For the month of March, The Sibling Writery is continuing on in the vein of thrilling, suspenseful reads for “Reading and Refreshments,” though in a somewhat different genre from last month’s spy novel, The Thiry-nine Steps. We have now moved on to Dorothy L. Sayers marvellous murder mystery series, featuring that celebrated gentleman amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey!
“It’s a hobby to me, you see . . .” said Lord Peter.
– Whose Body?
But in the very first of Sayers’ novels, Whose Body?, Peter begins to find his hobby taking on more of the nature of a personal responsibility, as he and his Scotland-Yard detective friend, Charles Parker, attempt to solve two mysteries at once—Peter’s pet puzzle of an unidentified corpse in the bathtub of a family friend, Mr. Thipps, and Mr. Parker’s investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a prominent Jewish financier, Sir Reuben Levy.
“Another thing,” said Parker. “Why on earth should we try to connect B with C? The fact that you and I happen to be friends doesn’t make it necessary to conclude that the two cases we happen to be interested in have any organic connection with each other. Why should they? The only person who thinks they have is Sugg, and he’s nothing to go by . . .”
“I know,” said Wimsey, “though of course we mustn’t forget that Levy was in Battersea at the time . . . we’ve no reason to think he ever left Battersea at all.”
– Whose Body?
But did he? And how did a red hair get into the dark-haired Sir Levy’s hat? And why was the man in the bathtub wearing a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles belonging to a gentleman from Salisbury? And why has the neurosurgeon Sir Julian Freke started speculating in Peruvian Oil shares? And who is “the body in the bath”?
“ . . . For in spite of all temptations
To go in for cheap sensations
We insist upon a body in a bath.
Nothing less will do for us, Parker. It’s mine at present, but we’re going shares in it. Property of the firm. Won’t you join us? You really must have something in the jack-pot. Perhaps you have a body. Oh, do have a body. Every body welcome[” said Lord Peter.]
– Whose Body?
To find out, you must follow Lord Peter and Parker as they painstakingly unravel all the conflicting threads to get at the final shocking truth. And while Lord Peter is technically the hero of the piece, Parker gets his full share of excitement and credit as well—and more than his share of the work! For Dorothy Sayers’ talent lies not only in her ability to spin a perfect web of mystery around a perfectly logically solvable crime, but also in the close relationships she portrays between all of her delightfully colourful characters! You never know what sort of unique individual you’re going to run into next. But somehow Lord Peter can make friends with them all—except for the villain, of course!
Lady Swaffham gracefully forgave the culprit.
“Your dear mother is here,” she said.
“How do, Mother?” said Lord Peter, uneasily.
“How are you, dear?” replied the Duchess. “You really oughtn’t to have turned up just yet. Mr. Milligan was just about to tell me what a thrilling speech he’s preparing for the Bazaar, when you came and interrupted us.”
Conversation at lunch turned, not unnaturally, on the Battersea inquest, with the Duchess giving a vivid impersonation of Mrs. Thipps being interrogated by the Coroner.
“ ‘Did you hear anything unusual in the night?’ says the little man, leaning forward and screaming at her, and so crimson in the face and his ears sticking out so—just like a cherubim in that poem of Tennyson’s—or is a cherub blue?—perhaps it’s a seraphim I mean—anyway, you know what I mean, all eyes, with little wings on its head. And dear old Mrs. Thipps saying, ‘Of course I have, any time these eighty years,’ and such a sensation in court till they found out she thought he’d said, ‘Do you sleep without a light?’ . . .”
– Whose Body?
Now, a Lord Peter mystery is admirably suited for a Reading and Refreshments selection, because Lord Peter is as grand a connoisseur of fine foods as he is of music and ancient texts and motor-cars and carpets (as well as detective methods). And of course, we could not on any account deprive ourselves of the pleasure of including a dash of Lord Peter’s favourite tipple, proper old Napoleon brandy, as featured in Alexandra’s recipe for brandy snaps.
. . . “What next, Peter?” [said Parker]
“I shall now give a dinner party,” said Lord Peter . . .
“Well, don’t forget the Thippses,” said Mr. Parker.
“On no account,” said Lord Peter, “would I deprive myself of the pleasure of Mrs. Thipps’s company. Bunter!”
“The Napoleon brandy.”
– Whose Body?
And remember, if you decide to hold your own “Reading and Refreshments,” please let us hear about it! Tell us how your family enjoyed the book and whether or not you made the treat to go with it. If you can, send us a photograph as well. You can contact us at email@example.com.
It is not necessary, obviously, to use Napolean brandy in these—any kind of brandy would work just fine! But it does make things seem even more fun somehow . . .
For the cookies:
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup caster sugar
⅓ cup dark treacle
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons brandy
For the brandy cream filling:
⅔ cup double cream
6 tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brandy
- Preheat the oven to 300°F/150°C.
- Place the butter, sugar, treacle, ginger, cinnamon, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Put the pan over low heat until the butter is melted, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the sifted flour and brandy. Let the batter cool for a few minutes.
- Drop heaping tablespoons of the batter onto an ungreased baking sheet, spacing them well apart (about 3 inches).
- Transfer to the oven and bake until the cookies are flat and bubbles have appeared on their surface, 12-15 minutes. The edges of the cookies should be set, but the middles will be quite soft.
- Take the cookies out of the oven and let them stand on the tray for 1 minute. Then use a thin metal spatula to remove the snaps from the tray, and carefully wrap them around the handle of a wooden spoon.
- If the snaps become too stiff to mold, put them back in the oven for 30 seconds to a minute in order to warm them up just enough to make them pliable again.
- Repeat this process with the remaining batter. As the snaps cool and become firm, gently slide them off the spoon handles (if you have several wooden spoons, use them all—it makes the process go much faster) and place them on a wire rack to finish cooling.
- Once all the snaps have been baked and cooled, make the filling. Whip the cream, either by hand or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, until it starts to thicken.
- Add the sifted icing sugar, vanilla, and brandy, and continue to whisk until the cream holds a stiff peak.
- Transfer the cream to a piping bag fitted with a medium (#3) star tip.
- Pipe cream into both ends of each brandy snap, ending with a pretty swirl if you’re feeling ambitious.
- The filled cookies should be served that same day; but you can store unfilled brandy snaps in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days, and then prepare the cream and fill the snaps when you are ready to serve them.
Yield: Approximately 2 dozen brandy snaps