To put your mind at rest from the start, I know that the heading of this piece is grammatically incorrect. But don't worry about it. I'll explain it all later.
Many of us at some time or another have bought something that isn't made up. Now by 'made up' I mean put together, assembled, all of a piece or if you like, complete. Let's face it, when you buy something like that it's cheaper because you have to put the whole thing together yourself. So what am I on about? Well, take a bookcase or a desk for example. You order by phone, through the post or on the Internet and in the advertisement you see the thing whole (in one piece) and it arrives at your house in what is called a flat pack. You tear open the packaging and there inside are the constituent parts plus a sheet of paper sometimes laughingly referred to as the instructions. I say 'laughingly' because these so called instructions are invariably one sheet of paper with drawings on. And these drawings often look as if they've been drawn by a three year old and a not very good at drawing three year old at that. But you've paid good money for the pack and you persevere. After all you know roughly what the desk should look like. But it's more of a puzzle actually and you can't really be sure whether section A should be attached to the long piece marked B or the short piece marked F. You consult with others but they give up and say you should have bought a proper desk. What you really need is powers of detection. And that brings me conveniently to the title I mentioned earlier.
'Whodunit' should correctly be written as 'Who has done it' but is written in the abbreviated (shorter) form to describe a detective story where you as reader have to try to discover who has done it (committed the murder). I just love reading these stories and am an ideal reader because I can never find out who the murderer is rather in the same way as I don't get on with flat packs!
There are hundreds of writers in English detective fiction and the heyday (most popular time) for this type of writing seems to have been in the 1930s between the two World Wars. But of course it is a genre that still flourishes today. Probably the best known writer of this fiction is Agatha Christie (1890-1976). She was a very talented lady writing short stories, novels and plays. As with many writers of crime fiction, she often wanted to escape from this type of writing and take on other writing that she considered more important. She wrote several novels under the name of Mary Westmacott but as happened with other writers who tried to break away, these books have never been as successful as her detective novels. And what of her creations? Two stand out: Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. The former is a Belgian detective who has a large moustache and regards himself as the world's greatest detective and the latter is an n elderly spinster (unmarried woman). Poirot solves his crimes because of what he refers to as his enormous brain containing what he calls his 'little grey cells' and our Jane finds solutions through listening and observing. Jane lives in a typical small English village (the sort you see in tourist brochures) but I can assure you having known many of these places myself, murders do not take place there as regularly as Christie would have you believe.
There is an address in central London that runs as follows: 221b Baker Street London NW1 6XE England. It is now in fact a museum and was 'occupied' by someone who never existed in reality. This was the address created by the novelist Arthur Conan Doyle (1893-1930) for his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes had amazing powers of detection and could tell you a life story of someone simply by observing the way they spoke, dressed or looked. His faithful colleague, Dr Watson who recounts the stories for us, is amazed, as we are too of course, how Sherlock can do this and also solve crimes. As the good doctor gasps in astonishment, Holmes merely replies: Elementary, my dear Watson. Conan Doyle trained and practised as a medical doctor and to supplement his income wrote these detective stories but what he really wanted to write was grand historical novels set in his country of birth, Scotland. Sadly these books failed to sell and the public only wanted Sherlock. So tired of his creation did Conan Doyle grow, that he killed him off in a scene at a waterfall in Switzerland. His public were furious and people wrote to the Times newspaper to protest. Reluctantly Arthur resurrected Holmes and wrote even more detective stories to satisfy his fans.
Dorothy L Sayers (1893-1957) was brought up in a small Cambridgeshire village as the daughter of the local vicar (priest). It was a stifling (restricting) and respectable atmosphere from which she couldn't wait to leave as she left to study at the University of Oxford where she distinguished herself academically. In later life she had a son outside marriage, who had to live at a secret address in order not to embarrass the rest of the family. But Dorothy is remembered for her fine literary detective stories in which her main character, Lord Peter Wimsey is the aristocratic, well connected and wealthy sleuth (detective). Peter excels at everything. He is an expert on food, fashion and classical music. He is also impeccable (faultless) in his manners and behaviour. He is indeed the perfect gentleman detective who solves crimes almost as a hobby. He dabbles (takes a partial interest in) criminology. But yet our detective novelist had another interest in life, which she regarded as most important. She undertook a translation of the works of Dante and was a pioneer in religious broadcasting. Her play Man born to be King tells the story of Christ's life in 12 episodes broadcast by the BBC in 1942. It caused a sensation because for the first time Christ's voice is heard speaking Modern English.
So now my flat pack has arrived and I am about to open it. It should eventually become a desk but when I have set my hand to it, who knows what it will look like? As I look up at the bookshelves in my study containing volumes of detective stories, I can imagine the world's greatest detectives looking on in a state of amusement. Who should I turn to for inspiration? I know the response I would get from Sherlock Holmes. He would peruse the instruction leaflet for one second, smile and say: Elementary, my dear Alan.
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