The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club

Floating AdmiralWhynmouth is a quiet seaside town where nothing ever really happens. Inspector Rudge has a pretty easy life of it – until fourteen crime writers conspire to make his life difficult…

Admiral Penistone’s body is found floating adrift in boat belonging to the local vicar, but that’s just the start of the problem. Where was the boat set adrift from – upstream or downstream? Who killed the Admiral? And why leave his body in the boat in the first place?

Rudge finds himself facing more and more questions as everybody seems to be keeping secrets, not just of the present but of the past? But can he get to the bottom of a crime planned by some of the finest crime writers of the Detection Club?

An odd one, this, so a bit of history first. This was the first collaborative work from the Detection Club designed to basically bring a bit of extra cash for the society – basically three lavish dinners a year aren’t cheap and this has been a nice little earner for them, as the rights for the book were signed over to the club. It’s been reissued and translated a few times over the years – the recent reissue in 2011 has been particularly successful.

The book was written in a fairly straightforward way. One chapter was written, the book was passed on to another author, who would resolve bits and set new problems – or, in most cases, just set more problems… It fell to Anthony Berkeley to tie everything together – after a couple of club meetings to try and sort out whodunit…

Does it work? As a puzzle, it actually ties together pretty well. There are some huge leaps in tone from writer to writer – the chapter by the Coles hasn’t inspired me to try their work and the Ronald Knox chapter, analysing THIRTY NINE issues to be resolved is as overwritten as The Viaduct Murder was – does anyone really need to use the word “oneiromancy”. And the six page contribution by Edgar Jepson just throws a last minute spanner in the works…

And putting Dame Agatha’s name so prominently on the front cover given that she only wrote eight fairly inconsequential pages is a bit of a cheat.

What is fascinating in the most recent edition is the thoughts of the various authors on who they think should have been the murderer. Knox’s contribution is especially fascinating, being somewhat critical of some of the ideas introduced by other authors.

Overall, a fascinating experiment – flawed in many ways but entertaining  nonetheless. Well Worth A Look.

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14 comments

  1. Yeah, I’m with you on the Knox chapter – it’s clearly a spin on the 39 Articles of Faith from the Christian church that Monsignor Knox couldn’t pass up because priests, but ohdearcrikeyman doesn’t it ever get dull and create a lot of work for everyone. I read The Footsteps at the Lock after this and it’s equally hard work, but I’d like to think he had one great book in him — anyone any suggestions?

    It’s also huge fun to see how one author, in their chapter, will dismiss something as irrelevant and consign it to the scrapheap only for someone else, several chapters later, to revive it and suddenly make it important again. There’s probably some fantastic analysis of their different approaches that can be done by charting this kind of thing, but I prefer to just find it humorous and leave it at that.

    I also seem to remember enjoying the Coles’ chapter, though the details elude me at present. Given their humdrum reputation, I thought they came out quite favourably. Will have to read Curtis Evans’ Masters of the Humdrum Mystery and maybe actually get round to trying one of their novels.

    Okay, I’m finally done.

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    • Bit late coming to this – but… I’d suggest Still Dead. It’s elaborate and over-subtle, as many of Knox’s books are, but it’s also ingenious. The Three Taps was enough to put me off Knox for a decade; The Body in the Silo was clever but snobbish and irritating. Far and away the best thing of his I’ve read is “Solved by Inspection”, which has a diabolical murder method.

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  2. Thanks for the review, and I think it’s a neat idea to review ‘Floating Admiral’ and ‘Sinking Admiral’ side by side. I found ‘Floating Admiral’ more interesting as an exercise in writing a novel than as a novel per se; I’m hoping that the current generation does a better job with ‘Sinking Admiral’!

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    • There’s going to be a brief interruption due to Paul Halter Day but The Sinking Admiral is imminent. It certainly starts well – although as Simon Brett wrote the first bit, that’s no surprise…

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  3. Christie’s contribution indeed is modest, but her proffered solution was delightfully nutty.

    Personally I don’t believe Knox had a great book in him, of detective fiction anyway. If he did, it didn’t get out! He wrote fine essays, a classic mystery sort and a fine Sherlock Holmes pastiche though.

    The Coles wrote some good novels. The Spectrum of English Murder is about them and Henry Wade, Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery about John Street, J. J. Connington and Freeman Wills Crofts.

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  4. I recently found a paperback copy of this in a secondhand bookshop where I was on holiday. Having passed it up so often before, I paid my $3 in ‘might as well’ mood, and now have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The right time and place, maybe?

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