And Then There Was No One is the third and possibly last book to feature Gilbert Adair's Agatha Christie pastiche caricature, Evadne Mount. She first appeared in the Boxing Day country-house mystery The Act of Roger Murgatroyd, which I read, and then A Mysterious Affair of Style, which I didn't.
This novel is written as a first person narration in the persona of the author 'Gilbert Adair' – a writer, who could be mistaken for David Hockney, who has written two Agatha Christie pastiches featuring a detective called Evadne Mount….. get the idea?
We are presented with the facts of the murder – who, when, where – on the first page of the prologue (a necessity, really, since the first body doesn't turn up until two thirds of the way through the book) – a prologue which exists as a wily chunk of exposition about the dead man's backstory. The victim – Gustav Slavorigin –was a Rushdie-esque figure, the author of a highly controversial polemical essay denigrating the American experience on 9/11 who has been pursued by, amongst others, the backwoods followers of a rabid neo-con Texan zillionaire.
The narrator, Slavorigin and several other ill-assorted authors meet in the Swiss town of Meiringen, site of the Reichenbach Falls, for the first Sherlock Homes literary festival. Meiringen is a real town with a real Sherlock Holmes Museum, proud of its literary associations and the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, though it sports the SportHotel (it must be catching…) branding is actually, I understand, one of the Hilton portfolio, though for some reason they keep this quiet.
Bravely, the Adair-narrator recites complete a piece from his "Unpublished Casebook Of Sherlock Holmes" to the audience at the convention – the completely new story 'The Giant Rat of Sumatra' as referenced in Conan Doyle's tale 'The Adventure Of The Sussex Vampire'.
Self-references abound, and real people are mixed with fictional creations: the real-fictional and the fictional-fictional worlds are dizzyingly interwoven, and the climax left me grinning with admiration.
The book is full of sly allusions to Christie's stories (Adair rents a house in the Cotswolds and travels down to it weekly on the 4:50 from Paddington) and to other crimewriters' works, for example the Martin Beck stories of Sjowall & Wahloo. But any jokes in German – and those in many other languages also – will have flown unnoticed right past me.
And that's really the problem I had with this book. This reader felt frustrated that she was probably missing more than half the jokes; it was frequently unclear whether the "author's" mocking tone was directed at himself, his story, or – most probably – at me. Although I enjoyed the romp and the worthy ending, I was left with the feeling that I'm not clever enough to fully appreciate the dazzling virtuosity on display in And Then There Was No One. And that, dear reader, is not a comfortable realisation!