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Doomed from the start?
on 3 March 2013
This is quite fun: by taking the great disaster as a backdrop to a murder mystery, the author makes himself three great gifts:
1. The opportunity to ladle on titanic levels of dramatic irony;
2. The opportunity for fun with real-life characters (Jack Futrelle as detective);
3. The opportunity to explore the implications for morality of an enclosed world where there will be no tomorrow (at least from the moment that the realisation that the ship is sinking sinks in).
The first two of these Collins exploits with gusto, the third less so; he has done his research: he recreates with loving attention to detail the appearance and atmosphere on board the sinkable unsinkable liner; he knows who was there; he knows what was on the menu, what music was played, etc. etc.
Using the (wholly factual) fictional mystery writer Jack Futrelle (inventor of that other Sherlock Holmes, Prof S.F.X. Van Dusen, aka The Thinking Machine) as the character through whom this other (fictional) blackmail mystery is told is an inspired idea.
Since we know that, before very long, the ship will sink, (nearly) all will be lost and justice will go undone, it does become very difficult to care, at least about the whodunnit.
I suppose, though, just as the prologue of a Shakespearean play gives the ending away before the action has even begun, our pleasure must here, too, come from the way in which the story is told, rather than any sense of surprise in how it ends.
And the way in which this story is told is ... fun.
Just don't expect great depths - except for the obvious ones.