansions and had been since it was mentioned in William Makepeace Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” (1848). Sherlockians will recall that in “The Adventure of the Empty House,” Col. Sebastian Moran shot the Honourable Ronald Adair “with an expanding bullet from an air-gun” through the open window of his home at No. 427 Park Lane. How he managed to do it without being seen while standing in the middle of Hyde Park has been the subject of much debate among Sherlockians.

23 ~ Ingoldsby Legends

A collection of myths, legends and ghost stories, supposedly written by Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor, actually a pen-name of cleric, humorous poet and novelist Richard Harris Barham (1788-1845). The reference is from a comic poem “The Blasphemer’s Warning: A Lay of St. Romwold.” During his wedding feast, a knight eats a spoonful of Charlotte Russe — a dessert of Bavarian cream and ladyfingers — which inflames his “sad raging tooth.” The pain inspires an outburst of cursing, which causes his bride to vanish, leaving her clothes behind.

23 ~ Yale lock

A company associated with a pin tumbler lock, which uses a key with an edge milled to various heights. Inserting the key into the lock raises a series of pins to different heights. Each pin is cut into two pieces, so only the correctly sized key would allow the cylinder to be rotated and the lock to be unlocked.

24 ~ share the same room

Upper-class couples tended to favor separate bedrooms for various reasons. They might prefer different hours for waking and sleeping; it allowed room for the man’s valet and the wife’s lady’s maid to perform their duties; and, if worse came to worse, couples in arranged marriages that didn’t take could lead separate lives. In the case of the Levys, sharing a bed could be taken as a sign of affection and compatibility, or that they’re hopelessly middle-class.

24 ~ Mentone

A commune — an administrative district that’s the equivalent of a village — on France’s southern coast near the border with Italy. It is called Menton in France, Mentone in Italy.

24 ~ valet, cook, parlourmaid, housemaid and kitchenmaid

Positions within the strict hierarchy of the servant class. The valet was the male servant who attended his employer. Generally, he was responsible for the care of the master’s clothes and appearance, but depending on the household, he could also act as a personal assistant and run all sorts of errands.

The parlourmaid was responsible for maintaining the house’s public rooms, such as the sitting, drawing and dining rooms. The housemaid was a general-purpose worker. The kitchenmaid, of course, assisted the cook. The between maid, by the way, worked wherever she was needed, the scullery maid helped in the kitchen, and the chamber maid cleaned the bedrooms.

The parlourmaid, housemaid and kitchenmaid tended to be as young as 19, and ranked above the between maid and scullery maid and below the cook, lady’s maid (as the woman who tended Lady Levy would be called) and the housekeeper (who supervised the maids).

24 ~ mid nodings on

“With nothing on,” spoken in a mock-German dialect. A reference to “De Maiden Mid Nodings On,” a story burlesquing Teutonic legends by Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903), an American humorist and folklorist who wrote comic stories told in dialect.

24 ~ deuced

A euphemism for devil. Probably associated with cards or dice, where scoring a two is called deuce (from the Old French dues, “two”) and considered unlucky.

25 ~ Wyndham’s

Anderson’s identity is qualified further by his club. Windham (its correct spelling) was founded in 1828 and located for most of its existence at 13 St. James’s Square. It merged with the Marlborough and Orleans club in 1945 to form the Marlborough-Windham Club and was moved to 52 Pall Mall. It closed in 1953.

26 ~ Villar Villar

A brand of cigar imported in Lord Peter’s time from Cuba.

26 ~ Say me not nay

A quotation from “Duke Magnus and the Mermaid,” a folk song from Scandinavia. It begins:

Duke Magnus looked out through the castle window,
How the stream ran so rapidly;
And there he saw how upon the stream sat
A woman most fair and lovelie,

Duke Magnus, Duke Magnus, plight thee to me,
I pray you still so freely;
Say me not nay, but yes, yes!

26 ~ acushla

A term of endearment, from the Irish meaning “O pulse of my heart.”

26 ~ alibi

A statement identifying where a person, usually a suspect in a crime, was when it was committed. From the Latin meaning “somewhere else.”

26 ~ cadaveric lividity, rigidity and all the other quiddities

A reference to the stages of decomposition the body, or cadaver, undergoes after death. Examining the state of the body can provide clues to how and when the victim died. Lividity refers to the settling of blood in the portions of the body closest to the ground, causing the skin to turn a purplish-red. Rigidity refers to the stiffening of the muscles that begins about three hours after death and can last up to three days. Other quiddities — meaning the essence or inherent nature of an object — can include pallor mortis (the paleness in light-skinned bodies immediately after death), algor mortis (the reduction in body temperature) and the state of decomposition.

26 ~ Glaister and Dixon Mann

The authors of two standard reference works. Dr. John Glaister (1856-1932) wrote “A Textbook of Medical Jurisprudence, Toxicology and Public Health.” Dr. J. Dixon Mann (1840-1912) wrote “Forensic Medicine and Toxicology.”

27 ~ minority report

A dissenting opinion issued from a faction on a committee investigating a particular issue.

27 ~ Jesuits

A Roman Catholic religious order, known formally as the Society of Jesus. Founded in 1534 to strive “for the propagation and defense of the faith and progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine,” according to its founding document, the Jesuits emphasize learning and intellectual research. Impey here is playing the anti-intellectual card, implying that a jury of stout, plain-speaking Englishmen isn’t like the Popish hair-splitting Jesuits.

27 ~ Medical Jurisprudence

A book by Alfred Swaine Taylor (1806-1880), a toxicologist and the father of British forensic medicine. Its full title is “The Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence.”

27 ~ Brown-Séquard

A reference to Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894), a French doctor known for his groundbreaking research on the nervous system and the presence and effects of hormones in the blood.

27 ~ The Times

A daily newspaper founded in 1785. It is the original Times, its name appropriated by newspapers around the world, including The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

29 ~ vademecum

From the Latin for “go with me,” a vademecum is a useful book that one carries around. In “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club” and “Unnatural Death,” Lord Peter muses about writing “The Murderer’s Vade-Mecum, or 101 Ways of Causing Sudden Death.”

30 ~ electric torch

A flashlight, invented by Conrad Hubert (1855-1928), a Russian inventor and businessman who changed his name from Akiba Horowitz after arriving in America. He founded the American Electrical Novelty and Manufacturing Co. and sold a flashlight promoted as ‘Ever Ready.’ In 1905, Hubert renamed his company American Ever Ready. Eventually, the Ever Ready name was applied to his batteries, now called Eveready, and the company is now called Energizer Holdings Inc.

30 ~ the best hotel in Lincoln

The presence of fleas, bedbugs and other insects have disturbed the sleep of travelers since Roman times. In “The Law of Hotel Life” (1879), Robert Vashon Rogers tells this anecdote about a man signing the register at a hotel and seeing a bedbug crawl out of a crack and march across the page: “I’ve been bled by St. Joe fleas, bitten by Kansas City spiders, and interviewed by Fort Scot graybacks, but I’ll be hanged if I ever was in a place before where the bedbugs looked over the hotel register to find out where your room was.”

32 ~ Blest


32 ~ in war

A variation on the old expression “worse things happen at sea,” suggesting that your problems might not seem so bad compared with the uncertainties of living near and sailing on the ocean. The phrase was possibly inspired by the Great Storm of 1703, a hurricane that struck England’s South Coast from Nov. 24 to Dec. 2 and killed between 8,000 and 15,000 people.

32 ~ shillin’ shocker

A lurid popular novel with a heavy emphasis on crime and violence that sold for a shilling. Also known as a penny dreadful or a dime novel. Sample titles include “The Life and Horrid Adventures of the Celebrated Dr. Faustus,” “Captive of the Banditti,” and “The Lunatic and His Turkey: A Tale of Witchcraft.” Lord Peter’s pleasure in the mystery will prove ironic.


33 ~ Scarlatti sonata

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was an Italian composer best-known for his 555 keyboard sonatas. He wrote mostly for the harpsichord or the pianoforte, an early forerunner of the piano, hence, Lord Peter’s observation while playing the piano that “Scarlatti wants a harpsichord.”

33 ~ Labour papers

Newspapers aligned with the Labour Party, which advocates government control of key industries and the economy, the redistribution of wealth, publicly funded health care and education and increased rights for workers. In 1924, the first Labour government was formed under Ramsay MacDonald with help from the Liberal Party. It lasted nine months before collapsing.

34 ~ chez

French word for home, from the Latin casa for cottage.

35 ~ fig-leaf

A reference to the story of Adam and Eve, who after eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, “knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Beginning about 1530, carved, cast or painted fig leaves were used to cover the genitals on artworks.

35 ~ vulcanite

A hardened rubber compound that weathers to a dull, dark-grey finish. The name is derived from vulcanization, the chemical process that converts rubber into more durable materials by adding sulfur or other curatives. Produced by the Goodyear Vulcanite Company, the compound was unstable and could break easily and it was superceded by Bakelite, an early plastic.

35 ~ exchange

The telephone exchange, where operators connected phone calls.

35 ~ infernal machine and the magnesium

A reference to Bunter’s camera. To provide enough light to take a picture, powdered magnesium was poured onto a metal dish and ignited, using sparks from a flint wheel to create a flash. While effective, it was difficult to synchronize with the shutter and the open flame could cause a fire. It wasn’t until the late 1920s that the flashbulb was invented.

35 ~ wandering Jew

A Jewish character from medieval Christian folklore who taunted Jesus and was cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming. Possibly inspired by Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:28: “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” The “Flores Historiarum” (Flowers of History) in the 1220s recorded the story of a visit to England by an Armenian archbishop. The bishop reported meeting a Jewish shoemaker named Cartaphilus who, as Jesus rested while carrying his cross to his crucifixion, hit him and said, “Go on quicker, Jesus! Go on quicker! Why dost Thou loiter?” Understandably irritated, Jesus replied, “I shall stand and rest, but thou shall go on till the last day.”

35 ~ Suggified

From “Romeo and Juliet,” Act II, scene iv, in which Mercutio creates a pun on the first part of Romeo’s name, equating it with fish eggs:

BENVOLIO: Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.
MERCUTIO: Without his roe, like a dried herring: flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!

36 ~ Underground

The London subway system, also known as the Tube. Founded in 1863, it’s the world’s first subway and the longest. Despite the name, more than half the line runs aboveground. In the pre-decimal currency of the time, 240 pennies made up 1 pound.

36 ~ Circle train

The Underground is broken down into routes, each with its own name. The Circle route opened in 1884 and loops around the center of London north of the Thames, with connections to the railroad stations at Victoria, King’s Cross, Paddington and Liverpool Street.

36 ~ gloom and gleam

The romantic London fog, through which one can imagine Jack the Ripper or Sherlock Holmes (or Lord Peter) striding, was in reality a foul mixture of water vapor, smoke and soot, fed by the pervasive use of coal for heat and power. The fog weakened lungs and caused fatal traffic collisions. R. Russell in “London Fogs” (1880) described it as “brown, reddish-yellow, or greenish, darkens more than a white fog, has a smoky, or sulphurous smell, is often somewhat dryer than a country fog, and produces, when thick, a choking sensation. Instead of diminishing while the sun rises higher, it often increases in density, and some of the most lowering London fogs occur about midday or late in the afternoon. Sometimes the brown masses rise and interpose a thick curtain at a considerable elevation between earth and sky. A white cloth spread out on the ground rapidly turns dirty, and particles of soot attach themselves to every exposed object.” By the 1920s, when traffic lights and electric billboards were installed, the lights of Piccadilly Circus must have gleamed under a thick blanket of English industrial fog.

36 ~ Cerberus

The three-headed hound in Greek and Roman mythology who guarded the gates of Hades.

36 ~ masterly inactivity

A description of Britain’s policy toward its colonies which, in essence, allowed them to rule themselves so long as they didn’t cause trouble. As prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, the 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, abandoned this policy to counter Russia’s desire to expand into Afghanistan. The phrase was created by Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832), a Scottish politician who observed that the House of Commons, which “faithful to their system, remained in a wise and masterly inactivity.”

37 ~ bally

A substitute curse word, replacing “bloody” which as a reference to Christ would be considered crude and blasphemous.

37 ~ keeping out of the public

Lord Peter was making a joke by deliberately misunderstanding Sugg’s “keep out the public” as “keep out of the public” (e.g., the pub). Pussyfoot. Lord Peter is referring to William E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson, an American prohibitionist As a U.S. special agent in the Indian Territory and Oklahoma, he earned his nickname for his cat-like raids on gambling saloons, bars and brothels, earning more than 4,400 convictions during his three years in the service. He toured the U.S. and Europe extensively on behalf of the Anti-Saloon League. During his 1919 temperance campaign in Britain, medical students caught him and paraded him through London on a stretcher before police rescued him, but not before he lost the sight in an eye from a flying object. Abstinence advocates became known as “pussyfooters.”

37 ~ Lord Attenbury’s emeralds

Lord Peter’s first case, and the subject of the third post-Sayers novel by Jill Paton Walsh published in 2010.

37 ~ golden mean

In considering how one should live, the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC–322 BC) concluded that within each virtue there is a golden mean (mean, by the way, is defined in this instance as the middle point between extremes) that we should follow. For example, courage is a virtue, but too much of it leads to recklessness, and too little of it to cowardice. Other virtues, and their extremes, include gentleness (irascibility/spiritlessness); truthfulness (exaggeration/self-depreciation); wittiness (buffoonery/boorishness); and generosity (wastefulness/stinginess).

37 ~ golden ass

A reference to “Metamorphoses,” also known as “The Golden Ass” a bawdy novel by Apuleius (c.125–c.180). A whole rose-garden to cure me. When the narrator, Lucius gets transformed into an ass, he returns to human form by eating a crown of roses held by a priest of Isis.

37 ~ My own rose, my one rose, that’s you!

From “The Garden of Roses,” a popular song sung by Harry Macdonough and the Haydn Quartet in 1910. Macdonough (1871-1931) was a prolific Canadian singer and later a record company executive, who recorded hundreds of songs for Edison Records and the Victor Talking Machine Company.

37 ~ catamaran

A disagreeable old woman. The word was more commonly used during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

37 ~ hedging and ditching

A traditional method of building a fence around a farm using cut branches intertwined into a waist-high barrier. Traditionally, a tenth of the farm’s hedges would be done each year, creating a renewal cycle of 10 years. Hedging can be performed with skill and artistry. Competitions are held, and there are even regional styles of hedge laying.

37 ~ the Yard

Scotland Yard. The headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. Although the original location was at 4 Whitehall Place, its rear entrance opened onto Great Scotland Yard, hence the name. During subsequent moves to larger facilities in 1890 and 1967, the headquarters building was called New Scotland Yard. The head of the service is known as the commissioner and classified as “chief police officer,” colloquially as “the chief.”

37 ~ make it a bit fuller

Lord Peter is indulging in a poker reference. Although the best hand is a royal flush (ace, king, queen, jack and 10), Lord Peter tops that with five aces, which in a game using one deck would provoke accusations of cheating. Lord Peter seems to be implying that he pulled an ace out of his sleeve by relying on his friendship with the chief of Scotland Yard to get around Sugg. A full house is a five-card hand consisting of three of a kind and two of a kind, which allows him to make a pun about his joining the investigation to make the house “a bit fuller.”

38 ~ man-servant

A valet or personal assistant, responsible for running the household and performing whatever tasks his master desired.

38 ~ highly respectable

Reputation and social standing plays a great role in the English class system. As Mrs. Appledore explains, it simply wouldn’t do to be mixed up in police business and thought of as helping a murderer.

38 ~ the Bishop of Carisbrooke

This is a deliberate slight and one source of Lord Peter’s uncharacteristically bitchy reaction. In the British class system, you are not related to anyone below your rank; they are related to you. Mrs. Appledore was implying that the late bishop outranked Lord Peter. Carisbrooke is a village on the Isle of Wight and the home of St. Mary’s Church which dates to the 14th century.

38 ~ its own father

A proverb that’s quoted in “The Merchant of Venice.” In Act II, Scene 2, Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant, meets his blind father, who doesn’t recognize him. Launcelot tells him “if you had your eyes, you might fail of the knowing me: it is a wise father that knows his own child.”

39 ~ I thank the goodness and the grace

From the poem “The Thankful Child.”

I thank the goodness and the grace
Which on my birth have smiled,
And made me in my early days
A happy free-born child.

I was not born a little slave
To labor in the sun,
And wish that I were in the grave,
And all my labor done.

My God, I thank thee, who hast planned
A better lot for me,
And placed me in this happy land,
Where I may hear of Thee.

A version of this poem appeared in “The Slave’s Friend,” a tract published for children in 1836 by the American Anti-Slavery Society.

39 ~ Dower House

A home on an estate where the widow of the late owner lives. If her husband dies and the heir is single, she remains in the main house until he is married.

39 ~ portmanteau

A suitcase.

39 ~ Liberty’s

A department store founded by Arthur Liberty in 1875. Drawing on its connections with designers in the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, the store became known for its stylish clothing. It is still in business.

40 ~ Q.E.D.

Quod erat demonstrandum, which means “what was to be demonstrated.” Traditionally used at the end of a mathematical proof or philosophical argument to indicate that the theory has been proved.

40 ~ quod

Slang for prison, possibly derived from quadrangle, the enclosure where prisoners took exercise, used as early as 1700.

40 ~ purposes best known to herself

Lord Peter is implying that she is a prostitute. Her behavior with the gentleman and her reluctance to be explicit to Sugg and offending his “very pure, high-minded ideals” confirms it.

41 ~ West End

An area of central London that includes Soho and parts of Mayfair and Chinatown. Near the royal seat of power at Westminster, it was favored by the elite, not only because it was upwind of the smoke from the city, but for the entertainment it offers.

41 – Seagreen Incorruptible

A reference to Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), a leading revolutionary who helped institute the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution and was eventually executed under it. His supporters named him “the incorruptible” in praise of his virtue. The sea-green modifier was added in “The French Revolution,” a monumental three-volume history by Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) as a reference to Robespierre’s sallow complexion.

41 ~ get it in the neck

The punishment for murder in England until 1965 was death by hanging. Since “get it” meant to be caught and/or punished, it’s only a short step to imply that Thipps might pay the ultimate price if convicted of murder.

41 ~ Manchester

A city about 180 miles northwest of London. A major manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution, it processed at least 65% of the world’s cotton before the First World War.

41 ~ St. Pancras

A major railway station in central London. Considering that it is north of the Thames, and even north of where Lord Peter lives, it’s understandable that Inspector Sugg would want to know why Mr. Thipps was checking his bag in a cloakroom so far from his respectable flat south of the Thames. Pancras, by the way, was a Roman who was beheaded around 304 at age 14 during the persecution of the Christians under Diocletian. Some of his relics were taken to England, where a number of churches were dedicated to him, including St. Pancras Old Church in London.

41 ~ cloakroom

A manned room at a railway station where luggage or parcels can be stored temporarily. This allowed passengers to spend the day in town to conduct their business without dragging along unwieldy baggage.

42 ~ Hampshire

A coastal county southwest of London.

42 ~ we’re all Jews nowadays

In the aftermath of World War I, financially pressed aristocratic families were either going into business or marrying into families of industrialists. Entering the House of Lords were “soap and pickles lords” — as Sayers called them in “Clouds of Witness” — who used their money to rise into the aristocracy. The Dowager Duchess might be saying that now everyone, even the aristocracy, is grubbing for money.

Side note: Despite the anti-Semitism of the times, the royal family considered itself descended from the House of David. In 1911, the Daily Chronicle wrote that “the descent of the British Royal House from David the Psalmist is strongly held by one school of genealogists, as it was also by Queen Victoria. In 1869 an Anglican clergyman, the Rev. F.R. Glover, M.A., addressed to her Majesty the result of his researches on the subject. So pleased was the Queen that she commanded his attendance at Windsor, and telling him that the descent was part of the inner history of her house, she showed him the Royal pedigree, with David as its root. The subject is complex, but, on the surface, simple. As Guelphs, our Royal Family trace descent from Roger d’Este, the Saracen hero, who, though a Mohammedan, was nevertheless, through Saladin the Nazarene, descended from the Hebrew Royal House of David.”

42 ~ La Bella Simonetta

Simonetta Vespucci (c.1453-1476) was the wife of Italian nobleman Marco Vespucci of Florence and reputed to be the mistress of Giuliano de Medici, the brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Renaissance ruler of Florence. She was considered to be the greatest beauty of her age and immortalized in portraits, paintings and poems.

42 ~ believed something

The Dowager Duchess might be referring to the commonly held belief that Jews do not believe in a heaven. This is, at its kindest, a simplification, as their beliefs in heaven range from recognizing the existence of an eternal soul and nothing else, to Jewish mysticism recognizing no less than seven heavens.

42 ~ new moon

The months in the Jewish calendar are set based on the appearance of the new moon, which allows for variations in the dates of some holidays. For example, Rosh Hashanah can fall between Sept. 5 and Oct. 5.

43 ~ as well loved at home as he was hated abroad

This is an inversion of the Christian proverb about those who portray themselves as Christian outside the home while acting otherwise inside.

43 ~ Pilgrim’s Progress

A novel by English preacher John Bunyan (1628-1688). It is written as an allegory, in which symbolic figures are cast into human form (for example, by representing death as the Grim Reaper). “Pilgrim’s Progress” portrays the spiritual quest of Christian, representing humanity, and his journey to Heaven atop Mount Zion. The Dowager is referring to a passage in Chapter 12, when Christian is speaking to Faithful about their new travel companion, Talkative:

“Remember the proverb, ‘They say and do not,’ [Matthew 23:3] but ‘the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.’ [1 Corinthians, 4:20] He talketh of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new birth; but he knows only to talk of them. I have been in his family, and have observed him both at home and abroad; and I know what I say of him is the truth. His house is as empty of religion as the white of an egg is of savour. There is there neither prayer nor sign of repentance for sin… Thus say the common people that know him: A saint abroad and a devil at home. His poor family finds it so, he is such a churl, such a railer at, and so unreasonable with his servants, that they neither know how to do for or speak to him. Men that have any dealings with him say, it is better to deal with a Turk than with him; … For my part, I am of the opinion that he has, by his wicked life, caused many to stumble and fall; and will be, if God prevent not, the ruin of many more.”

So the Duchess, in her roundabout way, is praising Levy, despite her late husband’s attitude toward businessmen.

43 ~ Everybody Ishmaels together

Another variation on the Dowager Duchess’ “we’re all Jews nowadays” remark. Ishmael is considered a prophet by Islam and credited with rebuilding the Kaaba in Mecca with Abraham’s help. In Judaism, he is seen as a wicked through repentant man in Judaism. He was the eldest son of Abraham and Hagar, herself a maidservant given to Abraham as a surrogate by his wife, Sarah. When Sarah became pregnant with Isaac, Hagar was expelled from the tribe with her son, although comforted by God’s promise to Abraham that He would “make Ishmael into a nation.”

44 ~ hot-water bottle

A rubber bladder filled with hot water, used when getting into bed was a chilly experience in the days before central heating. Before the invention of rubber, a metal container containing hot coals was used, at the risk of scorching the sheets.

44 ~ linen

A fine textile made from the fibers of the flax plant. Linen is particularly valued in hot weather for its coolness, but as the Duchess notes, it can be uncomfortable in winter.


45 ~ deuce


45 ~ Niagara

Niagara Falls, located on the U.S.-Canadian border outside Buffalo, N.Y.

45 ~ Shaftesbury Avenue

A major street in central London, running from Piccadilly Circus to New Oxford Street. Named for Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885), a social reformer who attempted to improve life for the poor in housing, hospitals and factories.

46 ~ parapet

A low wall lining the edge of a roof.

46 ~ chimney-stack

A chimney, usually containing more than one flue, typically found in apartment buildings or large houses.

46 ~ stanchion

An upright bar or post.

46 ~ call 110, Piccadilly

Before the introduction of phone numbers, operators connected calls using addresses.

46 ~ fingermarks

Fingerprints. The use of fingerprints to identify criminals had been in use in England since 1900.

47 ~ india rubber boots

Natural rubber, derived from the latex tapped from rubber plants much like maple syrup. British planters introduced commercial cultivation of rubber in India by 1902.

48 ~ “Letters of a Self-made Merchant to His Son”

A self-help book published in 1902 by George Horace Lorimer (1867-1937), consisting of letters from a Chicago pork packer, John Graham, to his son, Pierrepont “Piggy” Graham as he enters Harvard. The letters were full of aphorisms and advice:

* About business: “I can’t hand out any ready-made success to you. It would do you no good, and it would do the house harm. There is plenty of room at the top here, but there is no elevator in the building”

* Generosity: “The meanest man alive is the one who is generous with money that he has not had to sweat for, and the boy who is a good fellow at some one else’s expense would not work up into first-class fertilizer”

* Women: “Marriages may be made in heaven, but most engagements are made in the back parlor with the gas so low that a fellow doesn’t really get a square look at what he’s taking”

Socialist author Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) called “Letters” “a work of commercial depravity.” Sayers owned the sequel, “Old Gorgon Graham: More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son,” so she probably had a copy of this volume as well.

48 ~ morocco

Goatskin that’s been dyed red on the grain side and then tanned to bring out its characteristic bird’s-eye pattern. Originally imported from Morocco. In the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movie “The Road to Morocco,” the comic duo sing that “like Webster’s Dictionary / we’re Morocco bound.”

48 ~ valet

A gentleman’s male servant. Generally responsible for caring for the master’s clothes and appearance, he could also act as a personal assistant and run errands.

48 ~ grey powder

A powder used to identify and lift fingerprints, generally made of zinc stearate or lead. Powders come in a variety of colors and can be magnetized for use on metal surfaces. Some powders are more suitable for certain materials, plus it helps if the color contrasts well against the object being tested, so the examiner can see the print clearly.

48 ~ fish

Slang for a peculiar fellow.

48 ~ lampblack

A fine soot left over when organic compounds are not completely burned. In powder form, it is combined with rosin and Fuller’s earth and used to raise fingerprints off surfaces.

49 ~ Hampshire Fords

When gossiping about a person, it helps to identify what part of England their family comes from, especially when dealing with common names. Hampshire is a county on England’s southern coast and the home of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and the British army, navy and air force.

49 ~ a good man

One important consideration in Judaism is the determination of what constitutes a “good Jew.” Is it by rigorously observing the rituals? By living according to the Torah (known in Christianity as the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)? What if you don’t observe Jewish law or attend services, but live ethically? A common prejudice against Jews is that they favor their religion over the community, and while Sayers herself might have believed it, Bunter, it seems, does not.

49 ~ washstand linoleum

A covering used to protect the wooden floor from water stains.

50 ~ towel-horse

A rack consisting of several bars from which towels are draped. Bunter is setting up a neutral background against which to photograph Levy’s possessions.

50 ~ silver spoon in their mouths

To be born rich. Graves is drawing a comparison between Lord Peter, born to wealth and therefore filled with bad habits, and Levy, a self-made man who never forgot where he came from.

50 ~ surrepshous

Surreptitious. Another use of the Cockney accent for humorous effect.

50 ~ arc-lamps

A type of lamp that produce light from two electrodes in a gas-filled bulb. A fluorescent tube operates on the same principle.

51 ~ cream-jug

A small pot that holds cream, usually used for tea.

52 ~ three-hat trick

Lord Peter is referring to the three-shell game, in which a dry pea is put under one of three walnut shells. The shells are moved about, and the bettor has to guess which shell the pea is under. In dishonest hands, the shell game is a “short-con” used to swindle the marks.

52 ~ top-hats

A tall, flat-crowned black hat usually worn with formal wear.

52 ~ Ritz

A hotel at 150 Piccadilly, down the street from Lord Peter’s residence, opened in 1906 by Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz.

52 ~ aggrieved

Feeling troubled or distressed.

52 ~ focussing cloth

A large piece of cloth attached to the back of a camera that uses chemically-treated glass plates instead of film. The operator ducks underneath it and frames the subject by looking through the lens. When he is ready to take the picture, he slides the glass plate into place and opens the shutter. The cloth makes the process easier by blocking unwanted light.

52 ~ fingering the evidence

That is, handling the object and possibly smudging fingerprints.

52 ~ cry your mercy

A common phrase in Shakespeare’s. It is also a line from a sonnet by John Keats written to his lover, Fanny Brawne, the year after they were betrothed. He died of tuberculosis in Italy before they could marry, and she stayed in mourning for him for six years. The sonnet runs:

I cry your mercy — pity — love! — ay, love!
   &nbspMerciful love that tantalises not
One-thoughted, never-wandering, guileless love,
   &nbspUnmask’d, and being seen — without a blot!
O! let me have thee whole, — all — all — be mine!
   &nbspThat shape, that fairness, that sweet minor zest
Of love, your kiss, — those hands, those eyes divine,
   &nbspThat warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast, —
Yourself — your soul — in pity give me all,
   &nbspWithhold no atom’s atom or I die,
Or living on, perhaps, your wretched thrall,
   &nbspForget, in the mist of idle misery,
Life’s purposes, — the palate of my mind
Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!

53 ~ toothglass

A glass on the bathroom sink used for rinsing the mouth as well as to hold the toothbrush. Toothbrush holders were not common at the time. The first U.S. patent for a holder was filed in 1922.

53 ~ ten-inch sock

In the days before polyesters and other stretchable fabrics, socks that were made out of cotton, wool or other natural materials did not stretch as far and were sold in sizes.

53 ~ dim, religious light

From “Il Penseroso” (“The Contemplative Man”), a poem by John Milton (1608-1674) in which, near the end, the speaker hopes for a glimpse of heaven:

“And storied windows richly dight [adorned]
Casting a dim, religious light.
There let the pealing Organ blow,
To the full voiced Quire [choir] below,
In Service high, and Anthems cleer,
As may with sweetness, through mine ear . . .
Dissolve me into extasies,
And bring all Heaven before mine eye.”

Which gives you some idea of what came over Lord Peter, inspired by the sight of a 10-inch sock.

53 ~ domestics

The other servants.

54 ~ panama

A brimmed hat made from straw ideal for summer wear.

54 ~ topper

Slang for top hat.

55 ~ Hyde Park Corner

The southeast corner of Hyde Park, a few steps down Piccadilly from Lord Peter’s residence. This reinforces the assumption that Sir Reuben’s home is close by.

55 ~ ejaculated

A common dialog tag of the time, used to indicate an impetuous response. Now that the meaning of the word has shifted, it has become a source of merriment, especially if used in a romance (e.g., ‘I love you!’ he ejaculated cockily.”).

55 ~ There was an old man of Whitehaven

A poem by Edward Lear (1812-1888), poet, artist and illustrator, from his “Book of Nonsense” (1846).

55 ~ go to the Coliseum

A poem by Edward Lear (1812-1888), poet, artist and illustrator, from his “Book of Nonsense” (1846).
Although he is addressing Parker, Peter seems to be talking more to himself, since it makes no sense for him to invite Parker home for lunch when, as we shall see, he has an invitation to dine with Freddy Arbuthnot. Instead, once the thrill of detecting has worn off, Lord Peter understands that a man has vanished, his family grieves for him, and the instigator has “has the guilt of murder upon his soul.” The fallout from this realization will have consequences for Lord Peter’s mental well-being.

The London Coliseum is a theatre on St. Martin’s Lane. Also known as the Coliseum Theatre, it is now the home of the English National Opera.

55 ~ box-rooms and roof-traps

A box room is used to store boxes, trunks and other items. Roof traps are hatches that allow access to the roof from inside the house.

55 ~ inveigle

To acquire by ingenuity or flattery.

56 ~ Wyndham’s

A club for gentlemen. Windham, its correct spelling, was founded in 1828 and located for most of its existence at 13 St. James’s Square. It merged with the Marlborough and Orleans club in 1945 to form the Marlborough-Windham Club and was moved to 52 Pall Mall. It closed in 1953.

56 ~ bags


56 ~ Bass

A brand of beer, established in 1777 in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, by William Bass.

56 ~ Honourable

A title used by the sons of a baron or viscount — the two lower ranks in the British hierarchy — or the younger sons of an earl, marquess or duke. As the youngest son of his late father, the Duke of Denver, Wimsey is referred to as Lord Peter.

56 ~ Thick or clear

The two divisions of soup. Clear soups are generally bouillon or consommé. Thick soups use thickening agents such as vegetable purees, cream, rice, flour or grains.

57 ~ Consommé Polonais

An older edition of “Larousse Gastronomique” describes it as soup in the Polish style, with chopped hard-boiled egg and noisette butter (lightly browned with lemon juice) added.

57 ~ languished

Dispirited, feeble or weak.

57 ~ Montrachet ’08

A dry white wine made from Chardonnay grapes in the Burgundy region of France. It is considered an excellent wine, so Freddy’s comment that “there’s nothing fit to drink in this place” is more a reflection of his state of mind rather than a comment on the club’s cellars.

57 ~ ‘Change

The London Stock Exchange in London’s financial district.

57 ~ salmis of game

Cooked pieces of birds — partridges, grouse or quails, for example — arranged on a plate with gravy (made from the bones, trimmings, skin and general odds and ends) poured over it. Another version calls for the game to be cooked most of the way through in the oven, then cut into joints, placed in a buttered sauté dish with mushrooms and sliced truffles, cooked over hot water for a half hour, and served on bread with gravy.

57 ~ Argentines

Before World War I, with the help of European banks, Argentina had become a rising economic powerhouse similar to Japan in the 1980s, although on a smaller scale.

57 ~ bunking off

To leave in a haste.

58 ~ U.P.

Not an abbreviation, but a way of showing emphasis by spelling out the letters.

58 ~ shekels

An ancient unit of currency or weight. Although associated with Jews, a number of ancient peoples used shekels as currency, including Phoenicians, Moabites and Edomites. It is now the currency of Israel. Freddy’s use of the word for Jewish currency instead of, say, pounds, could reflect an Englishman’s attitude toward the Jewish presence in the banking industry.

58 ~ boycott

The particulars of this business deal aren’t clear because Sayers is more interested in the mystery of Sir Reuben’s death, so only enough details are needed to bring in Milligan as a suspect and supply a motive.

58 ~ Gorgonzola

The cheese course usually occurs near the end of the meal, after the main course but before the dessert, in the belief that it aids digestion.

58 ~ No side

No boastfulness or arrogance.

58 ~ 96 ‘bus

The route 96 omnibus, a common form of transportation and indicative of Levy’s lower-middle-class background.

59 ~ half-penny

Before the United Kingdom shifted to a decimal form of currency in 1971, with 100 pence equaling 1 pound, it used a complex system that was as rich in tradition as it was baffling to the outsider. Basically, 20 shillings made up 1 pound, and 12 pennies (or pence) made up 1 shilling. Hence, 240 pennies, or 480 half-pennies, made up 1 pound. Complicating the system was the existence of special coins, including guineas (1 pound plus 1 shilling), crowns (5 shillings), half-crowns (2½ shillings), florins (2 shillings), farthings (one-fourth of a penny) and mites (one-eighth of a penny).

59 ~ ring me up

Telephone him. Before electronic chirps or snatches of popular songs summoned you to your smartphone, a bell inside the phone was rung to indicate an incoming call.

59 ~ code cables

A cable is a telegram sent through an electrical cable, as opposed to a telegraph line. Messages were typically charged by the word, which encouraged the use of codes that could combine several words into one. In addition to saving money, coding also prevented telegraph operators from benefiting from potentially valuable insider information.

59 ~ Lombard Street

A street in the City of London where money has congregated in one form or another since King Edward I (1239-1307) granted land there to goldsmiths emigrating from northern Italy. It became the home of Lloyd’s of London when Lloyd’s Coffee House moved there in 1691, and was the home of most of England’s banks until the 1980s.

59 ~ Marlborough Club

Founded on 1868 by the Prince of Wales — later Edward VII (1841-1910) — and established at 52 Pall Mall. In 1945, the club merged with the Orleans and Windham Clubs to form the Marlborough-Windham Club, but declining membership forced it to close in 1953.

60 ~ stand for the county

Run for Parliament representing Norfolk. In the House of Commons, there are several seats, currently eight, representing different areas of the county. Duke’s Denver is in the South West Norfolk constituency.

60 ~ peer

A peerage is a subset of the aristocracy who hold the title of duke, marquess, earl, viscount or baron. Peers could sit in the House of Lords until 1999, when an act was passed reducing its membership from 1,330 to 669.

60 ~ Wars of the Roses

A series of civil wars from 1455 to 1485 between two branches of the Plantagenet family for the throne of England. They were the houses of Lancaster, whose symbol was the red rose, and York, the white. During this tumultuous period, England was ruled by five kings: Henry VI (Lancaster), Edward IV (York), Edward V (York), Richard III (York) and the eventual winner, Henry Tudor, of Lancastrian ancestry who married the daughter of the Yorkish king to reunite the houses as Henry VII (1457-1509). His son became the notorious Henry VIII, he of the six wives, who ruled England for 23 years. The fact that the third duke successfully betrayed everyone might not speak much for his loyalty, but a lot for his survival skills.

60 ~ which attends ignorance

Unaware or unwilling to admit his ignorance of the subtleties of the English peerage, Milligan decides not to pursue the matter further and changes the conversation with the offer of a cigar. A Corona Corona, also called a Double Corona, is not a brand, but a cigar size, in this case about 7½ inches long.

61 ~ charity bazaar

A fundraiser in which games of chance are offered and food is sold.

61 ~ angel roof

An architectural feature, usually found in medieval and later timber-roof structures, in which the ends of ceiling beams are decorated with carved wooden angels. Most commonly found in East Anglia, the region northeast of London which includes Norfolk.

61 ~ rheumatism

A general disorder of the joints and connective tissue, encompassing various forms of arthritis, rheumatic fever and heart disease, lupus or back pain. Although wet weather is commonly believed to cause rheumatic pain, one study finds a firmer connection with changes in barometric pressure.

61 ~ draught

A draft.

61 ~ interlocutor

An old word from the 1500s meaning a person participating in a conversation.

61 ~ rigmarole

Confusing or meaningless talk.

61 ~ bewilderment

Lord Peter mentions Thripps to see Milligan’s reaction to the unexpected surfacing of his name.

61 ~ Cash, Conscience and Cocoa

Although Sayers had not yet begun her advertising work at S.H. Benson’s, she already had the knack for writing these titles that could have come out of any magazine aimed at the middle class hoping to rise through self-improvement.

In later printings, Sayers altered the titles of the talks. Originally, they were “A Drop of Oil with Mr. Rockefeller” and “Cash and Conscience” by Cadbury’s Cocoa.

62 ~ Secret Service

A member of the Secret Service Bureau, founded in 1909 to counter threats from other nations, particularly Germany. When World War I started, the agency was split into Military Intelligence, Section 5 (MI5), and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

62 ~ Vicarage

The address is the name of a Roman Catholic feast day which, until 1960, was held on May 5. According to tradition, St. John was arrested and brought to Rome where the Emperor Domitian (ruled 81-96 A.D.) ordered that he be thrown into a vat of boiling oil near Rome’s Latin gate. But, according to “Lives of the Saints,” “the seething oil was changed in his regard into an invigorating bath, and the Saint came out more refreshed than when he had entered the caldron.”

62 ~ German financier

Considering World War I ended a few years before, it’s understandable that there would be concerns that a German would not be welcome at a village fundraiser.

63 ~ cinch

A tight grip.

63 ~ conjecture

A theory based on the evidence, in this case, that Sir Reuben was dead.

63 ~ rum go

An odd or surprising event. In use at least since the 19th century, when it appeared in Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers.” The meaning of rum has flipped since it appeared in the 16th century, when it meant fine, clever, excellent or strong. A rum-bit, for example, was a clever rogue; a rum-mizzler an expert thief; a rum-ken a popular inn or brothel and a rum-topping a rich headdress.

64 ~ portentous

Foreshadowing. At the sight of the long leg, Lord Peter began hoping that Mr. Scoot have been an accomplice in Sir Reuben’s disappearance.

64 ~ will my mother say

When Peter tells her she’ll have to organize a fundraising bazaar for the church roof.


65 ~ No. 12 Great Ormond Street

Inspector Parker lives on a short street in the Bloomsbury district. No. 12 exists as part of a series of brick buildings that appear suitable for rent at a pound a week in Parker’s time. Buildings from the Georgian era were typically subdivided into apartments and rented out, and Parker might have found himself in one of those oddly divided “inconvenient” flats.

The Georgian style was popular between 1714 and 1830 and was named for the four King Georges who ruled during that period. Elements of the style include a simple 1- or 2-story symmetrical box frame built of brick or stone, with multi-paned windows, chimneys on both ends and a cornice — the horizontal projection that crowns the building — embellished with decorative moldings. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is a superior example of the Georgian style.

65 ~ top and bottom

Public health officials advocated getting plenty of fresh air, to the point of sleeping with the windows open in all seasons.

65 ~ kidneys and bacon

Kidneys from lambs, pigs or ox are considered part of a proper English breakfast.

65 ~ viciously

Porridge is oats or a similar grain, boiled in milk or water and served in a dish. Parker’s reaction to Mrs. Munns’ breakfast can be attributed to her lack of skill in fixing porridge combined with the prospect of eating kidneys and bacon with Lord Peter.

65 ~ dressing-gown

A robe designed to be worn over sleepwear.

66 ~ sanguine

Optimistic. He had expected the bus to travel the two miles Lord Peter’s flat in 30 minutes, and it took him 45 minutes.

66 ~ Daily Mail

There are numerous newspapers in Britain, each aimed at a demographic or political belief. Hence, you can tell something about a person by the newspaper he favors. Founded in 1896, The Daily Mail was designed for the newly educated lower-middle class. It was not only the first newspaper to sell a million copies a day, it also printed articles for women, which still make up a majority of its readership.

66 ~ et iterum venturus est

“And He shall come again,” from Bach’s Mass in B minor. The rest of the line, by the way, is “with glory to judge both the quick [living] and the dead.” It is drawn from the Nicene Creed, the profession of faith used in Christian liturgy. The version Sayers might have been most familiar with would have been this one from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer:

I believe in one God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth,
And of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
Very God of very God,
Begotten, not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made;
Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary,
And was made man,
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
And ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.
And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick [alive] and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,
The Lord and giver of life,
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
Who spake by the Prophets.
And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come.

66 ~ verbena-scented

A perfume derived from a flowering plant that gives off a sweet musky aroma. Lord Peter’s views on the use of scent by men changed during his life. While inspecting a man’s rooms in “Clouds of Witness,” he finds a bottle of “Baiser du Soir” (Evening Kiss) and comments “very nice too. New to me. Must draw Bunter’s attention to it.” After he’s married, in “Busman’s Honeymoon,” however, he says, “I disapprove on principle of perfumes for men.”

66 ~ peacocks

Variegated means discrete markings of different colors. It must have been a stunning bathrobe.

66 ~ Oxford marmalade

A brand of marmalade created by the wife of Frank Cooper, who founded a company in 1874 under his name in Oxford to market it. In 1903, he established his factory near the Oxford railway station on Park End Street, and Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade became popular with the university’s dons and students. It is still sold today.

66 ~ Morning Post

A conservative London-based newspaper. In 1920, it ran a series of articles based on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a notorious antisemetic forgery purporting to detail a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world. The next year, The Times revealed that the book was a fraud, but “Protocols” is still published today as fact, particularly in Arabic countries.

66 ~ Times Literary Supplement

A weekly literary review founded in 1902 as a supplement to The Times. It became an independent publication in 1914. Its writers have included T.S. Eliot, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Philip Larkin and Martin Amis.

66 ~ Chronicle

A possible reference to the Evening Chronicle, a regional newspaper published in Newcastle, located on the River Tyne (hence you’ll sometimes see it called “Newcastle upon Tyne”) about 50 miles from the Scottish border. Its presence on Lord Peter’s breakfast table indicates his interest in news, no matter how far from London.

66 ~ Herald

The Daily Herald, a newspaper published 1912-1964, when it was relaunched as The Sun tabloid. Its leftish orientation makes it an ideal source for an article attacking the aristocracy. Its presence also indicates Lord Peter’s newspaper reading to be extensive — he has Bunter culling the three newspapers mentioned, as well as the “formidable pile” of other papers, irrespective of their politics.

67 ~ inquest

After a suspicious death, the coroner holds a hearing in which a jury examines the evidence and declares, if possible, a cause of death. The coroner suspended this inquest until Lady Levy could appear to attempt to identify the body.

67 ~ time, too

“About time,” he’s saying.

67 ~ Apollonios Rhodios

A librarian at the Library of Alexandria, which was famous for being the largest in the ancient world. In the 3rd century BCE, he wrote the epic poem “Argonautica” about Jason and the Argonauts’ quest for the Golden Fleece. The edition Lord Peter contemplates bidding on is considered the first printed edition of the work.

67 ~ A.R. Lorenzobody Alopa. Firenze, 1496

Lorenzobody Alopa, also known as Loreno de Alopa, was a printer in Florence who specialized in Greek works. His editions are renowned for their beauty and elegant type.

68 ~ petered out again

Inspector Parker is referring to a “pump and dump” scam, in which a group of stockholders spread rumors about a company to artificially boost its stock price, at which time they sell their shares and reap a profit.

68 ~ gas-meter man

Homes were equipped with a meter that measured how much gas was used for cooking, lights and heating. Some operated on the pay-as-you-go method and worked only when a coin was dropped into the slot. The meter man would come in to check out problems, collect the coins or to inspect or replace the meter.

68 ~ top flat

Live-in servants were commonly given the attic room on the top floor. These were generally cramped, odd-sized rooms, and, because they were in the highest part of a poorly insulated house, oven-hot in summers and freezing in winters.

68 ~ chimney-pot

A column placed on top of the chimney to inexpensively extend its length and improve its draft.

68 ~ dropped her h’s

An indicator of a lower-class person, who pronounces house as ’ouse, or he as ’e. A person ’ypersensitive about class might go so far as to add h’s where it isn’t needed, such as in hour, heir and honest.

68 ~ anti-vivisection

An opponent of cutting or operating on a living animal for physiological or pathological purposes. Also dropping in uninvited was a breach of etiquette, and another reason for Mrs. Appledore to purse her lips at the Thripps.

69 ~ Tarbaby

A reference to “The Wonderful Tar Baby Story” by Joel Chandler Harris. Br’er Fox traps Br’er Rabbit by building a doll out of a lump of tar and dresses it in clothes. Br’er Rabbit encounters the Tar-Baby and talks to it, and when it keeps “sayin’ nuthin’,” attacks it and gets stuck. He escapes by pleading with Br’er Fox to do anything with him but not fling him in the brier-patch. Fox does so, and Br’er Rabbit escapes.

69 ~ fine nib

The business end of a fountain pen where the ink meets the paper. A fine nib is narrow and the width of the line varies depending on the amount of pressure used.

69 ~ solicitors

Along with barristers, one of two classes of lawyers in England. The solicitor — also known as an attorney — is a general practitioner, allowed to draw up contracts and conduct litigation. He also instructs the barrister, a specialist in certain branches of the law and who is allowed to appear in most major courts and speak on the client’s behalf.

69 ~ Milford Hill Salisbury

A road in Salisbury, a city about 90 miles west of London.

69 ~ L.B. & S.C. Electric Railway

The London Brighton and South Coast Railway, founded in 1846. It connected London with the south coast from Portsmouth to Hastings.

69 ~ Victoria to Balham

Mr. Crimplesham was traveling a local line from Victoria Station near St. James’ Park (south of Green Park, within a mile of Lord Peter’s home), across the Thames, to Balham Station south of Clapham Common. The line passes along the east side of Battersea Park, near Sir Julian’s home and hospital.

69 ~ bona fides

Latin for “in good faith,” it is used as a synonym for credentials or identity.

70 ~ Thos.

Abbreviation for Thomas.

70 ~ bromide prints

A photographic paper coated with pure silver bromide emulsion.

71 ~ scourged

Whipped or lashed, usually on the back, either as punishment or self-mortification for religious purposes.

71 ~ visiting-card

A small card presented at a home or business as a way of introducing oneself to strangers among the social class that employed servants. Admittance would not normally be granted upon a first visit, but agreeing to a future visit would be indicated by leaving a card at the first person’s home. Also known as a calling card, nowadays it has evolved into business cards.

72 ~ boned

Slang for steal, first used in the late 17th century.

73 ~ limelight

A form of stage lighting in which quicklime is ignited. It was first used in theatres and concert halls in 1837 until it was replaced by electric lighting. When someone’s the object of intense media curiosity, we still say that they’re “in the limelight.”

73 ~ Agony Column

A newspaper column consisting of a list of personal notices submitted by the public. Sherlock Holmes used the agony column frequently to place messages or secure information, such as this one in “The Sign of Four”:

“Lost.–Whereas Mordecai Smith, boatman, and his son, Jim, left Smith’s Wharf at or about three o’clock last Tuesday morning in the steam launch Aurora, black with two red stripes, funnel black with a white band, the sum of five pounds will be paid to any one who can give information to Mrs. Smith, at Smith’s Wharf, or at 221b Baker Street, as to the whereabouts of the said Mordecai Smith and the launch Aurora.”

73 ~ injunction

Order or admonition.

73 ~ Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth

From Ecclesiastes 12:1: “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”

74 ~ Snupshed

Sayers is parodying a style of academic debate frequently heard in universities.

74 ~ aegis


74 ~ a man-of-infinite-resource-and-sagacity

How the small fish described the shipwrecked mariner in the story “How the Whale Got His Throat,” in Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories.”

76 ~ catspaw

Getting someone else to unwittingly do your dirty work. The phrase was inspired by a fable by French poet Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), in which a monkey convinces a cat to pull chestnuts for him from a hot fire, burning his paw in the process.

76 ~ nobbled

Hit on the head.

76 ~ wild-goose chase

A useless pursuit, as anyone who has tried to catch a goose that didn’t want to be caught can tell you.

77 ~ savage bull

Descriptions of the two states of the stock market. In a bull market, stock prices are rising. In a bear market, they are falling. The terms have changed since they first appeared in “Every Man His Own Broker,” published in 1785 by Thomas Mortimer. In it, he describes two types of investors: bulls who are optimists who buy stocks on margin (i.e., on borrowed money) to sell later at a higher price; and bears who buy temporarily depressed stock to resell quickly when the price rebounds.

77 ~ conservatory

A greenhouse–like room or growing or displaying plants.

78 ~ plenipotentiary

A diplomat sent on a mission who has been given the authority to make decisions on his country’s behalf.

78 ~ Corots

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), a French painter who used a Neo-Classical painting style to depict peasants in beautiful landscapes.

78 ~ Augustus John

A painter (1878-1961) noted for his portraiture, particularly of T.E. Lawrence — better known as Lawrence of Arabia — George Bernard Shaw and Dylan Thomas.

79 ~ starting two hares

A reference to the proverb, “He who hunts two hares leaves one and loses the other.” A similar sentiment was expressed in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” when the king reflects that “like a man to double business bound / I stand in pause where I shall first begin, / And both neglect.”

79 ~ mental D.T.

Delirium tremens, Latin for a “shaking frenzy” caused by a withdrawal from alcohol.

79 ~ pussyfoot

William E. “Pussyfoot” Johnson, an American prohibitionist. As a U.S. special agent in the Indian Territory (and when it became a state, Oklahoma), he earned his nickname for his cat-like raids on gambling saloons, bars and brothels, earning more than 4,400 convictions during his three years in the service. He toured the U.S. and Europe extensively on behalf of the Anti-Saloon League. During his 1919 temperance campaign in Britain, medical students caught him and paraded him through London on a stretcher before police rescued him, but not before he lost the sight in an eye from a flying object. Abstinence advocates became known as “pussyfooters.”

79 ~ emollient diet

Soft and soothing.

79 ~ Charles Garvice

The James Patterson of his time, Garvice (1850-1920) sold more than seven million copies of his adventure and romance novels, all of them forgotten today.

79 ~ Minster Hotel

A website that chronicles pubs and inns with literary connections identifies Lord Peter’s choice for lunch as the Cathedral Hotel, a suitable restaurant for the middle-class Sayers — who boarded at Salisbury’s Godolphin School before she entered Oxford — but far below the quality Lord Peter would expect.

79 ~ White Hart

The four-star rated hotel on St. John Street, in its 17th century building, would have been far more suitable for a person of Lord Peter’s social class.

79 ~ hostel

A hotel. Sometimes, it’s a building owned by a charity or group that offers long-term accommodations to a particular clientele, such as students or nurses.

79-80 ~ Close

A cathedral is a church that is designated as the headquarters of the diocese and ruled by a bishop. The city it is in is called a cathedral city. The close is the area near the cathedral, usually a green space surrounded by buildings, where can be found the homes of the bishop and other clergy, offices, schools and chapels. The close near Salisbury Cathedral, for example, consists of nearly 30 buildings and ample lawns.

80 ~ everywhere the same

English cooking is generally not held in high regard, except for its cheeses. George Orwell wrote a defence of English cooking in 1945, in which he called Stilton “the best cheese of its type in the world, with Wensleydale not far behind.”

80 ~ Joey Bagstock

Lord Peter wasn’t quoting a poem, but from Charles Dickens’ “Dombey and Son.” In Chapter 10, Major Joseph Bagstock, a retired army major, erupts in anger to Miss Tox’s rejection of his marriage proposal:

“‘Would you, Ma’am, would you!’ said the Major, straining with vindictiveness, and swelling every already swollen vein in his head. `Would you give Joey B. the go-by, Ma’am? Not yet, ma’am, not yet! Damme, not yet, Sir. Joe is awake, Ma’am. Bagstock is alive, Sir. J. B. knows a move or two, Ma’am. Josh has his weather-eye open, Sir. You’ll find him tough, Ma’am. Tough, Sir, tough is Joseph. Tough, and de-vilish sly!’”

81 ~ Penny-farthing Street

This street exists in Salisbury. According to legend, it was named for the master masons building the cathedral, who went on strike for this daily wage.

81 ~ vibrating web

A reference to Professor Moriarity from the Sherlock Holmes story “The Final Problem”:

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson… He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.”

81 ~ sporting paper

A newspaper that covers sports.

81 ~ perspicuity

Understanding of the situation.

81 ~ but the truth

The tradition of taking oaths in legal proceedings is at least as old as the Romans. The phrase “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” has been traced back in English trials as far back as the 13th century.

83 ~ indictable

An accusation by a grand jury that could lead to a criminal charge.

84 ~ Attenbury emerald case

Lord Peter’s first investigation, told in the 2011 novel by Jill Paton Walsh.

85 ~ Evensong

The evening prayer service in the Anglican Church.

85 ~ trunk-call

A long-distance call.


87 ~ Formamint lozenge

An over-the-counter drug used to treat sore throats.

87 ~ presentment

A legal term meaning a formal statement that notice has been taken of a criminal offense.

87 ~ expostulation

Demand strongly and with reason.

87 ~ sweetshop

Candy store.

87 ~ motor bonnet

A hat worn by women to protect their hair while riding in open-top cars.

87 ~ Gunbury St. Walters

A fictional village.

88 ~ coming back again

After viewing the body. Inquests were typically held soon after the body is discovered but before it is released to the family.

88 ~ what-you-may-call-it

Perhaps a charge of committing a breach of the peace.

88 ~ gaol


88 ~ cautioned this witness

Read his rights under the law. In England and Wales, this includes the right to silence and to choose whether or not to give evidence during any proceeding.

88 ~ acidulated

To be caustic.

89 ~ save us from our friends

An old proverb, first recorded with altered wording in 1477. Queen Elizabeth I said in 1585 that “there is an Italian proverb which saith, From my enemy let me defend myself; but from a pretensed friend, good Lord deliver me.”

90 ~ Leicester

A city (pop. 1921: 234,143) in central England, about 100 miles north of London. Pronounced “lester.”

90 ~ Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street

At St. Giles’s Circus, near London’s West End and Soho districts.

91 ~ abstemious

Showing restraint in eating and drinking.

91 ~ up-to-date dances

The era after World War I saw an explosion in the popularity of new types of music, such as jazz, and women moving from the tight corsets and long skirts to dresses that allowed greater freedom of movement. Dances, too, followed suit, with waltzes and foxtrots being replaced by the tango, imported from Argentina as a by-product of its economic boom, and the Charleston.

91 ~ after hours

At the beginning of World War I, to keep factory workers from turning up drunk and harming the war effort, a law was passed restricting the hours at pubs to noon-2:30 p.m. and 6:30-9:30 p.m. The rules were strictly enforced with police raids like the one from which Mr. Thripps escaped.

92 ~ Goodge Street

A street in Fitzrovia, near Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street.

93 ~ dose

A drug to aid in falling asleep, possibly containing barbiturates.

94 ~ drawing-room

A room used for entertaining visitors. The name is derived from “withdrawing room,” a place where the homeowner and guest can go for greater privacy than the more public rooms.

94 ~ walking out


94 ~ glazier

A tradesman who sets window panes.

95 ~ Cross questions and crooked answers

A children’s game in which players sit in a circle and one person starts by asking his neighbor a question and remembering the answer. The second person then asks his neighbor a different question and pairs that answer with the question he was asked. When everyone has done this, each person announces their question and answer. Merriment ensues.

95 ~ jujubes

A type of candy generally sucked instead of chewed. Depending on the formula, it can be as soft as gummy candy or hard as a rock.

96 ~ connivance

Someone who passively assists in wrongdoing.

97 ~ St. Giles’ Circus

The intersection of Oxford Street, New Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road and Tottenham Court Road in London’s West End, where Soho, Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and Fizrovia meet. It was known during the 17th and 18th centuries as “the Rookery,” when it was a center for crime and immorality as depicted by William Hogarth in his engraving “Gin Lane.”

97 ~ Corinthians

Natives of Corinth in Greece. The apostle Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians on various religious and moral issues, especially erroneously held views on Christian doctrine. They have been preserved in the Bible as Corinthians I and II.

97 ~ William Morris

Artist, writer and textile designer (1834-1896) who was part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Arts and Crafts movement. The books he published through his Kelmscott Press are considered masterpieces of design. He wrote, spoke and organized extensively on behalf of socialism.

97 ~ art linen

A plain, fine-weaved fabric used for embroidery.

99 ~ haemorrhage


100 ~ unnecessary shock and distress inflicted upon a lady

Lady Levy, of course. None of this is brought up at the inquest, which is why the “court asked each other what was meant, while the jury tried to look as if they knew already.”

100 ~ oculist

Eye doctor.

100 ~ Australian colonist

England had settled Australia with willing colonists and unwilling convicts sentenced to be “transported.” Usually, prisoners were given terms of seven years, after which they were pardoned and given parcels of land to farm.

101 ~ corroborated


101 ~ dissecting-room

A room at a medical school where bodies are cut open for instructional purposes.

101 ~ asperity


102 ~ adjuration

Earnest advice.

103 ~ Portman Square

A square in the Westminster section of London. The location of Mr. Levy’s residence so close to the centers of power — Westminster includes Buckingham Palace and Whitehall — suggests that he is a man of considerable wealth and influence.

103 ~ penitently

An expression of humble regret.

103 ~ superficial

Seen on the surface.

104 ~ China

A reference to tea from that country.

105 ~ first floor

The floor above street level. What Americans call the first floor in their country is called in England the ground floor.

105 ~ behindhand

Behind schedule.

105 ~ acutest


106 ~ Leon Kestrel

A recurring villain in the Sexton Blake stories. Known as the “Master Mummer” — that is, an actor — Kestrel was a master of disguise. Sayers was fond of the Sexton Blake stories and created Lord Peter to use as a supporting character in an unfinished attempt at one. In a lecture, she called the series “the nearest approach to a national folk-lore, conceived as the centre for a cycle of loosely connected romances in the Arthurian manner.”

106 ~ ’busman’s holiday

A day off in which one does the same thing one is taking a vacation from. The phrase was inspired by the drivers of horse-drawn omnibuses, who were so concerned for their horses’ well-being that, on their days off, they would ride their trolleys to ensure they were being treated properly.

106 ~ Sie haben sich so weit darin eingeheimnisst

“They have been eating too much of their own cooking” is the direct translation, attributed to a letter from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

106 ~ Sludge the Medium

A reference to the Robert Browning poem, “Mr. Sludge, ‘The Medium,’” in which a fraudulent spiritualist, caught rigging a séance, justifies his deceit.

106 ~ Landslips

A landslide.

106 ~ redoubtable


107 ~ professional confidence

By law, doctors are protected against being compelled to testify in court about their discussions with a patient.


110 ~ lethargic encephalitis

At about the same time as the worldwide Spanish influenza pandemic, there was another one between 1915 and 1926 of encephalitis, more commonly known as “sleepy sickness” because the lethargic victims would fall into a catatonic state.

111 ~ vurry pleased

Sayers was attempting to reproduced the flat intonations of an American accent.

111 ~ Puss-in-the-corner

A children’s game for five players, in which four players take their places at the corners of a square (marked out in a field or room) while the fifth — the “puss” — stands in the middle. The players in the corner attempt to swap places while the puss tries to get there first.

112 ~ pack

The card game is Pit, invented in 1903. Players are dealt cards with commodities on them such as corn, barley and cotton. Players call out the number of cards they wish to trade, which other players can accept or decline. Acquiring all nine cards in one commodity ends the round. The Bull card is a wild card that can complete any set, and a Bear card not only must be discarded before a player can declare victory, but whoever holds it at the end of the round is penalized points.

112 ~ House of Lords

The upper house of parliament whose seats are held by hereditary peers.

113 ~ blatherskites

A blustering, talkative fellow, combined from blather, from the Old Norse blathra for chatter, plus the Scots dialect word skite, from the Old Norse skjóta for to shoot, as in to move quickly. By the way, skite can also mean diarrhea, as in “That beer gave me the skitters last night,” so calling someone a skitter in Scotland could put you in deep skit. Not necessarily in Australia and New Zealand, however. There, it only means a boaster or braggart.

Blatherskite is listed in the Random House Dictionary of American Slang, appearing in print as late as 1907 in Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

113 ~ munificent


113 ~ worm-holes

Infestations of termites, powder-post beetles and other wood-eating insects were treated by pouring kerosene into the worm holes to kill the eggs.

113 ~ find her range

Terms associated with a batsman’s behavior in cricket. Nowadays, we’d probably call it “entering the zone.”

114 ~ in that poem of Tennyson’s

There is no mention in Tennyson of cherubims — a type of high-ranking angel — or seraphims — a fiery celestial being, usually serpent-like — so the Duchess’ meaning remains unclear.

115 ~ three brides in a bath

George Joseph Smith (1872-1915) was a serial killer and bigamist. The notorious “Brides in the Bath” murderer was convicted and executed in 1915 of murdering for money three women he had married.

115 ~ or somebody

Shakespeare used cross-dressing in about 20 percent of his plays, and it is central to “The Merchant of Venice,” “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night.” While Dante didn’t use cross-dressing, Giovanni Boccaccio retold the story of Iole, who convinced her lover, Hercules, to wear women’s clothing and perform women’s work.

115 ~ ’Odsbodikins

A variation of the oath “by God’s body,” altered to avoid blasphemy or breaking the commandment to take the Lord’s name in vain.

116 ~ By Jove

Derived from the Latinized version of the Greek god Zeus. Used as a substitute for God, as a way of cursing without committing blasphemy similar to ’Odsbodikins, above.

116 ~ fallen vacant

Originally, the see was the throne of the bishop. Over time, it came to refer to the area under the bishop’s control.

116 ~ Bishop’s Palace

A large building in the center of the Salisbury Close near the cathedral. Begun in 1225, additions have been made to it throughout the years. In 1947, the then-bishop chose to live in the South Canonry — a separate building at the south end of the close — and turned the palace over to the cathedral school, which uses it today.

116 ~ peritonitis

An inflammation of the peritoneum, the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity.

116 ~ Poggleton-on-the-Marsh

A fictional village.

117 ~ faux pas

A social blunder, from the French for false step.

118 ~ Epistle to the Galatians

In an early draft, Lord Peter recognized that the body in the bath was not Sir Reuben because he was not circumcised (see page 22, the “Adolf Beck” reference. The indelicate clue was removed at the publisher’s insistence, but this hint was left behind. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians concerned the question of whether Christians needed to be circumcised according to Jewish law, with Paul thumping heavily on the no side. Galatians 5:2: “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.”

118 ~ Conybeare and Robertson and Drews

Parker was referring to the debate over the nature of Jesus Christ. There are the orthodox Christians who see Christ as both a man and the Son of God; there’s the Christ-as-myth advocates who say he was created by the early Christian community; and somewhere in between are those who attempt to reconstruct the life and times of Jesus using historical methods.

The three names refer to:

* Frederick Cornwallis Conybeare (1856-1924), a professor of theology at Oxford whose “The Origins of Christianity” attacked orthodox Christianity, criticized the Jesus-myth theory and supported attempts to reconstruct the life of Jesus.

* John Mackinnon Robertson (1856-1933), a journalist, secularist and advocate of the Jesus myth theory.

* Arthur Drews (1865-1935), a German philosopher and writer, also a leading advocate of Jesus as myth. His “The Christ Myth” (1909) argued that everything about Jesus’ life had a mythical character.

120 ~ vainglorious

Marked by an excessive amount of pride in one’s accomplishments.

120 ~ playing-fields-of-Eton complex

From a saying attributed to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. While it serves to reinforce the public school notion that discipline and stout-heartedness in the face of adversity could be learned through organized games and sports, it’s doubtful that the commander of the allied forces at the battle said it. He despised his time at Eton, and besides, the school then did not have playing fields.

121 ~ swagger debonairly

To act with overbearing self-confidence, but with a touch of lighthearted urbanity, a different balance even for Lord Peter.

121 ~ football


122 ~ Precentor

A cleric who directs the choral services of a church or cathedral.

122 ~ dancing before the ark of the Lord

A reference to 1 Chronicles 15:29: “And it came to pass, as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the city of David, that Michal, the daughter of Saul looking out at a window saw king David dancing and playing: and she despised him in her heart.” A similar reference can be found in II Samuel 6:13-14: “And it was so, that when they that bare the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed oxen and fatlings.
And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod [an embroidered outer vestment worn by Jewish priests].”

124 ~ his pipe

Disposed of the ashes in the bowl by tapping his pipe in the ashtray.


125 ~ Alph

The fictional river mentioned in the opening lines of “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), composed in 1797 and considered one of his greatest poems. The first two lines run:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

126 ~ Times Book Club

A program set up by the London Times newspaper in 1905 in which books were available for rent, then resold later at a lower price. It was an instantly popular program, and booksellers resenting the competition sued the newspaper, but lost in court.

126 ~ brick

A kind, reliable person. The phrase was inspired by a story the historian and biographer Plutarch (c. 46-120) tells about King Lycurgus of Sparta, who didn’t believe in building walls around the city. When the ambassador from Epirus asked why, he received his answer the next morning, when he was awoken and taken to a field outside the city. There, he saw the army of Sparta drawn up in battle formation. “There are the walls of Sparta,” King Lycurgus told him, “and every man is a brick.”

126 ~ physiologist

One who studies the science of living systems.

127 ~ observed phenomenon

Meaning that it can be seen with the human eye.

128 ~ inco-ordinate

Lacking coordination.

128 ~ higgledy-piggledy

In confusion, or topsy-turvy.

128 ~ lint bandages

Rolled bandages weaved from lint.

128 ~ carbolic soap

A mildly disinfectant soap containing carbolic acid and one of the most common disinfectants in homes and hospitals at the time. Its powerful smell could evoke memories of childhood much like Proust’s madeleines.

129 ~ credo quia impossibile

Latin for “I believe it because it is impossible,” from “De Carne Christi” by Tertullian (c. 160 c. 230). Tertullian was attacking the belief, expressed in Docetism, that Jesus did not have a physical body, but was a pure spirit and, therefore, could not physically die. Journalist and critic H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) had fun at Tertullian’s expense when he quipped, “Tertullian is credited with the motto ‘Credo quia absurdum’ — ‘I believe because it is impossible.’ Needless to say, he began life as a lawyer.”

129 ~ FREKE, Sir Julian, Kt. cr. 1916; G.C.V.O. cr. 1919; K.C.V.O. 1917; K.C.B. 1918; M.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.C.S.

These summarize the honors earned by Freke, listed in order of royal precedence (that is, of importance in the class hierarchy):

* Kt. means knight (cr. means created)

* G.C.V.O.: Knight Grand Cross, a grade from the Royal Victorian Order (the abbreviation means Grand Cross Victorian Order). The order was established in 1896 and is bestowed by the monarch for distinguished personal service to the monarch, her family or her viceroy.

* K.C.V.O.: Knight Commander, a grade from the same order, but one step down from the G.C.V.O. in precedence.

* K.C.B.: Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. This is the second of three classes in this order, above a Companion but below the Knight Grand Cross.

* M.D.: Doctor of Medicine.

* F.R.C.P. (Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians) and F.R.C.S. (Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons) represent membership in the two groups required to practice medicine and perform surgery in the United Kingdom.

* Harrow is a school for boys in northwest London established under Elizabeth I in 1572. Trinity is a college at Oxford University.

* Cambridge. Cambridge University.

* Col. A.M.S. Colonel, Army Medical School.

* Amiens. A city in northern France.

* White’s; Oxford and Cambridge; Alpine. White’s and Oxford and Cambridge are two gentlemen’s clubs in London. Alpine is the Alpine Club, founded in 1857 and probably the world’s first mountaineering group.

130 ~ peaky

Pale or wan.

130 ~ knickers

A shortened form of knickerbockers, a style of baggy-kneed trousers worn by boys at the time.

130 ~ spirit lamp

A small portable burner that uses alcohol or methylated spirits as a fuel.

130 ~ Sèvres

A type of high-quality porcelain, made in the Sèvres area of Paris since 1756.

130 ~ motor-lorry

A vehicle designed to move cargo, now called a truck or lorry.

130 ~ bromide

Different from the bromide print mentioned above, this compound was used as a sedative. A bromide subsequently came to mean a cliché.

130 ~ mining us

Lord Peter is having a nervous breakdown and imaging that he is in the trenches again. During World War I, soldiers on both sides would dig tunnels through no-man’s-land to set off explosives in coordination with an attack. The tactic was first used during the Civil War during the 1864 siege of Petersburg, Va., when Union soldiers turned a victory into defeat by failing to charge through the crater, allowing the Confederates to recover from the shock and slaughter them.

131 ~ sappers

An engineer that specialized in construction and demolitions. Trench warfare developed to an extraordinary degree during World War I, featuring multiple parallel lines with different functions. There was the front-line trench with dug-outs providing shelter from artillery attacks. Behind that was dug the support and reserve trenches containing more troops, with all linked by communication trenches.

131 ~ tower

An observation tower, used to track the movement of military units.

131 ~ safe as houses

Another way of saying “as certain as.”

132 ~ a great war in a year or two

This sets the book around 1920 or 1921. We know it can’t be earlier because Thomas Crimplesham’s letter from Salisbury regarding his missing pince-nez is dated 192-. Since “Clouds” is set a year after the events in “Whose Body?” and gives Wimsey’s age as 33, we can conclude that the events in this book take place in November 1922.


133 ~ workhouse

An institution where the poor, elderly and infirm were cared for at public expense. Those who could work were given jobs, usually involving menial, repetitive tasks. The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 discouraged the use of charities to help the poor and made workhouse life intentionally harsh in the belief that poverty was a result of laziness and shirking.

133 ~ Y.M.C.A.’s

Young Men’s Christian Association. The organization rents rooms for transient men.

133 ~ Sir Andrew Mackenzie

Although not explicitly identified, we know that Lord Peter goes fly-fishing with the head of Scotland Yard, so this is probably he. During 1922, the time the book is set, the commissioner was actually Brigadier-General Sir William Horwood.

133 ~ scrape acquaintance

Meet and befriend.

133 ~ Queer Street

In a difficulty.

133 ~ Sawbones

Slang for a doctor.

133 ~ Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the leader of the Anglican Church, headquartered in the city of Canterbury, about 60 miles east of London.

133 ~ Tatler

A weekly magazine that chronicles the lives and lifestyle of the upper classes. It is now published monthly.

133 ~ ague

A fever marked by chills and sweating.

134 ~ velveteen jacket

A cotton cloth made to imitate velvet.

134 ~ setter pups

Setters are dogs used for hunting game. Typical breeds include English, Irish, Black Welsh and Gordon.

134 ~ police rattle

A noisemaker consisting of a box with a metal flange attached to a geared stick. A policeman on patrol needing assistance would whirl the box around the stick, creating a loud clacking sound, used to attract the attention of policemen within hearing. Rattles were used by the Metropolitan Police Service until the 1880s when they were replaced by whistles. They can still be seen at soccer games.

134 ~ accounted for it

Shot it.

134 ~ gambol

To playfully skip about.

135 ~ smoking room

A room set aside in a home or club for that purpose. Smoking rooms were generally for men only, which served the dual purpose of keeping the smell away from the rest of the place, and giving men an excuse to gather away from the ladies.

135 ~ cadet

Younger brother or son.

136 ~ buttle

To perform the duties of a butler.

136 ~ chorus beauty

A performer in a chorus line of a theatrical show. Marrying a “chlorine” (a slang term derived from the chemical used to bleach hair a startling blonde) was a common trope in fiction and the movies. A few years after “Whose Body?” was published, the duke’s concern was made real when Lord Anthony Ashley-Cooper scandalized society by marrying Edith Sylvia Hawkes, an actress who danced in the chorus line as a Cochran Dancer, an English version of the Ziegfeld Follies.

137 ~ char

charwoman or cleaning lady.

137 ~ d———d


137 ~ Halls

The Battersea area was not known for its nightlife. To enjoy one of London’s music halls, one must travel north to Oxford Road — where Mr. Thipps found unexpected and uncomfortable fun — or the West End.

138 ~ cistern-room

A room containing a tank, filled with water, usually found in the top floor or attic of a house. The cistern uses gravity to distribute water throughout the house. Water is heavy, so the size of the tank, usually made of wood and lined with metal, would depend on the amount of structural support built into the floor under it.

139 ~ bacilluses

A type of disease-producing bacteria.

139 ~ Niagara

Niagara Falls, located on the U.S.-Canadian border outside Buffalo, N.Y.

140 ~ Napoleon

Originally meant to describe any brandy laid down during Napoleon’s reign (1804-1814 and 1815), by Lord Peter’s time it was probably more commonly used for any long-aged brandy. Now, it is a grade assigned by the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac.

141 ~ Cockburn ’68

A port produced by a house established in 1815.

141 ~ Chelsea Workhouse

Chelsea is an area, once a county borough, in central London on the north side of the River Thames. It is roughly west of the Battersea area and southwest from Lord Peter’s home on Piccadilly and known as the home of notable writers and painters such as T.S. Eliot, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent.

142 ~ Professor Moriarty

Sherlock Holmes’ greatest enemy, called by him the “Napoleon of Crime.”

142 ~ Leon Kestrel

A recurring villain in the Sexton Blake stories. Known as the “Master Mummer” — that is, an actor — Kestrel was a master of disguise. Sayers was fond of the Sexton Blake stories and created Lord Peter to use as a supporting character in an unfinished attempt at one. In a lecture, she called the series “the nearest approach to a national folk-lore, conceived as the centre for a cycle of loosely connected romances in the Arthurian manner.”

142 ~ blot on the ’scutcheon

The escutcheon is the surface, typically shield-shaped, on which a family’s armorial bearings are displayed. Ironically, Gerald himself will blot the family’s ’scutcheon when he is tried for murder in “Clouds of Witness.”

143 ~ brick

A kind, reliable person. The phrase was inspired by a story the historian and biographer Plutarch (c. 46-120) tells about King Lycurgus of Sparta, who didn’t believe in building walls around the city. When the ambassador from Epirus asked why, he received his answer the next morning, when he was awoken and taken to a field outside the city. There, he saw the army of Sparta drawn up in battle formation. “There are the walls of Sparta,” King Lycurgus told him, “and every man is a brick.”


144 ~ doubting Thomas

A skeptic who refuses to believe what he sees. Named for the apostle Thomas, who, according to the Gospel of John, saw Jesus after his death and demanded to feel his wounds before being convinced that he is alive.

144 ~ claret

A red wine from the Bordeaux region of France.

144 ~ rebuke

To sharply criticize.

144 ~ fatuous

Complacently foolish.

146 ~ mutton chop

A cut of meat from a mature sheep.

146 ~ jumper

Slang for sweater.

146 ~ Royal Sunbeam Cycle

A brand of bicycle.

146 ~ Church of St. Simon and St. Jude

A Roman Catholic church in the Streatham Hill section of south London.

146 ~ twaddly

A variation of twaddle, or silly, idle talk.

147 ~ half-a-crown to six pence

Lord Peter is offering 5-to-1 odds. A half crown is one-eighth of a pound. Since a pound in 1920 is worth roughly £21, or $70, in 2010, he’s putting up £2.63 against 52 pence (or $8.75 to $1.75).

148 ~ tetanus

An infectious disease that causes spasms of the voluntary muscles such as the jaw, causing lockjaw.

149 ~ sedentary

Not physically active.

149 ~ calluses

A thickening or roughening of the skin, in this case from manual labor.

149 ~ Sheeny

An insulting term for Jews. Its origin is unknown, but one theory says it comes from the German word schön for “beautiful,” used by Jewish merchants to describe the goods they offered for sale.

150 ~ spinal haemorrhage and nervous lesions

Sayers’ love for Grand Guignol — the French theater (1897-1962) that specialized in naturalistic horror shows — surfaces here, with Sir Julian lecturing his medical students about the discharge of blood (hæmorrhage) from the spine and the injury (lesions) to the nervous system that he inflicted. It’s also indicative of Sir Julian’s cold nature that he could calmly teach a lesson using the body of his recently killed rival.

150 ~ embarrassment

Since Sir Julian had disfigured the head to make it unrecognizable, it could be that Tommy Pringle had spotted Sir Reuben’s uncircumcised penis, a leftover clue that Sayers had to remove.

150 ~ alimentary canal

The tubular passage that runs from mouth to anus that digests and absorbs food and eliminates waste.

151 ~ Socrates’ slave

In Plato’s “Meno,” Socrates proves to Meno that his ignorant house slave can deduce a principle of geometry without being taught how.

151 ~ The Last Days of Pompeii

A novel published in 1834 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873).

151 ~ Henty and Fenimore Cooper

Two writers of adventure fiction. George Alfred Henty (1832-1902) wrote children’s adventure novels set in different historical eras and adult novels such as “With Clive in India” and “Wulf the Saxon.” James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) was an American novelist best known for “The Last of the Mohicans” and his Leatherstocking Tales featuring frontiersman Natty Bumppo.

151 ~ sieve

A device with mesh or perforations through which material is filtered.

151 ~ hearthrug

A small rug placed in front of the fireplace.

152 ~ The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay’s 1728 mock opera, later adapted by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht as “The Threepenny Opera.” A song from it, “Mack the Knife,” became a pop hit in 1960 by Bobby Darin (1936-1973).

153 ~ tack

A nautical term describing the path a sailing ship takes in relation to the direction of the wind. If the wind is coming from the ship’s right side, it is on a starboard tack; if it’s from the left side, the ship is on the port tack. Tacking is when a ship moves from the port tack to starboard, or vice versa. A ship on the right — that is, correct — tack is taking advantage of the wind direction to move as fast as possible.

153 ~ evening dress

Formal wear worn by a man to events such as balls, the opera or banquets. It usually consists of a white tie, black tailcoat, waistcoat or vest, stiff-winged collar, black trousers with two stripes of satin down the outer side of the leg, black silk stockings and black pumps. Silk top hat optional.

153 ~ overcoat

A long coat intended as the outermost garment.

153 ~ Russell Square

A large garden square in Bloomsbury, a few blocks west of Parker’s flat at 12 Great Ormond Street.

154 ~ Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed

From John 20:29, when “Doubting” Thomas told the other disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion that he will not believe their stories that he had risen, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side.” Eight days later, Jesus appears before the disciples and told Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” Then: “Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”

154 ~ egg is of meat

Meaning a lot. A earlier version can be found in “Gammer Gurton’s Needle,” a comic play from c.1553: “An egg is not so full of meat as she is full of lies.” A more notable version is in “Romeo and Juliet”: “Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is of meat.”

155 ~ rankles

Deep anger or bitterness.

155 ~ woman scorned

A paraphrase from “The Mourning Bride” a play by William Congreve (1670-1729). He wrote: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

155 ~ loco


155 ~ Reg v. Palmer

A notorious poisoning case. Dr. William Palmer of Rugeley was convicted and hanged in 1856 for poisoning his family members and creditors to gain insurance money or to avoid paying his gambling debts. Reg, by the way, is short for “regina” — Latin for Queen — as all prosecutions are carried out in the name of the sovereign, which in Dr. Palmer’s time was Queen Victoria.

156 ~ jilted

Rejected unfeelingly by a lover.

156 ~ Edmond de la Pommerais

Edmond de la Pommerais (d. 1864), a homeopathic doctor who was executed by guillotine for murder in 1864.

156 ~ George Joseph Smith

Smith (1872-1915) was a serial killer and bigamist. The notorious “Brides in the Bath” murderer was convicted and executed in 1915 of murdering for money three women he had married.

156 ~ vermiform

From the Latin for worm-shaped. It is sometimes attached to the word appendix to describe its appearance.

156 ~ auburn


156 ~ methodical

Performs tasks in order.

157 ~ Alpine Club

A club for mountain climbers, founded in 1857 and probably the world’s first mountaineering group.

159 ~ illustrated press

Tabloid newspapers, which emphasized photographs and stories full of gossip, scandal and sex.


160 ~ pea-souper

Thick London fog, although really a foul mixture of water vapor, smoke and soot, encouraged by the pervasive use of coal for heat and power. The fog weakened lungs and caused fatal traffic collisions. R. Russell in “London Fogs” (1880) described it as “brown, reddish-yellow, or greenish, darkens more than a white fog, has a smoky, or sulphurous smell, is often somewhat dryer than a country fog, and produces, when thick, a choking sensation. Instead of diminishing while the sun rises higher, it often increases in density, and some of the most lowering London fogs occur about midday or late in the afternoon. Sometimes the brown masses rise and interpose a thick curtain at a considerable elevation between earth and sky. A white cloth spread out on the ground rapidly turns dirty, and particles of soot attach themselves to every exposed object.” By the 1920s, when traffic lights and electric billboards were installed, the lights of Piccadilly Circus must have gleamed under a thick blanket of English industrial fog.

160 ~ Raffles

The gentleman thief-hero of fiction whose stories are entertaining to read today. Raffles’ creator, E.W. Hornung (1866-1921), was a brother-in-law of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930). A publisher had suggested they collaborate on a book that would pit Sherlock Holmes against Raffles, but nothing came of it.

160 ~ never shot a fox

When fox-hunting, you let the dogs chase the fox and tear it apart. That is sporting. To kill him yourself is considered bad form.

161 ~ toy griffon

A small dog that’s a mix of a Brussels griffon and an English toy spaniel.

161 ~ Slav

Slavic people from central and eastern Europe.

161 ~ patent-leather toe

Leather given a glossy finish that is suitable for formal wear.

161 ~ Mais je vous en prie, madame

“But I beg you, madame.”

162 ~ enfin, on apprend a ne pas y penser

“Finally, we learn not to think about it.”

162 ~ tout ca immpressionne trop

“Our memories are too strong to forget.”

162 ~ C’est un homme precieux

“He is a precious man,” is the direct translation, meaning that Sir Julian is a valuable man.

162 ~ Ah, monsieur, c’est un saint qui opere des miracles!

This is what she says in general: “Sir, he is a saint who can perform miracles. We pray for him, Natasha and I. Don’t we, darling? And consider, monsieur, that he does it all, this great man, this illustrious man, for nothing. When we came here, we had not even the clothes upon our backs ¬— we were ruined, famished. And we, from a good family. But alas, sir, in Russia, that gets you not only insults, but atrocities. Finally, the great Sir Julian sees us, he says — Madame, your little girl is very interesting to me. Say no more. I will cure her for nothing — for her beautiful eyes,’ he said with a laugh. Ah, monsieur, he is a saint, a true saint! And Natasha is much better.”

162 ~ Madame, je vous en felicite

“I congratulate you.”

163 ~ shell-shock

Psychological damage from battle. It is also known as battle fatigue, or post-traumatic stress syndrome.

168 ~ iodine

A chemical used as a disinfectant.

168 ~ bugs



170 ~ Brocken spectres

An optical illusion caused when an observer sees his shadow cast on a distant surface, such as a cloud if the observer is on a mountainside. This creates a ghost-like shadow that can appear to move quickly due to variations in the cloud’s density. Brocken, where the phenomenon was discovered, is a peak in Germany’s Harz Mountains.

170 ~ Home Secretary

The minister in charge of the Home Office, responsible for national security, policing, immigration and other internal affairs. It’s one of the four Great Offices of State, the others being the prime minister, chancellor of the exchequer (e.g., treasurer) and foreign secretary.

171 ~ Master of the Workhouse

The man in charge of the Chelsea Workhouse.

171 ~ peremptory

A command intended to cut short a response.

171 ~ flex

An electric cord.

172 ~ appendicitis

An inflammation of the appendix. They were searching for the characteristic scar caused by the operation to remove the organ.

172 ~ Guy’s

A noted teaching hospital founded in 1721 by Thomas Guy (1644-1724), funded with the proceeds from the fortune he made in the South Sea Bubble, a ballooning stock speculation that ended up causing financial ruin for many.

174 ~ sections

Cuts. He’s admiring Sir Julian’s ability to make incisions at the operating or dissection tables.

174 ~ corpus striatum

A part of the brain consisting of the caudate nucleus and lentiform nucleus. The brain is subdivided into clusters of neurons called a nucleus. The caudate and lentiform nuclei are found deep in the brain. That Dr. Grimbold could see damage there from Sir Julian’s killing blow indicates how strong it was.

175 ~ gin-and-bitters

Bitters are an alcoholic flavoring used in cocktails. It is also an accurate description of its taste. One variety, Angostura bitters, is made from a tree bark found in South America. It can also be made from a variety of bitter herbs.

175 ~ Origen

Parker is a true theology student if he is reading Origen Adamantius (c.185-254), who promoted the spread of Christianity through extensive commentaries on many of the books in the Bible. His dedication led him to castrate himself so he could tutor women without suspicion.

175 ~ hypodermic

A needle with a plunger at one end of a tube, used for injections.


176 ~ Henry Wainwright

In 1875, Wainwright was executed for killing and dismembering his mistress. Sayers might have drawn two names from the case. To explain his mistress’ disappearance, Wainwright had spread the story that she had run off with an Edward Frieake. The victim’s name, Harriet Lane, might have inspired the name of Lord Peter’s future wife, Harriet Vane.

177 ~ Bank of England

The nation’s central bank, established in 1694.

178 ~ Stevenson’s entertaining romance

A reference to “The Wrong Box,” a novel Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) co-wrote with his stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, about two brothers who are the last surviving members of a tontine. A tontine is an agreement by a group of people to pool their money in an investment, with each member receiving a share of the annual dividend. As investors die, the dividend is reallocated among the survivors, with the sole survivor receiving the entire amount.

179 ~ cervical vertebrae

The top section of the spinal cord that connects to the skull. The fourth and fifth vertebrae are found in the neck.

179 ~ Mansion House

The Lord Mayor of London’s official home, located in the financial district.

180 ~ dividend

A share of the profits, divided among the shareholders.

180 ~ heap coals of fire

From Romans 12:20: “Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”

180 ~ pawnbroker

Sir Julian couldn’t help but indulge in a little anti-Semitism by portraying Sir Reuben in an occupation stereotypically associated with Jews.

181 ~ Brighton

A coastal town south of London.

181 ~ Wandsworth Common

An area in the Borough of Wandsworth south of the Thames and west of the Battersea area. A common is an open area traditionally available for use by everyone in the village for hunting, gathering firewood or walking. In England, many commons were converted to private ownership, with only the name left behind.

181 ~ astrakhan collar

A wide collar in which the wool lining is turned out. Astrakhan is a port on Russia’s Volga River where lambs whose loose curls, ideal for coats, were bred.

182 ~ syphon and tantalus

A siphon is a pressurized bottle used to create carbonated water. A tantalus is a carrying case for bottles. The case could be designed so that the handle locked down the tops of the bottles, making them secure for transporting and also impervious to tampering by servants tempted to drink a tot and fill it back up with water.

183 ~ mare’s-nest

An illusion. The earliest phrase found is “to find a mare’s nest,” suggested by the fact that mares — female horses — do not make nests.

185 ~ Mr. Bentley’s

A reference to “Trent’s Last Case” by Edmund Clerihew Bentley, which had an enormous effect on the development of Lord Peter. Sayers borrowed Philip Trent’s mannerisms as well as the idea of a detective-hero who exists as a personality, not simply a cardboard-thin cipher designed to move along the plot. Sayers admitted in a letter to Bentley that “I am always ashamed to admit how much my poor Peter owes to Trent, besides his habit of quotation.”

186 ~ 50 Overstrand Mansions

The name of a block of apartments on Prince of Wales Drive, across the street from Battersea Park.

187 ~ rigor mortis

The stiffening of the body after death. A rigid body would be tougher to move, particularly if you plan on conveying it across roofs and into a bathtub.

187 ~ box room

A box room is used to store boxes, trunks and other items. Roof traps are hatches that allow access to the roof from inside the house.

188 ~ cistern

A small tank used to supply water for drinking and bathing.

190 ~ galoshes

Rubber boots slipped over shoes to keep them from getting wet.

190 ~ mackintosh

A raincoat made from rubberized fabric, invented by Charles Macintosh in 1823.

190 ~ pauper


191 ~ Post-Scriptum

Indicating an addition to a letter, from the Latin for written after. Frequently shortened to P.S.

191 ~ strychnine

A fast-acting poison that causes muscular convulsions and death through asphyxia or exhaustion. Sayers’ “almost unknown poison” doesn’t exist.

191 ~ epitaph

A message found on a gravestone.

(c) 1995-2018 by Bill Peschel