Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Floating Admiral

A while back, I made a list of my top five favorite fictional detectives. Four of the five on my list were Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey, and G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown. Now, zooming off to fanboy land, imagine what it would be like if Christie, Sayers, and Chesterton called up some of their detective writer friends and said, “Hey, let’s all write a book together. Because we’re so awesome!”

My readers, I give you, The Floating Admiral. I’m not sure what stroke of genius originally produced the idea, but the members of the Detection Club, containing the aforementioned authors, made it a reality. One author would write a chapter and then pass it on to another author, who would in turn write another chapter, until everyone had a go. There were only two rules as explained by Dorothy Sayers in the introduction. First, no previous author was allowed to give the next author in line any idea of a solution to the mystery, and each author had to construct his or her chapter with a definite solution in view. They had to write an explanation of this solution as well and seal it in an envelope to be opened after the project was over.

Second, each writer had to deal with all the clues presented so far while at the same time adding new clues for future authors as well. Any piece of information, however trivial, had to be figured into the final solution in some way.

Sound interesting? It is. I won’t lie and say that the result is a great detective story. As expected each author has his or her own voice and so the story is far from one smooth narrative. However, it is really fun to see each writer trying to reinterpret the clues from previous chapters to fit into a new theory and trying to add bizarre clues to throw off everyone who would come after. The story becomes incredibly complicated by the end, but that’s all part of the fun.

The story itself starts out simply enough. While fishing one morning in the river, old Neddy Ware finds a boat adrift and, pulling it in, finds it occupied by the dead body of Admiral Penistone. (In a later chapter, Ronald Knox thankfully confirms that the name should be pronounced Penny-stone.) From there the book veers from sketchy business in China to oddly written wills to railway timetables to information about tidal rivers to characters in disguise to missing hats to old family scandals to just about anything else you might imagine to complicate a story. Each author takes particular glee in trying to throw the others off. The miracle of it all is that the final chapter really does bring all these disparate clues together into a very satisfying conclusion that seems natural and not forced.

So if you’re looking for a well written story with deep, realistic characters and a satisfying plot, this book is probably not for you. If you are a fan of Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, or any of the other authors in the book then you’ll want to read it. If you’re up for a fun brainteaser or you’re a mystery fanboy you’ll like it. Or if you just like the idea of a bunch of mystery writers trying to stump each other, and want to see the game unfold, you’ll like it. It’s especially fun to read the alternate solutions at the end of the book written by the authors as they finished their respective chapters.

3/5 stars


Erica said…
Sounds awesome.

Apparently Lovecraft participated in a round robin at one point. The story starts out a bit odd, but low-key, then suddenly the narrator starts using words like "undulating" and proceeds to faint several times, and you know Lovecraft has taken over. =D
Erica said…
BTW if my nephew is seeing Slender Man in the window I'm never visiting again. XD