Friday, June 03, 2011

Quite the Corpse...

When it comes to fitness, I will cheerfully admit that I am far from the picture perfect image of it. In fact, I’m downright overweight. But as it happens, I’m perfectly content with it. I do realize the importance of staying healthy and I do several things to keep from being morbidly obese, like walking to and from the library. However, I cannot understand the obsession so many have with getting slimmer— the French singer Bénabar satirizes this in a song called À notre santé (To our health), where he declares having the perfect body is the new priesthood, mentioning such innovations as dealcoholized beer, decaffeinated coffee, and de-sugared sugar. (Oh, the horror…)

So, when in Alan Green’s What a Body!, fitness nut Merlin Broadstone was murdered in a locked room, I cheered along with the rest of 1948 America, which frankly got tired of the endless stretching, of being told to chew every mouthful of food exactly 30 times, of new exercises involving everything from medicine balls to swimming…

At least, that’s the way Alan Green puts it. What a Body! is a delightful parody of the locked-room mystery genre, and the author’s satirical style is just perfect, whether it is the public’s overjoyed reaction to hear of the death of Broadstone, the press and media eagerly following up on the story, or hearing the complaints of the only non-athlete on Broadstone’s fitness island.

Unfortunately, that’s all that’s enjoyable in What a Body! The locked room mystery is, plain and simple, dull. The solution is easily spotted from miles away, and although many false solutions are offered, most of them are offered in an alcoholic stupor, and to be quite honest, none of them is particularly solid. A lot of them are thoroughly silly from start to finish. I was extremely disappointed that I got everything right— only one or two minor, unimportant details were left out of my hasty explanation. While it is a clever trick, it’s a variation on an ancient one and not particularly well concealed: Green tries to get you to swallow too much to make his locked room seem more formidable, and only succeeds in pointing out the obvious, simple solution.

I would recommend reading this book to anyone who wants a good laugh, as the satire truly is witty and genuinely amusing. However, the locked-room angle is far from the best I’ve come across.


  1. I have to completely disagree with you as far the locked room angle is concerned.

    Green did an amazing job at creating an interesting premise, involving a bullet that follows an impossible trajectory and leaving the pajamas of the victim undamaged, but also one that is tailor-made for this story. The solution is absolutely unique to the events and characters of this book and one that you'll not find in any other locked room story – unless someone blatantly copies the set-up of the book (don't even think about it, Kanari!).

    It's a really clever, one-of-a-kind locked room mystery that's deserving of more praise than you give it.

  2. I have to disagree right back. While the mechanics and set-up are clever, it isn't concealed very well at all, and ultimately, I find it rather a letdown. The secret of the pyjamas was immediately obvious to me, and I was really surprised it took the detective as long as it did to figure it out.

  3. I had never heard of this one and really want to track it down now - which I bet won't be easy in the UK! Thanks very much for alerting me to this one - cheers.