Collaborative Writing

2099. "Collaborative Writing"

- the complete version of my review of The Detection Club's "The Floating Admiral"

- credited to: tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE

- published on my "Critic" website on July 23, 2022



review of

Members of the Detection Club's "The Floating Admiral"

(Dorothy L. Sayers, G. K. Chesterton, Canon Victor L. Whitechurch, G. D. H. and M. Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Ronald A. Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane, Anthony Berkeley)

by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 26, 2022

"Collaborative Writing":

The basic premise of the writing of this bk is brilliant, the ability to pull it off even more so. Dorothy L. Sayers undertakes to explain who these writers are:

"What is the Detection Club?

""It is a private association of writers of detective fiction in Great Britain, existing soley for the purpose of eating dinners together at suitable intervals and of talking illimitable shop. It owes no allegiance to any publisher, nor, though willing to turn an honest penny by offering the present venture to the public, is it primarily concerned with making money. It is not a committee of judges for recommending its own or other people's books, and indeed has no object but to amuse itself. Its membership is confined to those who have written genuine detective stories (not adventure tales or "thrillers") and election is secured by a vote of the club on recommendation by two or more members, and involves the undertaking of an oath." - p 2

The undertaking of a collective mystery novel by so many people is quite challenging if conventional narrative cohesiveness is to be achieved.

"Two rules only were imposed. Each writer must construct his instalment with a definite solution in view-that is, he must not introduce new complications merely "to make it more difficult." He must be ready, if called upon, to explain his own clues coherently and plausibly; and to make sure that he was playing fair in this respect, each writer was bound to deliver, together with the manuscript of his own chapter, his own proposed solution of the mystery. These solutions are printed at the end of the book for the benefit of the curious reader." - p 3

G. K. Chesterton, possibly the writer of the most interest to me in this group, doesn't contribute a chapter but instead establishes an historical & ethical ambience, that doesn't really play out elsewhere, w/ a prologue.

"Like every man of his type, he had a perfectly sincere hatred of individual oppression; which would not have saved him from taking part in impersonal or collective oppression, if the responsibility were spread to all his civilisation or his country or his class. He was the Captain of a battleship lying at that moment in the harbour of Hong Kong. He would have shelled Hong Kong to pieces and killed half the people in it, even if it had been that shameful war by which Great Britain forced opium upon China. But when he happened to see one individual Chinese girl being dragged across the road by a greasy, yellow ruffian, and flung head-foremost into the opium-den, something sprang up quite spontaneously within him; an "age" that is never really past; and certain romances that were not really burned by the Barber; something that does still deserve the glorious insult of being called quixotic. With two or three battering blows he sent the Chinaman spinning across the road, where he collapsed in a distant gutter." - p 7

Before we know it, the main character's a corpse who we never really get to know.

"He lay there on his back, his kness slightly hunched up, his arms at his sides, quite still. A man of about sixty, with iron-grey hair, moustache and close-cropped, pointed beard, dark eyes open with a fixed stare. He was clad in evening dress clothes and a brown overcoat, the latter open at the front and exposing a white shirt-front stained with blood." - p 15

That description's from Canon Victor L. Whitechurch. People w/ some education in the arts probably know about the Surrealist game, Exquisite Corpse. Someone wd start the game by making a drawing at the top or the bottom of the page. Next, they fold the paper so that only a few ambiguous lines are left exposed & the next player starts their drawing, continuing in some way the exposed lines. They fold the paper, leaving lines exposed, the next player continues the process until the whole page is covered w/ the collective drawing. The drawing's revealed & whatever marvels &/or morphs it may provide are mutually enjoyed & remarked upon. As long as the continuity is accepted as an unconsious one the process is easy. How interesting the result is may depend more on individual drawing skill than on the transitions from section to section. However, in the case of this mystery, a more difficult challenge is posed. It's not just a matter of continuing a fragment, a continuity & a satisfactory result must be produced. Whitechurch provides some clues. These clues must then factor in to the chapters that follow.

""Oh! Admiral Penistone, is he?" said Neddy Ware.

""That's the man, right enough. But, look here: are you sure this is the Vicarage boat?"


""Queer, eh? That seems to mean something happened this side of the river, for of course, there's no bridge till you get to Fernton-three miles lower down. Ah, and the parson's hat, eh? Let's see; what time did you first see the boat coming along?"

""A little after half-past four, I should say."" - p 16

Now comes the 1st instance of what might interest writers the most - or, at least, this writer: the transition from chapter to chapter, from writer to writer:

""I will, sir. This hat was found in your boat early this morning. Your boat was drifting with the tide up-stream. And in her was the dead body of your opposite neighbour, Admiral Penistone-murdered, Mr. Mount."" - p 21

Now, obviously, Whitechurch has created a sortof 'cliffhanger' here for the next writers, G. D. H. & M. Cole, to pick up from: the informing of the Vicar that it's his boat that the victim has been found in & his hat that was found w/ the corpse.

""MURDERED! Good God!" the Vicar said-and it was well known, the Inspector reflected, that the Vicar of Lingham had a ridiculously exaggerated respect for the Third Commandment. He had stepped back a pace at the shock of the news, and some of the colour was fading from his cheeks. "But-murdered. . . . How-what do you mean, Inspector?"" - p 22

The Vicar's testimony provided another possible clue:

""Yes. It wasn't dark. I watched them take the boat into the Admiral's boat-house, and then, a little later, I saw them come out of the boat-house, and go up to the house."

""I should have thought those trees at the back of the boat-house would have screened them from you," said the Inspector, who had made good use of his eyes. "Or do you mean they were crossing the lawn?"

"The Vicar looked at him with respect. "No, they were in the trees," he said. "But Miss Fitzgerald had on a white dress, and I saw it showing through them."

""But Admiral Penistone hadn't a white dress?"

""No. . . . I suppose," the Vicar reflected, "that now you mention it I couldn't say I saw the Admiral leave the boat-house-but seeing his niece I naturally concluded he was with her."" - p 24

Now, it was at this early stage that I figured out what happened. The niece had secreted a trained bear clad in a white dress in the boat-house. When she & the Admiral returned the bear was trained to kill him & to then return to the main house for the opium that the niece had made the bear dependent on. Since he cd also read, he chose an old favorite, The Murders in the Rue Morgue by my high-school buddy, E. A. Poe.

"He meant that, as he and his wife were going up to bed, a bit after ten, might have been quarter-past, they'd seen Miss Fitzgerald coming up the path from the boat-house. At least, they'd seen her dress; they couldn't see her properly in the dark. The Admiral wasn't with her then" - p 29

Then again, maybe my 1st conclusion was rash (or had a rash or something), maybe it was the dress that had commited the crime. I always thought there was something fishy about that dress, didn't you? I mean, what self-respcting fish rides in a boat instead of underneath it? You get my drift. At least I'm not clueless.

"He had succeeded in making out that John Martin Fitzgerald was the Admiral's brother-in-law, and that his will devised his property, whatever that might be, in equal proportions to his son Walter Everett Fitzgerald, "if he sould be found to be alive at the date of my death," and his daughter Elma Fitzgerald; and had noted that if the son turned out to be dead ("I suppose he must have disappeared or something. It's a funny way to put it anyhow.")" - p 35

Ah, ok, Walter was wearing a bear suit to throw off his sister or she might've recognized him otherwise. His prediliction for drag was to throw off the casual observer from noticing that he was actually his sister & that she was actually him. So, what happened next?, you might ask w/ bear-baited breath. The Coles hand it over to Henry Wade by having one of the suspects leave.

""Beg pardon, sir." Emery approached deferentially. "But Miss Fitzgerald's away."

""Away! The exclamation burst from both men simultaneously.

""Yes, sir. She's just had her bag packed, and driven off in her car, Merton says." He indicated the maidservant in the hall, "Not ten minutes ago, sir."

""Whew!" With an internal whistle the Inspector brooded on this new development." - p 36

"STILL frowning with annoyance at the escape of this important witness, Inspector Rudge turned to his companion.

""If you'll kindly step into the study, sir," he said, "there are some questions that I'd like to ask you."

""They'll have to wait," said Holland curtly, turning towards the front door. "I'm going to find Miss Fitzgerald."

""No, sir!" There was a ring of authority in the Inspector's voice" - p 37

I reckon having the chapter end that way was really easy for the next writer to follow from. After all, one takes it for granted that the inspector will be annoyed & will try to assert some authority. Imagine if the chapter had ended more like this:

'"Beg pardon, sir." Emery approached deferentially. "But Miss Fitzgerald's away."

'At that very moment a deer was shot outside the window, its head splattering on the glass without breaking it, & a talking turtle entered the room in a santa suit descending from the chimney.

'"What the FUCK?!", the turtle was heard to exclaim before it spontaneously combusted leaving the word "Dalek" written in the soot.

'The inspector paused to masturbate, thinking about the latest overturning of Roe vs Wade by the US Supreme Court & wondering what repercussions that might have in the UK. He, personally, had voted for using the cells of all aborted fetuses to clone them all into xistence so that they cd be raised in state-run training camps for Manchurian Candidates. That wd be better than the childhood he had.'

Holland is then interrogated during wch time he reveals himself to be as suspicious as a Big Pharma marketing employee.

""Quite, sir; but you haven't answered my question. In what part of the world do you yourself get the material for which you are trying to find a market?"

""Oh, wherever I think the going's good at the moment," replied Holland airily. "Burma, Kenya, S.A., India-I move about."

"Holland hesitated.

""It won't be very difficult for me to find out, sir," said Rudge quietly. "Better for you to tell me."

"The reply came slowly-almost unwillingly:

""China."" - pp 38-39

Yes, china.. that porcelain stuff that's usually highly decorated & prized by people w/ conservative tastes.. AND, often cleaned w/ white fabric!

"["]That white dress she wore was her favorite-it was chiffon with an overcoat of cream lace; she always wore a coloured flower-artificial-with it."

""Ah! I'd like to have a look at that dress sometime," said Rudge. I've heard it mentioned more than once."

""Well now, that's another funny thing," said Jennie, who was now fully at her ease-as Rudge had intended. "She's taken it with her!["]" - p 43

Nothing funny about that, I ALWAYS travel w/ a white chiffon dress, usually stuffed around my waist to make me look pregnant so I can get better service - what's important is whether it has a stain from silver cleaner on it - showing the use of a wrong substance for cleaning porcelain. But let's get technical.

"["]My theory, as you know sir, is that the body wasn't in the boat long enough to make the clothes wet. I think it was set adrift from here about 2.30 or 3 a.m. If the person who did it was a stranger to the place he might not think of the river being tidal-he'd expect the boat to float straight out to sea. But what happened was that it floated a few hundred yards, and then, as the tide slackened, drifted into the bank; at 3.45, when the tide turned, it drifted off again and so floated up on the flow till it reached the spot where Neddy Ware found it at half past four."" - p 50

So ends Chapter III. Chapter IV was written by arguably the most famous member of The Detection Club, Agatha Christie. Christie presents the opinions of a gossip.

"["]There's those who say that Sir Wilfrid was none too pleased when he heard his friend was coming down here to live. But there, people will say anything, won't they? I'm never one to say a word myself. Too much harm done by gossiping. Keep a still tongue in your head and you can't go far wrong. That's my motto. And one thing I will say is a wicked shame. To take the Vicar's boat to do their dirty work in. Trying to drag him into it, poor gentleman. As if he hadn't had trouble enough in his life."

""Had a bit of trouble, has he?"

""Well, it's been a long time ago now. Six and four the little boys were, and how she could do it! Depend upon it, a woman who leaves her husband and her children-well there's not much to be said for her-not when it's a good Christian husband like the Vicar["]" - p 57

What the gossip doesn't realize is that it was only after being married & having children that the Vicar's wife realized that he was a female-impersonator opium-addicted bear. Why she was so slow in picking up on this is anyone's guess. It was the claw marks on her back that eventually turned her sour.

John Rhode picks up w/ the gossip:

"INSPECTOR RUDGE assumed an expression of profound admiration. "My word, Mrs. Davis, it takes a woman like you to put two and two together like that!" he exclaimed. "Of course the Admiral could not have caught the train, now I come to think of it!"" - p 59

Of course not, silly! He's a fictional character!

""Queer thing that I don't seem to recognize Admiral Penistone," he said. "There was only one of that name in the Navy List when I was serving, and I saw him more than once."

""Did you? When was that?" Rudge asked eagerly.

""Why, on the China Station, twenty years ago and more.["]" - p 71

You can tell he's lying b/c he sd "China Station" instead of "china set". Everyone knows that "China Station" refers to the stations of the cross & is strictly a religious reference.

Then Rhode hands it off to Milward Kennedy.

""Is Sir Wilfrid Denny at home?" he asked.

""No, he ain't," replied the woman. " 'E was called to London hunexpectedly, and left by the first train this morning."" - p 73

"A TACTFUL question or two elicited the facts that the "call" had been a telephonic one, and that it was not Sir Wilfrid's habit to go often or regularly or, above all, early to London." - p 74

Of course, by now, just about everyone's a suspect - even me.. & YOU, you dastardly mustard plaster, you! ..& this missed clue clinches it:

"More likely the other maid, the one who had been so bored she had left after a week of Rundel Croft, could have told him the inner history of the Admiral's household: perhaps they were used to a gayer life. . . . anyhow, she must have been pretty thoroughly bored if she had chucked her wages in order to get away. He pulled himself up sharply" - p 77

"Rundel Croft" being, of course, a game played blindfolded & naked that's a cross between skydiving, parcheesi, croquet, & Olympic cookie dough splattering. Most people find it quite challenging, even jaded urban dwellers, so the maid obviously left for other reasons.

Kennedy ends w/:

""Can't say I should, sir. And I didn't notice the number of the car much, either-you see there was no occasion, then. I just happened to notice the car. It didn't stop above a couple of minutes and then drove on. Along the Whynmouth road."

""And that, of course," said Inspector Rudge, "would take it past the Vicarage."" - p 91

But not necessarily past the Underage. Dorothy L. Sayers has some "SHOCKS FOR THE INSPECTOR":

"THE INSPECTOR ruminated for a few moments upon the fascinating possibilities suggested by this piece of information, and then, dismissing Hempstead with the advice to get a good meal and turn in, he walked slowly back towards the house." - p 92

Before you know it, Sayers is passing the ball to Ronald A. Knox:

""After midnight? Did you see your uncle alive after midnight?"

""Why, of course," interrupted Holland. "I saw him myself. Yes, I know, Inspector! I didn't want to tell you about that because I was afraid you might stop us from going to town, But I'll come clean now. I saw the Admiral alive here in his study at a quarter past twelve last night."" - p 128

Knox's "THIRTY-NINE ARTICLES OF DOUBT" was one of my favorite chapters b/c it systematically summarized what'd happened so far.

"IN THE nature of the case, a policeman's life is bound up with surprises. A considerable part of the community is only too ready to set playful booby-traps for him, stretching wires across garden-paths or waiting in dark alleys with half a brick concealed in the foot of a stocking. Rudge had not risen to his inspectorship without some experiences of this kind, and he had come near to achieving that unwondering attitude which is (the old poet assures us) part of the stuff of happiness. But this sudden admission almost caught him off his guard." - p 129

& what about the Vicar's hat? Don't people just wear those to get discounts?

"["]Looking out from my window, I saw a man turning away from the front door who I seemed to recognize by the set of his shoulders. Then I told myself I was a fool; something about the hat convinced me that he was clergyman. Then reflection told me that clergymen are no thrown out of pubs at closing-time. And I felt convinced, I don't know how, that it was poor old Penistone. I wanted to see him, as you know; I threw on the rest of my clothes hastily and went out into the street.["]" - p 132

Unfortunately, in his hurry he put his pants on as if they were a shirt & his shirt on as if it were a sock. He completely forget his Vicar's hat. He DID remember, however, to put on his Sherlock Holmes hat.

"Inspector Rudge, we must regretfully admit, was a quite ordinary man. he did not solace himself with the violin, or the cocaine bottle" - p 139

The 1st article of doubt finally rears its something-or-another head:

"1. Why did Penistone come to Lingham, and why did Sir Wilfrid mind? Altogether, there was too much of the China Station about this business. On the face of it, there was nothing particularly improbable in the fact that two men well acquainted with China should be living at such close range. But Mrs. Davis, representing the local gossip, had seen some significance in it" - p 140

Then there's

"3. Why was Elma so familiar with the French maid? And why did the French maid leave so suddenly?" - p 140

- to wch I added: Was the French maid murdered?

Knox hands it off to Freeman Wills Crofts:

"He did, indeed, dream that he saw the actual crime being committed. But as, in his dream, the author of the murder was Mrs. Davis, the victim Mr. Dakers, the weapon a rolled-up newspaper, and the scene of the whole incident the Charing Cross Hotel, he wisely concluded that oneiromancy has its fallible moments." - p 164

"INSPECTOR RUDGE woke next morning with a vaguely troubled mind. He had a subconscious impression that this was no ordinary day and that important duties were awaiting him. Then he remembered. His big chance had come! He sprang out of bed." - p 165

Then Crofts hands it over to Edgar Jepson:

"ecclesiastical matters, he had said to Rudge; a parishioner's unhappy marriage, he had told the Drychester hotel-keeper; family news, he had explained to the lady in Judd Street. . . .

"In fact the whole thing was darned fishy, and he would be bound to get some valuable information from Mount. Somewhat cheered, Rudge set out for the Vicarage." - p 186

"POLICE CONSTABLE RICHARD HEMPSTEAD had been cherishing his aunt, Mrs. Emery. At first when she returned to her native neighborhood and settled down at Rundel Croft, he had showed himself nephewly, but in moderation, certainly not to the point of cherishing her, and even now the cherishing, it is to be feared, was not a natural effusion of pure nepotic feeling. It was the result of feeling, indeed, of two feelings: a strong feeling,a hunch, in fact, that the secret of the murder of the Admiral was to be found in Rundel Croft, and a scarcely less strong feeling that the society of Jennie Merton was good for him." - p 187

Jepson hands it over to Clarence Dane:

"Then, glowing with quiet cheerfulness, he added: "Well, what we want is a man with a beard who has shaved it off. Now, where have I seen a man lately who'd shaved off his beard? I fancy I have."" - p 192

"RUDGE rang, and, getting no answer, rang again. He could hear the bell jangling in the deeps of the house, but he could not hear any sound of footsteps. The peace of summer which lay upon the garden had had its effect, apparently, upon the house itself. All its blinds were down and he could hear the loud ticking of the grandfather clock in the hall. Putting his eye to the key-hole, he observed: (a) That there was no key in the lock, and (b) that the hall was empty. No guilty Vicar was standing within upon the mat, quaking in his shoes, afraid to ignore the summons yet afraid to open." - p 193

Dane's language style is probably the 1st of the coauthors to change somewhat significantly:

"Virtuously, he resolved to wander about the village, dropping questions casually, as Cockneys drop aitches, and perhaps visit that village sphinx, old Wade, in the hope of gleaning some stray straw of information." - p 194

Rudge overhears some possibly implicating conversation:

""I'm not coming all this way for nothing."

""Have you considered," Holland said uneasily, "that it may be a trap?"

""A trap? How could it be?"

""Well---" He hesitated. How much does Célie know?"" - p 199

More than we do at this point.

Dane hands it on to Anthony Berkeley:

"Her two hands were clasped upon her breast, not peacefully, but in a last gesture of energy. They were clasped about a knife-handle, whose blade was sunk in the stained folds of her flowered summer dress." - p 201

"RUDGE plumped down on his knees beside her, heedless of the blood which lay everywhere on the carpet. The woman was still warm, and the blood had scarely ceased to flow from her breast. But quite certainly she was dead." - p 202

& now we'll never know. But, of course, the reader gets it all spelled out for them & there's even a section at the end where each author's own solution is gone into. Here's the 1st paragraph of Agatha Christie's:

"THE REAL Elma Fitzgerald is dead and her brother Walter is masquerading as her, being unable to claim his inheritance under his own name as he is wanted by the police. Holland has been a friend of his in remote parts of the world. Walter finds it hard to get any definite statement as to money out of the Admiral and, to force his hand, pretends to be engaged to Holland. The Admiral will then be forced to hand over the money. Unknown to Walter, however, the Admiral has speculated with it and lost it." - p 268

Then there's the 1st paragraph of Kennedy's solution:

"1. FOUR men are engaged in the supply of arm to Chinese armies: they are Mr. X (main financial element), Admiral Penistone (Gunnery Expert: acquainted with China: retired under a cloud from the Navy: the Admiral has a smaller financial interest), Sir Wilfred Denny (formerly of the Chinese Customs Service) and Holland (who does the "transactions on the spot"). Holland is naturally unready to discuss his business with the police." - p 271

& Sayers:

"In 1911, the Captain in command of the cruiser Huntingdonshire, stationed at Hong Kong, was Captain Penistone, young Fitzgerald's uncle, and to get the opium through meant getting it past Penistone. The previous Captain had been fairly easy to diddle, but Penistone was alert and incorruptible. He was then forty-three, a vigorous, jovial man, well liked by his crew, and a smart officer. As it was impossible to square him, it was necessary to get rid of him. Walter, in collusion with Denny, used his knowledge of his uncle's character to involve him in some discreditable affair (e.g., with a woman or in connection with the ill-treatment of natives). Penistone, though really innocent, is made to appear at the very least extremely indiscreet, and is advised to send in his papers." - p 276


"I once laid it down that no Chinaman should appear in a detective story. I feel inclined to extend the rule so as to apply to residents in China. It appears that Admiral Penistone, Sir W. Denny, Walter Fitzgerald, Ware, and Holland are all intimate with China, which seems overdoing it." - 296


"I am, frankly, in a complete muddle as to what happened, and have tried to write a chapter that anybody can use to prove anything they like." - p 305

I think I'll give this a 5 star rating, despite it's not exactly having any experimental writing in it, just because as a group product I find it astounding.






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