One More Thing about the Puzzles

I’m currently reading Quentin’s Puzzle for Pilgrims – I should say « finally » as I have postponed doing it many times before. The book has, or used to have, a reputation in France as the absolute summit of the series and possibly of Quentin’s whole oeuvre. Maurice-Bernard Endrèbe, who (brilliantly) translated it as well as most of the Quentin canon, certainly campaigned hard in support of it, resulting in the book winning the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in 1948. The book’s aura seems to have waned of late, however, as Roland Lacourbe wrote a fairly negative review of it in his recent survey of Quentin’s work.
I’m only half way through the book so cannot yet make definitive pronouncements in either direction, but I am siding with Endrèbe for now – it is an exceptionally well written and psychologically acute book, with a vivid portrayal of 1940s Mexico City to boot. The mystery element is rather thin at the moment but I was warned about it so it’s not too much of a problem.
Do I think it to be Quentin’s masterpiece? Possibly – we shall have to see how the whole thing unfolds, though it’s extremely promising at this stage. 
Do I think it then to be the best of all Puzzle books? No – because there is neither a « best » or « worst » entry in the series – all the Puzzles are apexes in their own right. 
The most interesting thing about the Puzzle series is its concept – it has none. While all of the books share a unifying theme and set of characters (Mr. and Mrs. Duluth meet murder, as another writing duet would put it) that’s pretty much everything they have in common. Each book tries and does something different in an increasingly radical fashion until the violent and irreversible departure that was Fiends. The series borrows in turn from all the crime fiction subgenres that were popular at the time – the whodunit of course but also the madcap mystery, suspense, even hardboiled – and comes up each time with a new concoction. This is why I think that ranking the books is a useless and ultimately impossible task, for it first requires to find some all-encompassing standard that the series precisely does its best to avoid.
It doesn’t mean however that one is bound to love all the Puzzles uncritically and equally; every Patrick Quentin reader has their own favourites depending on their tastes and priorities. There is basically one Puzzle for everyone since each of them appeals to a different readership. It is obvious why Roland Lacourbe, who is primarily concerned with plots and doesn’t care much for « literary dallying », doesn’t find much to love in Pilgrims whereas Endrèbe, who put much stock in matters of style and characterization, did.
As for me, I’m so much of an eclectic reader that I actually like all the Puzzles that I’ve read, though predictably for different reasons – but if hard pressed to choose one and only one, it would probably be Fools.
Or Puppets (this one doesn’t get much love these days, for some reason)
Or Wantons.
Or Fiends.
Or Pilgrims if it turns out to be as good as it seems to be.
Yes, it’s that hard to pick one.

4 commentaires sur “One More Thing about the Puzzles

  1. Yes, it’s that hard to pick one.

    Precisely. I read them all decades ago (and keep meaning to do a reread) and recall exactly this feeling: they’re all so wonderfully written that it’s hard to find a favorite. Like you, I enjoy the fact that they’re individuals rather than just repetitions of the same-old-same-old, which some people seem to prefer in their series.

    Aimé par 1 personne

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