When Authors Work Together

Reading & Writing

Having been involved in two volumes of ‘Zombie Apocalypse’, in which a worldwide epidemic is given a factual genesis and relayed in the form of emails, notes, recordings and other methods of communication, I know how difficult it is to get right. Funnily enough, the easiest part was fitting my part of the story with the other authors, partly because I shared the heavy lifting in the creation of the backstory.

But there have been plenty of past examples of authors collaborating. ‘The Perfect Murder’ is a bit of a cheat, as it’s really short stories grouped together as advice to the editor on how to murder his wife, but it’s a smart selling tool and a fun read. ‘The Floating Admiral’ is a fourteen-strong author novel that works like a game of Consequences, written in 1931 by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and GK Chesterton among others, all members of the Detection Club. Each of the authors provided their own solution in a sealed envelope, all of which appeared at the end of the book, with Agatha Christie’s ingenious conclusion acknowledged at the time to be ‘enough to make the book worth buying on its own’.

It was so popular that it warranted a sequel, but ‘Ask A Policeman’ has a great twist. Taking four famous detectives from its authors, who included Dorothy L Sayers and the mad Gladys Mitchell, the stories were switched so that each author wrote in the other one’s style, which gave them plenty of room for sharp digs at their rivals. The result is even more enjoyable than its predecessor.

Two tasty facsimile editions have just been reissued by Harper Collins. The Detection Club continued until 001 but seems to have vanished now. Members were required to take an oath;

‘Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God?’

6 comments on “When Authors Work Together”

  1. Patrick says:

    This is quite the curious coincidence… I just finished reading your newest PCU book, and was well into ASK A POLICEMAN when I noticed this post!!!

  2. John Howard says:

    Thanks yet again for something I had not heard of, i.e the Detection Club. I am now going to have to spend a bit of ingenuity trying to persuade the wife that I can really get them because they are educational and no they wont need any more space really because I definitely have a space up there on the very top shelf that needs to be filled. Although how I am going to convince her that ‘murder his wife’ and ‘educational’ really do go together I haven’t worked out yet.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    The only one I’ve read is The Floating Admiral in the same edition and it was very good. The right side book shown, The Perfect Murder, also happens to be the title of the first novel in H.R.F. Keating’s fairly long series about Bombay Inspector Ghote – which is a joke name with a long and involved explanation typical of many of Keating’s works (Dare I whisper it: The Perfect Murder may be in set in Bombay, but it is very D.E. Probably a historical leftover.)A film was made of the book in 1990+-, but I never got to see it.)
    If you like atmospheric, slowly advancing mysteries this series is top of the line. A nice Indian take away, a bottle of Kingfisher and a Keating Ghote: Priceless.
    Just a word of warning, after two or three of the books, your accent may take a decidedly eastward shift, in the best way.

  4. Rich Westwood says:

    There’s an interesting related article in the Guardian – the reissue of Ask a Policeman includes a hitherto unpublished essay on crime writing by Agatha Christie, in which she is apparently a bit scathing of her contemporaries.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Interesting ref. Thanks.

  6. FabienneT says:

    How I’d love to get my hands on these. The covers are great! Thanks for posting yet another interesting blog – and thanks Rich for the Guardian link, I’m going to read this now!

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