Following on from the spoiler-filled deconstruction of He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr and Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, I’m going ahead with another spoiler-filled deconstruction in the next couple of months, this time of Hake Talbot’s impossibility-laden masterpiece Rim of the Pit (1944).
The reputation for being something of an interminable bore that still dogs Freeman Wills Crofts some 60 years after his death wants for evidence in Antidote to Venom. We’re about halfway through when the murder occurs, by which point you’ve had not only a highly sympathetic portrait of the central man in the affair, but also the convincing use of minor characters to create the situation in a way that relies on coincidence without feeling forced, an allusion to the Sherlock Holmes canon, and two — count ’em — legitimate jokes. It is spry, focussed, beautifully rich in intrigue and heartbreak, and balances its inverted and traditional elements perfectly. And when the investigation starts…oh, boy, are you in for a treat.
Identity and location, as I’ve said before, are really the two hooks on which a staggering majority of the detective genre hangs. And if you want to get the most out of the impossible shooting tale Murder in Black and White by Evelyn Elder — pseudonym of Detective Club alumnus Milward Kennedy — you’re going to need patience in figuring out the latter. Because while he has a good sense of character and action, as soon as anyone is required to go anywhere, or it becomes necessary to understand the internal layout of the ancient French citadel-cum-château that features so prominently, it’s as if his narrative powers desert him and he’s writing with a stick of celery.
A variety of events in my actual, I’m-a-real-person life — the culmination of which was a discussion about the perceived inferiority of genre fiction because of its hidebound nature — has got me reflecting on the deployment of rules, conventions, tropes, expectations, and other norms in detective fiction, and I thought I’d share it here in case anyone was interested (I mean, that’s all I’ve done so far with this blog, and it seems to be going well…).
Here’s a poser for you: a woman’s body found in a castle, but the castle was searched before it was locked up for the night and she wasn’t there, and she could not have gotten in afterwards thanks to a combination of the partially-surrounding sea, a two-ton portcullis, and CCTV coverage. If it’s suicide, how did she get in? And if it’s murder, how did the murderer get in and out? No secret passages, no hidden rooms…howdunnit? After some misgivings about Adrian McKinty, I’m proving myself an actual adult by giving this impossible crime of his, set in 1987’s Northern Ireland amidst the sectarian upheaval most commonly referred to as ‘The Troubles’, a go. So, how did we do?
I haven’t updated you on my progress with Detective Conan for a while, so now seems like a good time to discuss the elements that make this on-going one-man Manga both so very, very brilliant and so very, very meh.