With both lesbians and a stereotypical black reverend from the West Indies, Unnatural Death was always going to generate strong opinions in some reviewers. The lesbian characters are generally handled by Sayers side-stepping the subject completely. They are friends, companions, even devoted to each other, but the L-word is never used. It's clear to us what they are, just as it's clear to us that one of them has murdered the other – the only questions are how and why? I think Sayers tries to side-step the race issue as well – the Reverend Hallelujah Dawson is a convenient hook for the story. A character that can be both foreign and illegitimate (to avoid the inheritance issues) as well as somebody the reader can find above reproach (as a reverend) but who the characters and storyline can easily try to frame exactly because he is all of those things. The side-stepping works much less well here though, some of the descriptions and choice of words will leave a modern reader cringing. Obviously, Sayers is a product of her time – as are her characters – aren't we all though?
The novel otherwise is my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey story, so far. Clouds of Witness fell short for me due to the lack of regular doses of both Wimsey and Bunter. Along with Parker, they are much more apparent in this story. Driving the story forward much more than previously – sometimes dangerously so. Maybe this is just part of Sayers becoming comfortable with Wimsey and his cast of regulars – this is only the third book in the series after all. Instead of the conventional who-dun-it formula, Unnatural Death is more of a how-dun-it. We know pretty early on who the villain is, mostly because everybody who's investigating it has clearly made up their minds – it couldn't be anyone else unless Sayers really has got a weird twist at the end – instead Wimsey is trying to find out why (I mean, a little deeper than just for the money) and how she killed her partner.