- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 8 hours and 29 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.com Release Date: December 10, 2012
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00AMA73ZS
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Still Dead Audiobook – Unabridged
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Ronald Knox was an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism under the influence of G. K. Chesterton -- and then started to influence Chesterton! He wrote a ten commandments of mystery fiction. You can be sure, since he wrote the rules, that he's playing by them. So if you like totally fair yet deeply difficult mystery stories, you can't miss this one.
I'm a little bit more interested in its defects, since they show how the Golden Age mysteries at last became unpopular. Even when, as here, there's nothing wrong with them, there's still a lot that's wrong with them.
In STILL DEAD, at least four separate people, not counting the murderer, plant false evidence or otherwise mess with the clues. Each of these people has a reason. One is planting false clues to balance out false clues that others are planting. The detective himself, Miles Bredon, plants false clues to see how the other false-clue planters will react to his false clues.
Now, that's too many people planting false clues. When more than fifty percent of the top characters are changing the evidence, is that really fair play?
What is more, in spite of all the talk about fair cluing, the solution is NOT guessable. I can't prove what I'm saying without spoilers, but there is nothing at all indicating the murder method or location in all the clues that are given. The author has to work up an unpredictable and unlikely meeting to make the solution come out right. That's not what I call fair play.
Knox shows how Ellery Queen is better. What happens in early Ellery Queen mysteries is unlikely enough, but it has features Knox's clues don't: the unlikely things, like the book-clues in THE FRENCH POWDER MYSTERY, are memorable, stressed by the author instead of buried like Knox's clues, and they lead directly to the murderer instead of requiring the author to pull a murder out of nowhere as Knox does.
To make up for this, the solution in STILL DEAD brings out an ethical and legal dilemma that is a lot of fun in itself, and that the characters have a great discussion about. Not only do they debate turning the murderer in, but they debate if the murderer really committed murder or not. The discussion alone is worth the price of admission.
But here Knox suffers by comparison, not with Ellery Queen but with G. K. Chesterton himself, the man who converted Knox to Catholicism. Chesterton has an ethical dilemma in almost every Father Brown story he ever wrote, and the ethical problems are more interesting than Knox's. Again, I can't explain more without spoilers, but in general Chesterton is a far more charming writer about ethics than Knox, and it's only justice that Chesterton's detective stories are much better known than Knox's.
The person who settles the ethical dilemma is a high-born elderly lady who stays at a local hotel and loves to gossip. She's a comic character BUT at the very same time she has more common sense than the other characters and in her last appearance she describes herself as a prophet, after figuring out and explaining how to handle the murder. All this is snobbish, with the snobbery covered by humor. The high-born woman is a joke till the end, so the reader won't think the author is too much in love with high birth, but when the last ethical dilemma shows up, Lady High-born is the only character who really knows what to do.
I don't buy it. Still more, I don't buy how Lady High-born was allowed to be around while Miles Bredon explained what had happened. It's obviously contrived, and if the author can contrive her presence so obviously, he plainly can -- in fact plainly has -- contrived stuff that's more important to setting up and solving the mystery. We see the carpenter working very hard, and we shouldn't.
And still, if you like this kind of Golden Age mystery, this is one of the best you're ever going to find. With the Kindle notes to the clues, it's a super treasure. Go for it.