Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The admiral floats again


I was delighted to receive recently a copy of the brand-new reprint by HarperCollins of a classic detective story which I have mentioned before on this blog – The Floating Admiral. It is one of the round-robin mysteries put together by members of the Detection Club and is by common consent the best.

An obvious selling point of the book is that the contributors included such stellar names as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, while G.K. Chesterton – the first president of the detection club – contributed an introduction. The ingenious Anthony Berkeley undertook the toughest task – that of writing the final chapter which pulls all the threads together – with considerable aplomb.

The other contributors included names which are now largely forgotten today, although I have mentioned quite a few of them in this blog – an example is Canon Victor Whitechurch. The excellent Henry Wade and the reliable if plodding John Rhode also feature. And in this edition the scene is set by the detection club's current president, Simon Brett.

I do find round-robin mysteries intriguing, even if some of them are not entirely successful. The Floating Admiral is more than a historical curiosity; on the whole, it is pretty good example of 1930s detective fiction. A while ago, I myself contributed a chapter to a round-robin mystery organised by a literary Festival. As yet, unfortunately, it hasn't seen the light of day, but I must say that I'm looking forward to finding out what happened to resolve the conundrum that I helped to create!

8 comments:

Deb said...

I think that somewhere in one of the many boxes of books that I have failed to unpack since I cleared out my storage unit, there is a battered paperback copy of this book. I read it years ago and remember being underwhelmed, despite the stellar line-up of writers. Perhaps mystery is not a genre that lends itself well to the round-robin concept or perhaps it was "too many cooks." Also, if I remember correctly, the book included an appendix where each of the writers provided a brief synopsis of how they intended to resolve the mystery. Is that included in the current edition?

Dorte H said...

It could be fun to read a round-robin and see if the novel reads like a coherent story or you can discern the styles of the individual writers.

I found a little gem recently; a cheap but good used copy of what is called the first crime novel in Danish, first published in 1903. I don´t think it has been translated into English, but I´ll try to find the time to write a proper review. Next week, perhaps - but you know all about juggling day job, blog & writing.

vegetableduck said...

Did you find Rhode's chapter particularly "plodding" compared to the others in the book, Martin? "Reliable if plodding"--that rather sounds like "all the girls like her and she makes her own clothes"!

I think any Sayers or Christie fan buying this book on the strength of Sayers' or Christie's contributions will be disappointed (simply because they are so small), but if they are genuinely interested in Golden Age detection, they should like the book.

Martin Edwards said...

Deb, yes, the appendix is in there!

Martin Edwards said...

Dorte, believe me, I do!

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I was thinking of JR as a writer generally rather than in relation to one particular chapter. I do think he had real merit, but I also think his prose was often a bit leaden, perhaps more so in Ask a Policeman than here.

Anonymous said...

I remember enjoying THE FLOATING ADMIRAL many years ago, and (also eons ago) I wrote an article for an early CADS about round-robin novels. I think this one works because the authors all wrote in the fair-play,lay-all-the-clues-on-the-table tradition, and because they were clearly having fun. A reproduction of the original dust jacket/wrapper can be found at: http://www.classiccrimefiction.com/detfloating.htm

Martin, please post when the round-robin with your chapter appears. Doug Greene

Martin Edwards said...

Doug, you bet! And good to see you at the DC last week.