A Thought Experiment

Let’s imagine a detective story of the most orthodox kind, with all the trappings of the genre – a crime, a detective, a handful of suspects, clues. Only one element would be missing.
The solution.
The book would end with the detective’s failure to solve the puzzle and the truth remaining out of reach. Frustrating indeed.
You may say such a book would be easy to write: You just kill someone, plant arbitrary clues and make it up as you go along without caring whether the whole thing makes sense.
That is not what I have in mind. There would be a solution and the author would play fair with the clues like they would with a conventional detective story, the difference being that they wouldn’t tell who did it in the final chapter, leaving it up to the reader to work it out on their own if they can. 
I hear you say: « That has already been done. Zangwill did it first with The Big Bow Mystery » but that is not what I envision either, for such games require that the solution be disclosed at one point, so that a winner can be designated. In this case though the author’s mouth would remain shut forever. They’ll never tell, so that readers would never be sure whether their hypothesis is the right one. Call it a cold-blooded Edwin Drood stunt, or a mystery novel in the literal sense.
Of course it may have already been done somewhere – and if you know of such an instance please tell me so in the comments section – but in the event that it hasn’t, the author willing to try this device would be sure to make a massive splash.
Or a massive flop.
What do you think? Would you be willing to read such a book?

8 commentaires sur “A Thought Experiment

  1. Hammett’s « The First Thin Man » is a 50 page unfinished mystery tale. It has no solution in the only surviving manuscript.
    Did Hammett have a solution in mind?
    I’ve read it twice – it’s fascinating. But have no idea how to solve it.

    Ursula K. Le Guin included a single chapter from a « novel » called « Dangerous People », in her giant novel « Always Coming Home ». « Dangerous People » is a mystery – but it breaks off before any solution.
    Now, a 2nd edition of « Always Coming Home » will be published later this month. It will include an expanded version of Dangerous People ». Will this version solve this mystery? I have no idea!

    Aimé par 2 personnes

  2. « Of course it may have already been done somewhere – and if you know of such an instance please tell me so in the comments section »

    Stephen King’s 2005 The Colorado Kid, published by Hard Case Crime, is a mystery novel without a solution. And, unsurprisingly, the story barely left an impression on me.


  3. I understand there’s an impossible crime novel that deliberately doesn’t offer a solution to the crime — not sure why, or what it’s like to read, but unless I’m mistaken what you posit exists and, well, does not appeal to me. It’s fun to gripe that the clues offered don’t work, or that the solution offered doesn’t quite account for everything, and a lot of the time we dream up our own, « better » versions of events…but, for me, the whole point of setting the puzzle is to make the answer available at some point.

    Though many clearly disagree: look at Who Killed the Robins Family? — it was a bestseller!

    Aimé par 1 personne

  4. Ronald Knox’s story (the Fallen Idol) from Six Against the Yard follows this model. Or it may do. Since that book is about foxing the Yard man, it might have been an example of Knoxious facetiousness.

    Aimé par 1 personne

  5. I remembered another example that, kind of, fits the bill, but not entirely. Kay Cleaver Strahan’s Footprints ends with a hint at the murderer’s identity and the locked room situation is never explained at all.

    Aimé par 1 personne

  6. Some « art films » have mysteries that are never solved. « L’Avventura » ((Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) is a classic example.
    Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1974) and the Russian film « The Return » (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2003) are others.

    Aimé par 2 personnes

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