Friday, 30 March 2012

Forgotten Book: Crime on the Coast and No Flowers by Request

Crime on the Coast and No Flowers By Request are two round-robin novellas that have been published in hardback and paperback in a single volume which is my Forgotten Book for today. They are often assumed to be Detection Club productions, but in fact Crime on the Coast was put together by a group which included non-Club members.

No Flowers by Request first appeared in 1953 as a serial in The Daily Sketch. It’s a domestic poisoning mystery, with two chapters written by each of the five contributors. The story is kicked off by Dorothy L. Sayers, and I suspect this may have been her last published foray into detective fiction – though I stand to be corrected. She introduces the story in characteristically assured fashion, with a first person narration by a widow who decides to become a cook-housekeeper. When reading her contribution, I thought what a pity it was that, effectively, she gave up writing mysteries before the start of the Second World War. Her talent was undimmed more than a decade later, even in this fragment.

Later chapters are supplied by E.C. R. Lorac, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Gilbert and Christianna Brand. An all-female line-up of writers (Gilbert’s real name was Lucy Malleson) and perhaps that is why a domestic setting was chosen. It is certainly well portrayed, and the mystery isn’t bad.

Crime on the Coast was serialised a year later in The News Chronicle. This time the story begins, in typically atmospheric fashion, with John Dickson Carr describing a strange encounter at a slightly macabre seaside fun fair. Later chapers are supplied by Valerie White, Laurence Meynell, Joan Fleming, Michael Cronin and Elizabeth Ferrars. I must admit I’ve never heard of White or Cronin, but their sections aren’t at all bad. However, as is often the case with round-robin mysteries, the story-line becomes increasingly unlikely as events move on. This is partly because of the need to provide cliffhanger chapter endings for the serialisation in the newspaper.

All in all, these are minor pieces of work, but I enjoyed reading them. They rank as curiosities, but collaborative writing is extremely interesting, both in theory and in practice, and the stories are, therefore, worth a look, especially for fans of Carr and Sayers. No Gideon Fell or Peter Wimsey, though!

7 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - I think round-robin novels and novellas can be a really interesting way to get a sense of different kinds of writers and when it gels, it can make for an innovative result. But yes, one of the consequences can definitely be a less-than-credible storyline. Still, an interesting-sounding collection....

aguja said...

Even if I think that I will not read a book, I find reviews interesting, particularly when, as you do with books, they are brought forward after being forgotten.

John said...

Never heard of these. Points to you! I only know of THE FLOATING ADMIRAL and ASK A POLICEMAN as round robin collaborations from the Detection Club writers. I'll have to track this one down, especialy for CRIME ON THE COAST since it has a Carr contribution. Wonder why it has never turned up over here. Was it published in the US?

Martin Edwards said...

Margot, thanks. I think you'd find these two sufficiently worthwhile and enjoyable to give them a go sometime.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Aguja. Plenty more to come in future weeks!

Martin Edwards said...

John, yes, my copy is a US paperback. Available quite cheaply as I recall.

Puzzle Doctor said...

It's odd, I've heard of the first one - I was quite excited the first time it turned up when I was searching for John Dickson Carr books, only for the excitement to fade when I realised that it wasn't an undiscovered novel. I recall, possibly incorrectly, that there seemed to be a lot of copies available back then, but there are still a number for less than a tenner (inc postage) on Abebooks. I'd have a look myself, but I'm woefully under-read on most of the other authors and probably give their novels a try first. I'd hate to judge them on this.