Mom always said, don't fret if you scraping the bottom of the barrel, that's where all the best stuff is! However with John Sutherland's series of puzzles in classic fiction, there's no denying that, with the publication of this volume, he had reached a cul-de-sac pretty much: no turning back. the pickings here are slim, and many of the best ones were contributed by avid fans of the series, who would write in with their own ideas. Even the schoolchildren with their riddles concerning Dickens' Christmas Carol do better with the puzzlers. In the first two books, his supply seemed inexhaustible, and every time you turned the page of one of precious Victorian novels you found something newly strange. Were they elm trees or lime trees in MIDDLEMARCH? That sort of thing. Now the elm-lime controversy is about the most breathtaking he can summon up.
Where to turn to next? Well, he was able to leap back in time to polish off the mysteries of Shakespeare (how does a clock toll the hours in JULIUS CAESAR centuries before clouds). And then he came to the present day and modern fiction in the REBECCA book. All the while managing to keep Olivier's divine profile on the cover (except for the JANE EYRE book which had to suffice with Orson Welles). More power to him, he's a great git, but this just isn't his best. The anomalies of Frances Price in MANSFIELD PARK, of Esther's mother-in-law in BLEAK HOUSE, of Jim's family in HUCKLEBERRY FINN, all have been treated often and elsewhere by others. (In fact, Sutherland is almost invariably creepy when he comes to write about American fiction, I wonder why.)
That said, I do like some of the puzzles, for example, in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Sydney Carton knocks out his lookalike using chloroform (sparking a chloroform craze in Victorian fiction). The only problem is, the book takes place during the last days of the French Revolution, of course, before chloroform's invention. And usually i skip over Sutherland's Trollope and Thackeray riddles, maintaining a low opinion of both men as writers and thinkers, but here he almost persuades you they're not only habitually careless, but matchless too. There's still a lot of life at barrel's bottom, just like my mother used to claim.