Friday, 18 May 2012

Forgotten Book - Cain's Jawbone

My forgotten book for today is actually entitled The Torquemada Puzzle Book. It is described on the title page as a "miscellany" of original crosswords, acrostics, anagrams, verbal pastimes and problems, etc, but also includes Cain's Jawbone, "a Torquemada Mystery Novel." And suffice to say, I've never encountered a mystery novel like it.

But who was Torquemada? The pseudonym concealed the identity of Edward Powys Mathers, who compiled crosswords for "The Observer" for 13 years. His puzzles were noted for their fiendish complexity, and although so far I have only tried one or two, suffice to say that I think his reputation and pseudonym are well-earned.

Cain's Jawbone is really a novella. The twist is that the pages are not in the right order. The challenge is to work out the correct page sequence. Easy? Not at all, trust me on this. The snag is that the story is told in a strange and mannered style which makes it almost impossible to work out what is going on.

A prize was offered to whoever could solve it. Apparently only three people got it right, and I'm rather surprised it was that many! Suffice to say that it defeated me with ease. Alas, the solution is not included in the book, which must have driven many of its purchasers to distraction. No wonder this 1934 book had no successors. But it's certainly remarkable. And it could just provoke someone to murder....

3 comments:

John said...

Not the same Torquemada who reviewed crime fiction, too, is he?

Roger Allen said...

'Not the same Torquemada who reviewed crime fiction, too, is he?'
Yes.
Also translated One Thousand Nights and One Night and several volumes of Indian, Chinese and Aeabian poetry.
Not bad going for an alcoholic who died aged forty six.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Roger. I didn't know that - very interesting. Mind you, compiling Cain's Jawbone could well have driven him to drink...