Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 4, 2019


Crime on the Coast & No Flowers by Request by members of the Detection Club (1984)

Since its founding in 1930, Britain's The Detection Club has been a haven for the mystery genre's elite, hosting monthly dinners and allowing members to help each other with technical aspects of their works.  In addition, the members pledged to adhere to "fair play" detection as put forth in Father Ronald Knox's famous "Ten Rules."  Knox's rules are well out of date and the definition of "fair play" has since been somewhat more elastic.  Each member takes an oath, probably written by eithr G. K. Chesterton (the club's first president) or Dorothy L. Sayers:

Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?

New members were carefully vetted and needed the recommendations of at least two current members.

Over the years, the club published a number of anthologies and original round-robin (members contributing one or more chapters) stories to boost the club's finances.  Two of these stories -- both loosely called novellas -- were gathered to make this book; the original stories had been serialized in 1953 and 1954.

"Crime on the Coast," appeared in 1954 in the News Chronicle.  Members contributing to this story were, in order of appearance, John Dickson Carr (the first American member elected to the club), Valerie White, Laurence Meynell, Joan Fleming, Michael Cronin. and Elizabeth Ferrars.  Of the six authors, White and Cronin are basically unknown today, and Meynell, Fleming, and Ferrars fairly recognizable to dedicated mystery readers; only Carr remains in the pantheon of truly recognizable authors.

Carr's initial two chapters read like the start of one of his radio plays.  Phil Courtney, a writer, is taking August Bank Holiday in Breston on the southern coast of England.  He had been persuaded to go by his publisher, who bet him that he would be able to find a human interest story there, but all Courtney had found was boredom and a lot of disagreeable noise.  The operator of Ye Olde Haunted Mill (a tunnel of love-type attraction) tries to talk Courtney in going on the attraction.  Courtney is about to refuse, when a lovely girl calls out his name, takes him by the arm, and insists they go on the ride.  He had never seen the young before in his life; hos had she known his name?  She tells Courtney that someone is trying to kill her.  They go on the ride and, in the darkness of the tunnel, they hear someone walking through the sluiceway toward them. 

Valerie White takes up the story.  Courtney in knocked unconscious and wakes up in the tunnel.  The boat has been stalled and the girl is missing.  In short order we are introduce to the girl's sinister family, Courtney's publisher. a dead woman, a mysterious seacoast voyage, and the inegnimatic police inspector A.

"Crime on the Coast" is a case study in all that can go wrong in a round-robin story.  There's no room (or time) for intricate plotting or characterization and each contributor is trying desperately to be true to what has gone on before while still trying to put his or her own touch on the tale.  What the reader ends up with is a herky-jerky mish-mash that should be read as a lark, something that has no real meaning beyond each author's attempt to play the game.  Approached in that manner, "Crime on the Coast" is minimumly entertaining while being highly improbable.

(I remember Lester del Rey talking about a science fiction story that he and Frederik Pohl wrote with each writing separate parts.  Pohl had ended his section (and giving no warning) with the sky literally falling.  How was del Rey going to handle that twist? -- beyond cursing out Pohl, that is.)

"No Flowers by Request" is a much better story.  First serialized in 1953 in the Daily Sketch, authors Dorothy L. Sayers, E. C. R. Lorac, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Gilbert, and Christianna Brand use the country house/eccentric family motifs fairly well in the events surrounding the poisoning of the family matriarch.  Mrs. Merton, a newly widowed woman of a certain age, decides that after thirty years of being a housewife and raiging children that she is now going to do something for herself.  So what does she do?  She hires out as a housekeeper/cook for the Carringford family, which consists of Mr. Carringford, his invalid wife, her imperious nurse, his disfigured nephew, and several day servants.  When Mrs. Carringford is poisoned, suspicion falls everywhere, and Mrs. Merton attempts to maintain a semblance of normalcy in the household.

Better characterization and better (albeit still threadbare) plotting help offset a hurried solution here.  I could actually Mrs. Merton becoming a series character -- but for which author?

An interesting and very minor book.

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