Definition: a cry of surprise or irritation. The perfect epithet for when you have turned that page to where the sleuth drops all pretense, points to the least likely suspect and declares: “It was you!”
People who say “Gadzooks” are cool!
Just as classic mystery authors adopted a myriad of rules when they wrote about what governs an acceptable mystery plot – rules that admittedly were broken and ultimately discarded – we who blog about detective fiction have our rules. Most of them have to do with forging a compact with our readers to not spoil a crime story by divulging too many of its tricks. Some bloggers, like that magnificent fellow, the Puzzle Doctor, have created a permanently spoiler-free zone. PD reviews a lot of books, from every spectrum of the mystery genre, and guarantees he will not reveal any twists or turns, which makes him the most prolific tease in the blogosphere!
Those of us who do occasionally trade in secrets put up giant roadblocks marked SPOILER ALERT to guard against ruining the experience for a potential reader of whatever story we’re discussing.
This is just an example. There are no spoilers ahead!
This, it turns out, is a complicated process through which to navigate. Seeing as we’re dealing with a body of work that is 80 – 100+ years old, certain authors and titles have gained a sizeable reputation for their devilish cleverness. For example, there is a title by Agatha Christie that can barely be discussed without spoiling something for somebody. Talking about the book itself is problematic enough because on the surface it is actually quite ordinary. I would issue a challenge to my fellow bloggers: let’s all try and write a blurb about this title that would intrigue a reader without giving any little bit of the game away. It would probably look something like this:
(What’s that, you ask? How can you challenge your fellow bloggers over a book whose title you haven’t even mentioned? Oh, but they know it! Believe me – they know it.) What’s worse is that this is a book one cannot even reference when talking about other books without ruining another title for readers. Some of my dearest friends in the blogosphere are guilty of this . . . or they have unleashed the Kraken in the comments section and created a morass of spoilers there!
The thing is, though, many GAD fans like talking spoilers! For us it’s the literary equivalent of taking apart the engine and putting it back together to observe closely how it runs. Perhaps an even better metaphor would be peeling back an onion. More than any other form of literature, mystery fiction is structured in layers. We are introduced to the surface of a group of people, a place, a set of circumstances and slowly we peel back the lies and the hidden secrets until we get to the truth at the center.
If you want to review a mystery for others, you describe the basic surface and then you evaluate the stuff underneath. This only lets you go so far in your writing, and, believe me, that’s frustrating. What can you say? You can talk about whether the prose is lively or dull, about how stick-like the characters are, and you can wax forever about the detective. You can be definite about whether or not the author produced a successful example of the genre, but you have to be vague about why! Any discussion of a specific person, place, or thing risks spoilage! I can’t even give you specific examples of what I mean here, for that would potentially ruin a title for you.
Some of us ignore this whole problem by putting up the roadblock (see above) and hoping for the best. My assumption is that many people who come to read me are either interested in Agatha Christie or huge fans of hers. For those who are newer, I often write about the author in a way that (I hope) piques their interest about specific titles or certain other aspects of her writing. For fellow fans, I love to create an in-depth analysis that takes the puzzle apart and shows how cleverly the writer fooled us. If you have not read the title yet, you do notwant to read these entries. My hope is that everyone else will derive close to as much pleasure as I had exploring the work.
My pal JJ at The Invisible Event can appreciate my rapture over this fanboy pastime. He does the same thing periodically; he calls them “Spoiler Warnings.” Up to this point, JJ has teamed up with other eager bloggers (I was fortunate enough to be one of them) and covered a wide range of authors. In July, JJ has announced that he will do something a little different by analyzing a book as he reads it and creating a post allowing readers to “ride along” with JJ to the end. This will either show off JJ in all his sleuthing glory – or make him the biggest goat since Charlie Brown with the football. JJ has picked a novel I know – Christianna Brand’s Fog of Doubt – so I’ll be right there following along and waiting to see where JJ trips upshows off his detective skills!
It turns out that many bloggers have tried this! Rich at A Complete Disregard for Spoilers calls them “Solve Alongs.” Well, here’s what I say: if these boys can have their fun, who’s to stop me from playing the game? That is why I hereby announce my first GADzooks – a chance for me to read a book in front of you and let you know, chapter by chapter, what I make of it. It’s going to take place this summer, and if you want to really have some fun and jeercheer me on for my stupiditycleverness, I strongly advise you to read the book before July.
Which book is it, you ask? Well, I asked a lot of people for suggestions. I wanted a traditional mystery by a fine author that took some twists and turns. Fortunately, there are still a number of mysteries by Carter Dickson, the alter ego of my favorite guy, John Dickson Carr, that I have not read. And since I had a little hand in JJ’s selection, I decided to take his advice. And so, with a blare of trumpets, I announce that my first GADzooks will be for . . . .
The Red Widow Murders. This 1935 novel was the third to feature the gargantuan Sir Henry Merrivale. I got a hold of a beautiful used copy through Amazon, and I have to say the blurb on the back cover is exciting!!
A ROOM THAT KILLS
In lord Mantling’s ancestral mansion is a room known as the Red Widow’s Chamber. Its first victim, his face black with death, was found there in 1803. Other strange deaths occurred within, and in 1876 the room was locked and sealed with six inch screws through the door jams. Nobody has set foot in it since. Nobody wanted to. Until the present– 1934.
Now eight men and a woman gather around the table for a sinister experiment. Playing cards are drawn from a freshly opened pack. A small, inoffensive man named Bender draws the ace of spades and is escorted solemnly into the Red Widow’s Chamber. The door is closed. Eight people tensely wait. They call out to Bender every quarter hour and hear his muffled answer.
Two hours past, the experiment is over, and Mantling calls for Bender to come out. When no one answers, the door is opened and Bender is discovered lying on his back, murdered.
He has been dead for more than an hour. How could he have answered the calls? Can a room kill?
Doesn’t that sound like fun? I hope you will consider joining me. If you haven’t read the book, copies are not as tricky to come by as you may think. If you have read it, be sure you stop by this summer and discover how truly bad I am at this mystery solving game!