Saturday, January 21, 2012

Murder in Pastiche, by Marion Mainwaring

Murder in Pastiche:
or Nine Detectives All at Sea
By Marion Mainwaring

It is difficult to solve a case without a thorough knowledge of the classics and of modern European literature. (Sir Jon. Nappleby)

If you're going to read a book that contains the word "pastiche" in the title it's probably a good idea to put your critical faculties on the back burner and just go along for the ride. Especially if the book is one that gathers nine of mystery fiction's great detectives on an ocean liner and has them solve a murder.

Marion Mainwaring is apparently best known as an Edith Wharton scholar who completed one of that author's unfinished novels. She wrote one other mystery in the Fifties (Murder at Midyears), which seems to be the extent of her contribution to the genre.

Murder in Pastiche is probably a perfectly readable novel even if you've never had any experience with the detectives being parodied, but it's obviously going to be much more enjoyable if you have. There were a few detectives I don't know as well as I'd like so I'd consider myself to be somewhere between those two extremes.

The nine detectives who ended up on the same ship (quite coincidentally, of course) are Trajan Beare, Spike Bludgeon, Mallory King, Sir Jon. Nappleby, Jerry Pason, M. Atlas Poireau, Lord Simon Quinsey, Miss Fan Sliver, and Broderick Tourneur. If you know the authors being parodied then it's probably not much of a stretch to figure out who is who.

Not long after setting out for England, the comparative peace onboard ship is shattered by the murder of a well-known and rather unlikeable gossip columnist. From here on out the gang of detectives tackle the case in round-robin fashion, a chapter at a time. It sounds like a haphazard way to conduct a mystery novel, but Mainwaring makes a pretty good go of it. As for the plot, it's serviceable enough and the solution to and motivation for the crime are actually quite fitting, given the type of book under consideration.

My only minor quibbles here are that Spike Bludgeon (Mike Hammer) didn't really fit in with the rest of the bunch and that there wasn't more of Trajan Beare (Nero Wolfe) and sidekick Ernie Woodbin (Archie Goodwin). But I'm sure many other readers have made the same complaint about their own personal favorite of the nine detectives.

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