Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Lord, what a relief it is to have been wrong for once! You don't know the monotony of infallibility!"

Wang: Let out one more small detail, Mr. Twain. Who victim?
Twain: Is the. Is the. Who is the victim? That drives me crazy.

Maybe writing a review of this book now isn't the best idea. It's been almost a month since I read it and I've read many books in between. It's all a bit hazy. The headache I have isn't helping too much either. Well, you might even say it is kinda hindering my faculty to write in semi-proper English. But as waiting even longer probably isn't going help my foggy memories of the book, I'd better write it down now.

Topic of today: Leo Bruce's Case for Three Detectives (1936).  Ah, yes, that famous detective pastiche. And it starts with all the classic themes. Mary Thurston is found dead in a locked room in her mansion. The doors were bolted from the inside, of course. The windows don't lead anywhere. The knife that killed her is found outside the mansion. And there was a weekend party going on, so the house was full of suspects. But no fear, for the mysterious murder attracts not one, not two, but three famous detectives. Lord Peter Wimsey Simon Plimsoll, Monsieur Hercule Poirot Amer Picon and Father Brown Monsignor Smith. The three of them all come up with a brilliant solution. Brilliant, but all wrong. Luckily, Sergeant Beef is here to save the day.

I am not sure how I feel about this book, actually. It is a very well structured novel, with a neat solution to the locked room. As a Queen-reader, you'll always catch my attention with a multi-layered solution. And this book has no less than four, all deviously logic and clever. In short, it is a good detective.

Yet, it is also clearly a parody on detective novels in general, featuring three slightly familiar detectives. The three are parodied very amusingly, all acting like their counterparts. Bruce, through the voice of narrator Townsend, also sneaks in some wonderful witty remarks regarding the detective genre. I would totally quote an awesome line from the book, if I had taken notes. I usually forget to take notes whenever I read in the train...

And I like parodies. A lot. The 'problem' is that I love my parodies to be... slightly extreme. They have to exaggerate the theme. Even if it's a detective. Higashino's Meitantei Tenkaichi ("Great Detective Tenkaichi") series is a hilarious parody of the genre, which presents classics like the locked room or alibi tricks in a 'possible-yet-totally-bizarre' way. My favorite, 33pun Tantei ("33 Minutes Detective"), is a Police Squad!-styled TV-drama which parodies everything of the genre, all the way to the very essence of the genre (while every case is solved within the first 5 minutes of the show, the detectives forcefully pads out the show with crazy, impossible deductions in order to fill in the total length of the show). The manga Shoujo Tantei Kaneda Hajime no Jikenbo ("The Casefiles of Girl Detective Kaneda Hajime") features a ventroquilist-pathologist (yes, he uses dead bodies) and killer-snails.

Case for Three Detectives is just too tame as a parody. And I suppose I could just look at it like a normal, neutral pastiche, like Nishimura Kyoutarou's Meitantei ("Great Detective") series with Akechi Kogorou, Poirot, Ellery Queen and Maigret. But the fact that those three detectives appear (with those names), as well as all those sharp observations put the book, for me, more in the parody genre, where it kinda fails because it is too much like a normal detective. Don't get me wrong, though, this is a great book. But I can't really 'shoehorn' it in my comfy categorial bookcases in my head and that makes my feelings about the book somewhat ambiguous.

But maybe it's just the headache talking. I might say something totally different on a clear mind.


  1. I get what you're trying to say, but I don't exactly understand the problem. It's unfair to fault the book for not being something it didn't set out to be, which, in this case, wasn't an extravagant, over-the-top parody but a clever, humorous spoof on the fallible story book detective and their authors. Have you noticed how all three solutions are very typical of the books and stories of their original counterparts? Amer Picon's solution, involving lovers and alibis, is the most obvious one.

    Just erect a new, imaginary bookcase if the story doesn't fit in with any of your preconceived, comfy categories – especially if you enjoyed it.

    By the way, have you read Kelley Roos' The Frightened Stiff yet?

  2. Hmm. Although I wrote the review yesterday evening, not even half of the text seems familiar to me =_=

    But did my opinion change with my head cleared? Not really. I think it's the same with my strange relation with Carr; I know that it is not only a structually good work, but that it also contains many elements that appeal to me personally. Yet it for some reason just doesn't get me.

    Even while knowing Bruce never tried to write an extreme parody, I just can't look at the book without comparing it to other experiences and there it falls somewhat short of being truly memorable.

    And no, haven't started in 'The Frightened Stiff' yet. As always I'm reading too much books at the same time, but I hope to finish two books this week, which frees up space for 'The Rim of the Pit'. Which seems more fun because it has a neat map on the backcover.