Sunday, January 22, 2023

Fortnightly Book, January 22

 In 1930, a number of mystery writers in Britain, based on an idea by mystery writer Anthony Berkeley, formed a group that became known as the Detection Club. G. K. Chesterton was the first president. Dorothy Sayers wrote the famous tongue-in-cheek initiation oath:

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

They had regular dinner meetings and collaborated occasionally as a club. Which brings us to the next fortnightly book, The Floating Admiral, a round-robin novel with fourteen authors, which was done as a kind of game among several of the members and published in 1931.  The rules were that each person would write a chapter. Each chapter had to accommodate all the chapters before it, and in writing the chapter the author had to already be aiming at a particular solution to the mystery (no chapters just trying to gum up the works). This individual solution was put in a sealed envelope, to prevent cheating. When all the chapters were done, the club president wrote the prologue for it. The chapters and authors are:

PROLOGUE: "'The Three Pipe Dreams'" by G. K. Chesterton

CHAPTER I: "Corpse Ahoy!" by Canon Victor L. Whitechurch

CHAPTER II: "Breaking the News" by G. D. H. Cole and M. Cole

CHAPTER III: "Bright Thoughts on Tides" by Henry Wade

CHAPTER IV: "Mainly Conversation" by Agatha Christie

CHAPTER V: "Inspector Rudge Begins to Form a Theory" by John Rhode

CHAPTER VI: "Inspector Rudge Thinks the Better of It" by Milward Kennedy

CHAPTER VII: "Shocks for the Inspector" by Dorothy Sayers

CHAPTER VIII: "Thirty-Nine Articles of Doubt" by Ronald A. Knox

CHAPTER IX: "The Visitor in the Night" by Freeman Wills Crofts

CHAPTER X: "The Bathroom Basin" by Edgar Jepson

CHAPTER XI: "At the Vicarage" by Clemence Dane

CHAPTER XII: "Clearing Up the Mess" by Anthony Berkeley

Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton, Fr. Ronald Knox, and Dorothy Sayers certainly require no introduction to anyone reading this. But the contributors are a roll call of some of the top writers of the Golden Age of Mystery Fiction. Canon Whitechurch is most commonly associated with his detective Thorpe Hazell, deliberately written as a sort of anti-Holmes; George Douglas Howard Cole and Margaret Cole collaborated on a large number of mysteries; Sir Henry Aubrey-Fletcher, writing under the pen name Henry Wade, is best known for his Inspector Poole novels; John Rhode is best known for his Dr. Lancelot Priestley novels, and was famous for his thoroughly researched and science-tinged puzzle construction; Milward Kennedy is best known for his Inspector Cornford and Sir George Bull novels; Freeman Wills Crofts, an engineer whose novels often made the favorites lists of other mystery writers, is best known for his hyper-methodical Inspector French; Edgar Jepson is probably best known today as a translator of the Arsene Lupin novels, but he was also a prolific writer of mystery novels in his own right; Winifred Ashton, writing under the pen name Clemence Dane, has always been better known for her melodramas and historical work, but her handful of detective novels, co-written with Helen Simpson, were some of the most widely read detective novels of the day; Anthony Berkeley Cox, under his pen name Anthony Berkeley, is best known for his Roger Sheringham mysteries. Having put all that down makes me realize just how bits-and-pieces my familiarity with much of the classical mystery field is.

In addition to the main story contributions, the work has an Introduction by Dorothy Sayers, explaining how the book came to be, and two appendices, one that gives the solutions that the individual authors directed to their chapters toward (for comparison with Anthony Berkeley's actual solution) and one with excerpts from a letter by the always-researching John Rhode on some technical issues that came up in the course of the story.

The corpse of an admiral has been found in a boat. He was last seen rowing home in his own boat from having dinner with the vicar and his niece, but the boat in which his body is found is not his boat; it belongs to the vicar. The admiral was stabbed, but there is no blood in the boat, and the boat seems to have been set adrift deliberately. Why was the admiral killed? Where was he killed? Who was his murderer? Why was his body dumped into a different boat and set adrift? What other clues will the greatest mystery writers of the early twentieth century throw into the pot to give the narrative a twist?