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Misread Faces and the Wrong River Monday

Grant, looking them over with a lively interest, found his glance stayed as it came to one face. Now what had brought the owner of that face to a life of seclusion and self-denial? A round sallow face on a round ill-shaped head, the eyes small, the nose fleshy, the lower lip loose, so that it hung away from his teeth as he repeated the words of the service. All the others in that little chapel had been types that fitted easily into recognized niches in the everyday world: the principal to a bishopric, this one to a neurologist’s waiting-room, this to a depot for unemployed. But where did that last one fit?

There was only one answer. In the dock.


-- Josephine Tey, A Shilling for Candles.

One of these days, I guess, I should go back and read my detectives in the correct order and see what kind of difference it makes. Only The Most Comfortable Man in London has benefited from a completely straightforward chronology. And I'll eventually have read the Ngaio Marshes more or less from the beginning (I suspect it might not matter much; Marsh is remarkably consistient so far). But I've been reading poor Inspector Grant almost completely backwards, like Merlin. A Shilling for Candles is the second of six books featuring Grant, and the fifth that I've read starting with the penultimate (Daughter of Time).

Here his tendency to stare at people's faces and speculate about their personality and history based on their features is just as pronounced as it will be in the end, but it feels like he's wrong more often. His eye-color-based suspicions regarding a young charmer turn out (astonishingly) to be groundless, and while he does eventually discover the murderer (more or less by accident, in classic Grant fashion) the preceding face detection turns out to have been mostly a distraction. The world doesn't align itself with his imagination quite as strongly as it will later.

I'm about halfway through The Floating Admiral, the Detection Club round-robin. It's surprisingly enjoyable so far, though pitted all over with the usual casual and semi-casual racism. The rules of the round robin: Each writer contributes an additional chapter with a clear solution in mind; no writer is allowed to know what the previous writers intended; each writer has to submit his or her solution along with the manuscript (in a sealed envelope, I assume, like in Clue). The solutions are all in an appendix at the end.

I think it might be more fun if I were acquainted with more of the writers? So far the only ones I'm familiar with are Agatha Christie (crisp and bright as always) Dorothy Sayers (completely uninterested in resisting the temptation to stuff plot-irrelevant high church/low church debates into every availabe space, as always) and G. K. Chesterton (exaggeratedly and excruciatingly Chestertonian). Anthony Berkeley, author of The Poisoned Chocolates Case (a novel about a Detection Club that may or may not be sheltering a murderer in its ranks), is set to come in last and explain it all. It's not a bad way to construct a plot: everyone gets ready-made details to build on and no one has to imagine everything from the ground up.

My favorite thing about The Floating Admiral so far: Inspector Rudge's overwhelming annoyance that the river in which the titular Admiral was found floating is strongly affected by the tides, and consequently unpredictable and confusing to a Scotland Yard man used to "proper" rivers. Sometimes it flows backward, when the tide is coming in, and sometimes it flows in the "right" direction but has hardly any water in it. This makes it "ridiculous," "a useless river" and a plague on the life of Inspector Rudge. I can't wait to see how it will spoil his plans next.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
wordsofastory
Apr. 20th, 2015 10:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, I've never read a round-robin mystery! That's such a neat idea. Does it seem to be hanging together, so far? I'd assume there must end up being a ton of (often accidental) red herrings.
evelyn_b
Apr. 20th, 2015 11:16 pm (UTC)
I suspect there will be lots of red herrings by the end, and I'm not always the best person to tell (I still have a pretty poor sense of plot) but it does seem to be holding together! You can definitely feel some of the seams, but not in a bad way.

I think the fact that the authors don't know any more than the detective does help create a feeling of surprise and discovery as you go from one chapter to the next. It's not sloppily done, and even though the authors (the ones I know, at least) don't seem to be making any effort at all to disguise their characteristic styles, it isn't even that stylistically patchy. If I read a dozen books written in the same way I might get tired of it, and of course there's still the ending ahead which might tie it all together well or badly, but it's working right now.
lost_spook
Apr. 21st, 2015 05:31 pm (UTC)
Rivers are so awkward! :-)

And I am now trying hard to think whether I've just heard of The Floating Admiral and wanted to read it or if I read it and found it a little unsatisfactory. But I don't know.

(My comments to your post would be much improved if I had an actual memory!!)
evelyn_b
Apr. 22nd, 2015 03:06 am (UTC)
There are a lot of books that other people have assured me that I read at one time, but which I have no memory of reading, and plenty more where I know I read them, but have no memory of the book (or even if I liked it at the time).

I wouldn't say it's a Timeless Classic of the Genre, but it is fun. And a decent example of the genre -- if you pretended it had been written all by one person, it would read a little wobbly, but no worse than some and a lot better than others. There's still plenty of time for the end to be unsatisfying, though!
lost_spook
Apr. 22nd, 2015 07:23 am (UTC)
I know, it was just as soon as you mentioned it, I couldn't think whether I'd read it, or read a lot about it. I'm still not sure... But, yes, it is amazing what sticks in the memory and then what really really doesn't! (I daresay a proper Golden Age detective would have Thoughts about that.)

I used to take part in round robins when I first was in fandom, at uni, back in usenet days - they are both very fun and extremely frustrating! (I'm sure The Floating Admiral was better than most of ours at least.)
evelyn_b
Apr. 22nd, 2015 05:19 pm (UTC)
It sounds like fun -- and a little intimidating. I'd like to do something like that, but at the same time I'd be worried about letting all my co-round-robiners down by being The Weakest Link.

Agatha Christie has a whole (slightly obsessive) book about the reliability and unreliability of memory. Probably more than one, but the one I'm thinking of is Elephants Can Remember. Sleeping Murder deals with some of the same themes, too (and is better as a book, though it suffers from a lack of Ariadne Oliver).

Edited at 2015-04-22 05:22 pm (UTC)
lost_spook
Apr. 22nd, 2015 08:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, it was fanfic - most times someone else had already done something completely random and annoying before it even got to me. It was really fun to do at the time, though.

Ha, indeed, of course she does! :-)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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