The Maze

This year is off to a slow start, for sure, but I guess that’s better than no start at all.   I bought The Maze by Philip MacDonald based on thisHighly entertaining review over at The Invisible Event.  That, and the promise of a scrupulously fair play detective story.  MacDonald promises the detective gets no clues the reader does not get, knows nothing the reader doesn’t, it’s all on the up-and-up and just as fair as it can possibly be.  And he lies.



I love The Detective Club covers and it starts off well enough with the stumped detective writing to more brilliant colleague while he’s away on vacay and enclosing the transcript of the inquest.  Inspector Gethryn takes the bait and solves the case.   The trial itself is pretty dull for the first half of the book.  Nobody saw anything, no one knows anything until finally we get some contradiction in the evidence.  And it’s all fair and above-board until the solution, although I wonder at the coroner being allowed to ask the witnesses, If the deceased were having an affair with someone in the house, who would it be?   Objection!  Calls for the witness to speculate.   Maybe British law allows this?  It seems unlikely.

So we get to part four and there’s hardly a clue to be found.   No wonder the first one was stumped, there’s almost nothing to go on.   Gethryn calls his clues oddnesses, and I’ll allow the third oddness is a genuine clue, logically deducible, but then, he sends for photographs of all the witnesses, photographs we do not get to see and weaves a story based on these and his oddnesses that is possible, but completely unproven and unprovable.   It could have gone as he says, and of course, it emerges that he’s completely right, but it’s not based on clues.  It’s based on his estimation of the looks of the witnesses and a number of assumptions that because they could be true rules out things they do not rule out.  This is very vague because I don’t want to spoil it, but here’s one spoilery example:   Just because a person sees another person earlier than they said, doesn’t prove they didn’t also see them at the later time.

Why’d they call it The Maze?   It was also called Persons Unknown, which makes sense.  There is no maze, literal or metaphorical.   A maze implies a tangle of confusion, a dark place in which you’ll get lost and be eaten by a minotaur if you’re not careful.   Not a mystery that’s nearly clue-free, probably the least convoluted story I’ve ever read.   I’ll be willing to try more MacDonald, but I hope there’s a bit more plot and a few more clues.


4 thoughts on “The Maze”

  1. I think the reactions to this book do depend hugely on how one reads the trial: it fascinated the hell out of me, because of how there’s absolutely no visual clues, no internal dialogue, no adjectives, nothing — speech only, that’s yer lot. Form that perspective I found it a fascinating read, shorn entirely of the usual trappings, and a notable experience because of it.

    For puzzle plotting…yeah, not so much. The fact that Gethryn sees photos of the suspects that we don’t isn’t necessarily fatal, I’d argue, it’s just a question of how you adapt your reasoning based on the knowledge that you’re told up front you get everything Gethryn is and this turns out to be false in the most egregious and obvious way. Bloody annoying, no doubt, but I’m willing to look past it for MacDonald’s legitimate attempt to come up with something new in the genre. It’s just a shame that Brand or Carr or even Leo Bruce didn’t write it…

      1. Case for Three Detectives, Bruce’s first book, is a superb deconstruction of Poirot, Wimsey, Brown, and the concept of the Genius Amateur in GAD. Unsurprisingly, his later books don’t quite hit the same heights, though Case with No Conclusion is very clever in its use of trope and expectations and Case for Sergeant Beef is a great inverted murder.

      2. Poirot isn’t an amateur, but let that slide. It does sound fun. Thanks, I will look for them, though it may take a while. I have so many unread. It doesn’t seem to slow down my purchasing, but I keep hoping.

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