Monday, 2 June 2014

#Youdunnit - tweeting about murder, and other crime stories with a gimmick

#Youdunnit is a slim and interesting volume published as a giveaway by Penguin, and it's a very good example of the inventive way in which crime stories can be written. As the hashtag suggests, this is mystery in the age of Twitter, and is the first, as far as I know, "crowdsourced" crime story - or rather, three stories, for the book contains longish short stories by Nicci French, Tim Weaver, and Alastair Gunn.

A prefatory note explains that this book was a collaboration between Penguin and Specsavers (who have lent much support to the genre in recent years). Crime fans in the Twitter community were invited to come up with plot ideas, and 1000 tweets and nearly 700 plot suggestions later, the three authors got to work. It's a very interesting concept, and not entirely a surprise that, despite the common starting point, the writers came up with three very different stories.

Of these, I enjoyed "The Following" in particular. This came from Nicci French,  a husband and wife writing duo whose psychological novels of suspense I've admired for some years. Recently, they have turned to writing a series, which I haven't yet tried, and I'm not sure why they made the change, though I suspect they have made it with aplomb. This story is told in the first person by a woman, in classic French fashion, and is very nicely done. Weaver's story gives a cameo role to David Raker and is set in South Africa, while Gunn focuses on the bicycle plot element provided by crowdsourcing.

All in all, this little book is an enjoyable experiment, and it's worth recalling that it's just the latest in a long line of games played by crime writers. The "challenge to the reader" was a popular feature of many Golden Age novels, while I've always had a soft spot for "clue-finders" at the end of whodunits.Combining crime novels with jig-saws enjoyed a brief vogue in the Thirties. I like playing these games myself, and my first published short story, "Are You Sitting Comfortably?" was a sort of trick story. "An InDex" played with the idea of indexes and mystery, while "Acknowledgments" was a bit of fun aimed at those worthy but sometimes ludicrous pages of acknowledgments that take up an increasing number of pages in so many books these days. I'm always keen to hear of other examples of games played with the genre - please let me know of any games or gimmicks that strike you as especially interesting, either in concept or execution.


nigel.holmes said...

I haven't read it yet; but there's a book by Japanese mystery writer Tsumao Awasaka, 生者と死者 (Living and Dead), which uses the format of uncut books, printed in the way books often used to be, with the pages uncut. If you read those pages which are open (the start and end of each quire) you get a short story; then you cut the quires open and read a novel where the few pages you've read become part of a quite different story.

Martin Edwards said...

Wow - that is fascinating, Nigel. I would love to see a copy. Thanks for telling me about it.