Metafiction and pastiches are definitely a form of the mystery genre I am keenly drawn to, having loved Leo Bruce’s Case for Three Detectives (1936). So I was quite excited when I came across this title on Curtis Evans’ blog The Passing Tramp.
As the title suggests there is a lot of spoofing going on, as within this ship bound mystery Mainwaring spoofs the following authors’ sleuths:
And for a little extra fun I’ve left it so you can figure out whose detective is whose in Mainwaring’s novel.
The story opens in a wonderful way with a chain of vignettes introducing the various sleuths and in each vignette we find out a little more about the other passengers and the events which lead up to the murder. There is the anxious Homer T Anderson who is keen to become acquainted with Paul Price, an American gossip columnist, with a very unsavoury reputation and whose snooping activities suggest he has dirt on more than one person aboard the ship. There is also the suggestion that Price is in fear of his life, which is not surprising given the way he treats his niece and the ship’s Captain, amongst others. It is not gone unnoticed that there are 9 sleuths aboard the ship ‘and some wit declare[s] that, under the circumstances, if a murder did not exist one would have to be invented.’ Soon after this comment someone obliging murders Price and the First Officer decides to get the sleuths involved. Not all accept the invitation immediately, with some taking up the task under extreme reluctance, whilst others only end up doing so accidently. From this point in the chapters are then devoted to a single sleuth and the information they uncover in the case, with each sleuth falling upon a particular piece of information due to the type of detective they are. But which sleuth will reveal the criminal? All is revealed in the final chapter…
I will say from the outset that this is not a perfect read, but then this level of pastiche is no simple task. However, despite this I still felt this was a very fun and entertaining read. Miss Silver’s pastiche was particularly well captured and was amusingly exaggerated: ‘She could not, of course, hope to have many of her photographs about her on a sea voyage, but thirty or forty were placed here and there on the desk and on the little chest of drawers.’ Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin’s doubles (Trajan Beare and Ernie Woodbin) were also well drawn in my opinion, especially their bantering relationship: ‘And if one of the other detectives solves the case – well, you’re still the fattest one, they can’t take that away from you. I think Ellery Queen (Mallory King) becomes the most exaggerated version of himself in this story, with his desire to find a symbolic pattern within the case. The only sleuth who didn’t really fit in was Spike Bludgeon (Spillane’s Mike Hammer), whose exaggeration leads to him coming across as a psychopath or as someone with a psychological disorder, so great is his propensity for violence in the story. Having not read any of Spillane’s books I don’t know how much of an exaggeration this is. I enjoyed how the First Officer becomes a Watson figure for the sleuths, as it means there is limited repetition of information and it also means we can be given questions to answer ourselves. The chapters I least enjoyed were those for Innes’ Sir John Appleby (Sir Jon Nappleby) and Marsh’s Roderick Allen (Broderick Tourneur), but then these are not sleuths I enjoy much anyways. In fact I think Mainwaring makes Allen a more interesting sleuth in pastiche form. The solution although sneaky worked for me as I found it very fitting and pleasing.
This is a novel and interesting mystery, which although not perfect, has a lot going for it and is, in the main, a delightful comic crime story to while away an afternoon.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Gold Card): Typewriter