Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Compilation Mystery

I’m reading an interesting detective novel at the moment, one that was first published back in 1931. It’s unusual in that it’s not written by one author but by a dozen, each one taking a successive chapter and building on the work of the authors that have gone before. G K Chesterton provides a rather elliptical prelude, and Dorothy L Sayers tells how it came into existence. The writers were all members of The Detection Club and arranged to write the book following two particular rules: they had to construct their instalment with a definite solution in view and not introduce complications just to make the whole thing more difficult. They had to be able to explain their clues coherently and plausibly, if called on to do so, and to provide an actual solution for the benefit of the other writers. Not that the others had to read that solution before they wrote their own chapter, but it had to be available.

The interesting thing about the list of writers is that only a few are still remembered – well, remembered by me, anyway. Sayers and Chesterton are still widely read; Agatha Christie even more so and most of her books have probably never been out of print. Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Croft and Clemence Dane are still familiar names. But what about these? Victor Whitechurch, G D H and M Cole, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Edgar Jepson and Anthony Berkeley. None of these mean a thing to me, so I’ll be devoting a little time to letting you know who they are over the next several posts.

By the way, the book is called The Floating Admiral.

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