Crime on the Coast & No Flowers by Request by Members of the Detection Club

NoFlowers
Crime on the Coast & No Flowers By Request
Members of the Detection Club
Originally Published 1954/1953

The Detection Club produced several collaborative stories in which members contributed a section making up a part of a bigger mystery story. Perhaps the most famous of these is The Floating Admiral but there were several others including the two efforts contained in this volume.

This book is a very slim volume as each of the stories is only about seventy-five pages long. The list of collaborators is a little less star-studded than the one in The Floating Admiral with the first story featuring few familiar names other than Carr’s. No Flowers by Request boasts a more familiar lineup of some of the leading female crime writers of the decade who likely better known to modern readers.

Crime on the Coast

Authors: John Dickson Carr, Valerie White, Laurence Meynell, Joan Fleming, Michael Cronin, Elizabeth Ferrars

The first story in this double-header originally appeared as a serial in the News Chronicle in 1954. Each of the authors gets two consecutive short chapters, just eleven or twelve pages, to make their contribution to the story each picking up from the conclusion of the previous author.

The first two chapters are the work of John Dickson Carr who sets up an interesting adventure scenario in which a mystery author arrives at a seaside fun fair at the urging of his publisher. A ‘fat man’ urges him to take a ride on Ye Olde Haunted Mill which he declines on the grounds that it is a romantic ride for two and is surprised when a very attractive young woman he had never seen before calls him by name, urges him to take the ride with her telling him that it is a matter of life and death.

The first two chapters are quite amusing in spots and do set up an appropriately mysterious situation for the succeeding writers to work with. Characterization is slight but that seems appropriate for this sort of story where the writers are trying to change directions and introduce new elements and the action is pretty well paced, although I think things get a little tangled towards the end.

I am not familiar with the other contributors’ styles having only read Laurence Meynell’s work before (and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t found I already had a tag for him on here) so it is hard to judge the success of the other collaborators. If our measure is whether the works feel consistent enough that a reader might be persuaded they were the work of a single writer then I think it succeeds but personally I think that misses the point of a collaborative story. For me these stories should be about celebrating the differences between the writers rather than an exercise in literary craftsmanship.

As such I feel ambivalent towards this story. It is competent if not particularly exciting work and will do little to make you seek out a story by, for instance, Joan Fleming or Michael Cronin if they are new to you.

No Flowers By Request

Authors: Dorothy L. Sayers, E. C. R. Lorac, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Gilbert, Christianna Brand

The second story appeared in the Daily Sketch in 1953 and follows a similar format. Each author gets two chapters although there is a little more variation in the lengths – Sayers and Brand each get 18 pages whereas Lorac and Mitchell contribute just 12.

The story concerns a widow whose children have grown and decides that she will work as a housekeeper. She accepts a position working within a house in the country for a couple, an artist and his invalid wife, whose niece lives with them along with an injured airman and a nurse.

Sayers’ opening chapters set up the situation in which she and the niece are left alone in the home with the invalid wife and asked to check in on her. When they do they find her in a bad way and try to summon the doctor but are unable to get him to come out. She dies later that night, apparently of digitalis poisoning.

Unlike the previous story here each of the authors is able to put more of their storytelling style into their chapters. For example Mitchell gets to deal with some of the mutual suspicion that develops within the home. Their writing is still clearly a little constrained in scope and style to make sure it fits alongside the others’ work but I think it is easier to see that it is the work of multiple writers.

I feel that the story also benefits from the creation of a much stronger central character in the form of Mrs. Merton who is a rather formidable personality. She is not a particularly pleasant character but she is consistently portrayed across each of the chapters and it does feel like she plays a more active role in her story than Philip Courtney ever does in Crime on the Coast.

I found the solution to the puzzle to be more interesting and complex than I expected, holding together pretty well. Brand’s final chapter is, perhaps, a little confusing and I did have to reread the final few pages to be sure I understood an aspect of the ending but I think she does manage to pull the clues together to reach a convincing conclusion that fits the situation, clues and characters well.

I do think it is easily the more successful of the two stories here. It is not a perfect work and I can’t shake the feeling that any one of these authors given the premise to work with on their own (and an extra hundred pages) might have created something even more imaginative and satisfying but it is a pretty successful collaboration that does at least represent its authors.

Overall

When I bought this collected volume I spent no more than a dollar on it and I do not regret that purchase but I do not think I would feel the same if I had spent much more than that. It is an interesting curio and I do think the second tale is a pretty engaging short story. Do be aware that it is a very short volume however and that few of the authors are shown to their best advantage.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: Written by more than one person (What)

16 thoughts on “Crime on the Coast & No Flowers by Request by Members of the Detection Club

  1. I picked this up about a year ago. Like you it was for a very low price. I’m saving it though until I’ve finished Carr’s core works.

    Your review is the first I recall seeing. You make an interesting point about whether the style of writing should be consistent. It makes me curious about how much collaboration the authors had on these works.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Carr clearly changes his style a little here to be a little more adventure focused but whether that was just to accommodate other writers he knew would follow or because he was actively collaborating it is far from clear.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve wondered about these as well. The Floating Admiral isn’t exactly great literature, but it has some charm by providing a glimpse behind the curtain of the individual authors’ thought processes and the interactions between the collaborators. It sounds like that’s missing here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like that’s missing here.
      You’re correct and the first story is more guilty of this than the second one, but you can probably put that down to Carr being a hard act to follow. Carr should have been the writer who tied everything together in the final chapter. Now we got a strong and intriguingly presented premise dissolving into a spotty, run-of-the-mill thriller story. I remember thinking the second story was much better, but can’t recall a single detail of its plot or solution.
      The Floating Admiral, Ask a Policeman and The Anatomy of Murder (true crime) were much better Detection Club collaborations.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it would have been interesting to see Carr reacting to the ideas and materials from the other writers. Starting the collaboration out means that he does make sure that solid elements are in place for everyone else but neither he nor Sayers really play the game.

        I am pleased to read that there are more successful collaborations out there. Thanks for the recommendations.

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    2. I think that is true – the stories, particularly the first, feel written by committee rather than by the five or six individual crime writers. You want to see the contrast and conflict between styles so you can appreciate them all the more.

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  3. I read this one pre-blog, but like you found it to be somewhat average. Reading your synopsis for the first tale struck a few chords in my memory, but for the second there is a complete blank, which probably says a lot about the book as a whole.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this review Aidan, I too have seen this on a number of occasions in second hand book shops and passed up on it because of poor reviews. But these reviews were only little ones on goodreads/google books and so it’s great to have a more thorough review.

    Interestingly the premise that Carr sets out sounds very similar, or at least has a lot of flashes of his radio play ‘Would you Make a Bet with Death’, really worth a listen, I believe it’s on youtube.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I am glad to hear that it fills a gap. 🙂

      I will seek out a copy of that as if it has a similar premise I would be interested to find out how Carr would have finished it.

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      1. The novel “The Nine Wrong Answers” is based on the the radio script, though the ultimate solutions are different.

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      2. The radio script “Will You Make A Bet With Death” is available in The Door To Doom collection. If you want, I can send you a copy of the script.

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      3. Thanks Santosh for the offer. I think I would prefer to listen to it (I love audio drama) but I appreciate knowing that The Nine Wrong Answers shares some plot elements as I am supposed to be getting a copy of that one soon…

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