Introduced by Simon Brett
Illustrated by Mark Thomas
Leading lights of the golden age of crime fiction, among them Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton and Dorothy L. Sayers, take turns weaving an inventive murder mystery.
When an old sailor is found dead in a boat on the River Whyn, the redoubtable Inspector Rudge is called in to investigate. What follows is a classic whodunnit, with a full cast of dubious characters: the twitchy vicar, the gossiping busybody, the mysterious woman – and a delicious array of tantalising clues: the vicar’s hat, the loaded revolver, the copy of last night’s newspaper in the victim’s pocket.
The novel was written by members of The Detection Club. Each author – contributing a chapter a-piece – has a unique approach to the increasingly complex tale, often gleefully introducing a new twist to the story just before passing it on. As well as the ‘true’ solution provided by Anthony Berkeley (in a final chapter appropriately titled ‘Clearing up the Mess’), each contributor’s solution is included in an appendix, providing an unusual and entertaining glimpse into the methodical minds of some of our most famous crime writers.
The Detection Club, formed in suitably nebulous circumstances in the early 1930s, was a secret society ‘for the association of writers of detective novels’, or, as Dorothy L. Sayers perhaps more truthfully put it, a society ‘chiefly for the purpose of eating dinners together at suitable intervals’.
Many of the great writers of the golden age of crime fiction were members, including Agatha Christie, G. K. Chesterton and Sayers herself, as well as more obscure authors such as Henry Wade and Clemence Dane.
‘The plotting is ingenious, the pace sustained, the solution satisfying.’
The Floating Admiral is the result of a literary game of consequences played by club members: one writer introduced a suspicious death and then passed the story on, with each participant adding a chapter to deepen the mystery, until a gloriously unplanned collaborative novel was produced. The rules, in keeping with the central tenets of the club, stipulated that the story must ‘play fair by the reader’ – rather than simply elaborating with no thought for the ramifications, each author was obliged to have a solution in mind.
Simon Brett, author and former President of the Detection Club, has written an introduction on the particular appeal of golden-age crime novels, as well as a series of revealing biographies of the contributors to this story. Included in this edition is the original map of the fictional town of Whynmouth from the first publication, and seven stylish colour illustrations by Mark Thomas that charmingly capture the atmosphere of the period.
A lot of golden-age crime novels were games. A murder mystery was set up as an intellectual challenge rather on the same level as a crossword – and it’s interesting that the two forms of entertainment developed around the same time. In the days before television, in the days of country-house weekend parties, games like Murder in the Dark were very popular. Collections of crime puzzles – like F. Tennyson Jesse’s The Baffle Book, A Parlour Game of Mystery and Detection – sold in large numbers. It was indeed the age of the parlour game … which hardly exists nowadays. People don’t have parlour games. Very few of them even have parlours. And, rather than in parlours with real people, most game-playing is now done on laptops, tablets or mobile phones with avatars. Not everyone believes that to be progress.
But it is in the spirit of a parlour game that The Floating Admiral should be approached by a reader. The idea of a serious (should I use that awful world ‘literary’?) novel written by a relay of authors is incongruous. In such writing the author’s authentic voice is all-important (particularly in the view of the authors themselves). For a light-hearted work of crime fiction, however, the concept is just enormous fun, and I think it’s clear that the writers involved in The Floating Admiral enjoyed the intellectual challenge that faced them.
Simon Brett has published more than ninety books, including the Charles Paris, Mrs Pargeter, Fethering and Blotto & Twinks series of crime novels. In 2014 he was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger ‘for excellence’. His radio writing includes No Commitments, Smelling of Roses and After Henry, which was also successful on television. He was President of the Detection Club from 2001 until 2015.
Mark Thomas studied Graphics at Kingston-upon-Thames Polytechnic in England, where he achieved a BA Hons. He is experienced in all areas of illustration, including advertising, film and theatre posters, television stamp design, and editorial and book illustration. He has won D&AD Awards, and a joint BAFTA Award for his work on The Singing Detective. He illustrated The Princess Bride for The Folio Society in 2013.
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