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Exsanguination

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Before I start this morning, I have a confession to make.

I do not actually know if the title of this post is correctly spelled.

I tried spell check this morning, and it steadfastly refused to admit that any such word had ever existed, anywhere.

This opens up the possibility that I am mistaken about the word I want, but I don’t think I am.  Exsanguination.  The process of being completely drained of blood.

I expect that if I’m wrong, one of you will tell me, and I’ll looked like an idiot, which isn’t out of the ordinary.

The other thing I need to do before I start is give a warning.

This post is about mystery novels, and along the way it may give one or two spoilers.

It will most definitely give a great whopping spoiler about a Dorothy L. Sayers novel called Have His Carcase.

If you haven’t read this yet and don’t like to read things where  you know the solution, or the means to the solution, ahead of time, you  might want to skip all this.

For those of you who may be new here, I’ll repeat what I’ve said  before.

I truly HATE those set ups where somebody writes SPOILER ALERT! right before they give some kind of information, and I don’t use that format.

So–proceed at your own peril.

But proceed first to this place

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Top_100_Crime_Novels_of_All_Time

That’s the Wikipedia article that gives both the Top 100 Mystery Novel lists, the one produced by the Crime Writers in the UK and the one produced by the Mystery Writers of America.

These are lists produced by professionals, but what got me started was a list by an amateur,  billboarded by somebody on FB and gone now into the mists of time.  At least, I haven’t been able to find it again.

Now, lists being what they are, they will always have drawbacks. 

Even lists produced by professionals will maintain bias, although it’s always interesting to note what people in a field think are solid and lasting achievements.

I tend to feel that the professionals in a field know one important thing that amateurs and laypersons do not:  what is hard to do. 

If you don’t actually have to deal, every day, with the realities of Making Things Work, lots of stuff is going to look effortless that is very difficult in fact.

And what is easy and what is difficult will change over time.  Agatha Christie got a lot of mileage out of the fact that the mystery readers of her time were convinced that they knew the conventions of the genre.  The narrator could not be the murderer.

I was convinced myself the first time I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, so convinced that when Christie reached about page 10 or 26 or something of my paperback and  positively hit me on the head with a two by four with the solution–I noted the two by four, but I still didn’t get it.

There are, however, other difficulties in all this that are not so easily accounted for, and that brings me to Dorothy L. Sayers’s Have His Carcase.

I read and reread mysteries from the Golden Age a lot.  I like them.  They’re what brought me into the field.  And, often, they’re better constructed than most of what I can get  now.

Yes, including my own.

Have His Carcase, however, was a book I’d read once and never come back to until sometime last week,

I am not the kind of person who gets disappointed in a mystery novel because I figured it out before the revelation, and I have read and reread many mystery novels whose killers were clear to me almost from the opening page.

With Have His Carcase, however, my problem was that the entire mystery is completely transparent from off if you know what the vital clue actually  means, and the entire book is spent with  Lord Peter Wimsey NOT knowing what it means, or anybody else, either, and it always seemed to me that there should have been no real confusion to begin with.

Have His Carcase is the second of Sayers’s mysteries featuring both Wimsey and Harriet Vane.  In the first, Strong Poison, Vane is on trial for murder and Wimsey gets her off.

In Have His Carcase, Vane is on a walking tour when she stumbles on a corpose on a rock in the middle of the wet sand revealed by the low tide. 

The corpse has had its throat cut “from ear to ear,” as they put it, and the blood is still splashing wet and uncoagulated all around the rock.

Some pages later, we discover that the dead man was a naturalized British subject who had come from somewhere in Russia, and that he always hinted to people that he was of noble birth.

Then Lord Peter Wimsey shows up, and Wimsey, Vane and the local police run around trying to figure out of this was murder or suicide and running into brick walls everywhere.

Their biggest brick wall is the time of death, which they are convinced must have been no later than 2 o’clock, because if it had been any later, the blood would have at least started to clot.

Beating their heads against the brick wall of this time frame becomes the subject of the rest of a very long and involved book.

For me, it becomes the subject of a very long and interminable book, because of course I know what the answer is before Wimsey ever gets to the scene.

I don’t know who the murderer is until another fifty or so pages in, but I know that the time is wrong right away, and it makes me crazy that  nobody in the book ever seems to.

Russian emmigre.  Noble Blood.

Am I really the only person whose first thought is haemophilia?

For many years, I gave t his book a pass on the assumption that haemophilia is something that’s general knowledge now, but maybe wasn’t then.

This time, I paid some attention to the dates.  The book was written in 1932, which  means that anybody then an adult had lived through the Russian Revolution and the literally thousands of newspaper and magazine stories about the deaths of the Tsar and his family.

This included the death of the Tsar’s son, who was, in fact, a haemophiliac. 

Hemophilia wasn’t a little known condition in 1932, and its connection with the Russian royal family was legendary.

I have a hard time believing that the reading public didn’t catch on just as I did, and I have a really hard time believing Lord Peter Wimsey took that long to get it.

This is, after all, a man who is supposed to have done (and be doing) high level intelligence work in just that part of the world.

The fact that I “got” all this right at the beginning meant that most of the rest of the novel was completely irrelevant for me.  Vane and Wimsey and the local constabulary work out elaborate theory after elaborate theory to explain why this murder could have taken place at 2 o ‘clock, and I yawn because I know there’s no reason why the murder has to take place at 2 o’clock.

While this is going on and on and on, I get no new information that I might  need about the murder. 

The action of the novel is, when I read it, useless in a way that the action of the plot of Who Killed Roger Ackroyd or Murder on the Orient Express is not, because in those last two everything the detective does is in fact necessary to figuring out what went on, even if I know what went on in advance.

Have His Carcase is a weak book in many other ways, not the least of which being  that the whodunnit part is much too elaborate and unbelievable.

But in a way it doesn’t matter, because that time of death thing is what most of that novel is about, and that time of death thing always seems to me to be so obvious, nobody could miss it.

Now, that’s the kind of thing I expect professionals to complain about.

Have fun with the lists.

Written by janeh

July 8th, 2013 at 9:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Exsanguination'

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  1. Exsanguination is a perfectly serviceable word here in Oz, as is exsanguinate.

    Computer spell checkers are universally illiterate in my experience.

    Mique

    8 Jul 13 at 11:51 am

  2. Yes, it’s spelled correctly. My resource when spellcheck fails is dictionary.com

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Exsanguination?s=t

    Although the link they give you to Amazon for “Exsanguinate
    http://www.amazon.com/
    Great Prices and Huge Selection Qualified orders over $25 ship free” is a bit chilling. Really?

    As someone who takes blood-thinners to combat clots, I have to say that I wonder why someone wanting to kill a hemophiliac would have to cut them at all. I understand a good hard punch in the gut would probably do it, although not as quickly. Also, just because blood doesn’t clot, or doesn’t clot easily, doesn’t mean it won’t separate into serum and sludge, or dry around the edges or on clothing.

    Also, it was well known by the middle of the 19th century that one could estimate time of death by body temperature. “The study of the cooling rate of dead bodies appears to have been first reported in 1863 by Taylor and Wilks (1).” from http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4412&context=jclc

    So why wouldn’t someone have noticed the body was far too cool to be recently dead?

    Lymaree

    8 Jul 13 at 11:56 am

  3. Moderation? Really?

    Lymaree

    8 Jul 13 at 11:57 am

  4. Oh, I guess I had too many links in there, including one with a suspicious ad-like wording. Check moderation, please? Thanks, Jane.

    Lymaree

    8 Jul 13 at 11:58 am

  5. Yeah, the program doesn’t like links. Otherwise, the only moderation on this blog is that there are two people in the world I won’t allow to post here, and I can block them directly.

    But as to the other thing: the murderers in this novel didn’t know the victim was a haemophiliac, which was ALSO a clue.

    janeh

    8 Jul 13 at 12:09 pm

  6. Yeah, it’s frustrating when you can see too far ahead of the author or the characters. It would be interesting to see contemporary view of the HAVE HIS CARCASSE business.
    I find more frustrating, though, the times when the author just flat gets it wrong. I know at least two mysteries in which the means of death which wouldn’t have killed And minor errors which would only be annoying in mainstream are false clues in a mystery. In the otherwise excellent Greeley “Beatitude” mysteries, he screws up a uniform in a painting or pictures so badly I spent most of the novel convinced the man in question had faked his military service. It turned out Greeley just couldn’t be bothered to get his details right. That sort of thing drives the well-informed attentive reader to fury, while the ignorant one just along for the ride never even notices it. So, in the long run, careless writers breed careless readers, which may only be fair.
    Lists were interesting. I found I’d read about a third to half of each–a higher percentage near the top and a lower percentage near the bottom. But I’d missed some of both top 10’s and caught some of both bottom 10’s.
    General rule of lists: the older the book, movie or whatever is, the more secure its place. It may not get on at all, but if it does, it will still be there 20 years later, and if it ISN’T there after 50 years, it’s not likely to show up in the next iteration. It’s the last 10 years or so where the “masterpiece” may appear and disappear from one iteration of the list to the next. It leads me to suspect that the merit isn’t as objective as the critics would have us believe.

    robert_piepenbrink

    8 Jul 13 at 12:54 pm

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