24 Festive Tasks: Door 10 – Bon Om Touk, Book:
Read a book that takes place at sea or on a river OR with water on the cover OR where the plot involves a festival or the moon plays a pivotal role in the plot.
In 1931, “certain members” of the Detection Club — in fact, none other than its leading lights Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Anthony Berkeley, G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, Victor L. Whitechurch, Freeman Wills Crofts, Henry Wade, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Edgar Jepson, Ronald A. Knox and Clemence Dane — published the club’s first round robin crime novel, The Floating Admiral.
To mark the 85th anniversary of The Floating Admiral‘s publication, “certain members” of the Detection Club in its current incarnation, instigated by its president (until 2015), Simon Brett, published a round robin of their own, paying tribute to the original novel not only in its title, The Sinking Admiral, but also by the fact that all the suspects and the two policemen in their collaborative concoction are named for one of the authors of the original book — and The Sinking Admiral‘s other characters (most prominently the two amateur sleuths) are named for first generation Detection Club members as well.
However, whereas the original book was named for a person (the eponymous admiral, or rather, his corpse, floating downriver in a small boat), the tribute is named both for a person and the pub run by him, both of whom are “sinking” metaphorically as a result of the fact that the pub is in dire financial straits. (Though, yes, the Admiral is still the person whose murder sets the book’s investigation in motion.) Moreover, whereas the original group of authors all wrote their respective chapters without revealing their own solutions to the group beforehand — even such a solution was required to have been worked out by each contributor by the time their chapter was written — the writers of the tribute book hashed out a plan for the entire book beforehand, and then distributed the chapters among themselves according to their respective specialization. I confess I liked the second approach better: it simply made for a more coherent book. The 1931 group probably had tons of fun keeping each other guessing as much as the reader, but the result is a bit of a hodge-podge, which at some point simply gets in the way of enjoyment. Then again, in order to add another level of mystery, the new group did not unveil the identity of the respective authors of their book’s individual chapters — but I frankly couldn’t be bothered to try and work this one out, though based on subject matter familiarity alone there can hardly be any doubt as to the author of at least one of them, and anyone inclined to dig deeper would probably be able to attribute the authorship of most or even all of the chapters to one particular contributor.
For a round robin — especially one written by a group of authors all specializing in different types of mysteries — The Sinking Admiral is remarkably coherent in style and tone, and most of the Detection Club in jokes it contains come off fairly well. In that respect, it works very well as a tribute. However, it occasionally tries to be too many things at the same time: maybe one topical specialization or two should have been sacrificed; even if this would almost certainly have meant jettisoning the contribution of one of my favorite writers; but there’s a historical deviation in the whole thing that simply feels forced, out of place and just general “de trop” (and the odd other arabesque or two could probably have been cut out as well). Similarly, the extent to which the two cops — or, well, the senior cop at least — are your proverbial country bumpkins who are just screaming to be bested by the two intrepid amateur sleuths just beggars belief. In that respect, the book feels more like a parody of a well-known Golden Age mystery trope than a tribute. But by and large, this is quite an enjoyable exponent of crime fiction tribute writing, and it certainly reads like its creators had a ball concocting it.
Since upon closer inspection the blue stuff on the book cover is supposed to be water, I’ll be using this book as my read for the Bon Om Touk square (a book with water on the cover).