The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill
Set in London’s working-class East End, The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill is one of the earliest examples of locked room mysteries. In the story, two detectives race to solve a murder, an innocent man is condemned, and only at the very end is the startling solution revealed.
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What We Have to Say About The Big Bow Mystery ...
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea, Tonic, and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a tea, or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:42
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:45
And join us on the journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers every one of them a game changer. Sarah, this is our second episode on The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill.
Sarah Harrison 1:01
This is exciting. We got onto some sidetracks last time.
Carolyn Daughters 1:06
We’ve been on a couple tangents, but I think they were worthwhile and valuable.
Sarah Harrison 1:10
Yeah, that’s why we read these books, folks. That’s why you read great fiction.
Carolyn Daughters 1:15
It gets you thinking.
Sarah Harrison 1:16
Tell me why else you picked The Big Bow Mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 1:19
I picked this book as one of our 12 books in our initial year, 2022, because it’s one of the earliest examples of a locked room mystery, and many people say that it’s the first full-length locked room mystery. So of course, we had Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is an amazing short story. It’s the story that started our podcast, 1841. In the Big Bow Mystery, two detectives who race to solve a murder. An innocent man is condemned, and only at the very end, and I mean the very end, is the startling solution revealed. It’s a page turner, just like A Study in Scarlet, which was our last book. Three to four hours tops. You can read this thing. It’s super funny, super interesting. A great twist for a locked room mystery. And I think very a good read.
Sarah Harrison 2:21
Awesome. I love that you said the year it was. It made me think like, in 2035, if you’ve just started listening to us … yes, we did start way back in 2022.
Carolyn Daughters 2:35
Maybe I should be making these timeless, like it could be 2004. Or it could be 2034.
Sarah Harrison 2:42
Nothing’s timeless. We’re reading in chronological order.
Carolyn Daughters 2:46
We started in 1841. We’re now 50 years into the future with The Big Bow Mystery, which is incredible, if you think about it. We’re covering the Victorian era here. We’re going to move into the Edwardian era as well. And as we wrap up this year, we have a whole new list that we’re going to share with everyone soon for 2023. Because we know you want to get started on your reading.
Sarah Harrison 3:12
Yeah, I do. I’m ready. I hate not having it on hand and then having to wait for it. When I want to be reading.
Carolyn Daughters 3:20
I’m always nervous that I’m gonna have this amazing amount of reading time that magically lands in my lap and that my books aren’t here. What do I do? Now to be fair, this has never happened. But I’m worried about it.
Sarah Harrison 3:35
Well, even just to like a wee bit of reading time. If I’m taking a bath and I don’t have my next book, I’m really bummed. I feel like I’m not optimizing my bath time.
Carolyn Daughters 3:46
Though the bath time is problematic because that’s where you started The Big Bow Mystery a couple months ago.
Sarah Harrison 3:52
You can see a few wrinkles in it. Some steam wrinkles.
Carolyn Daughters 3:56
The book is steamed. Every once in a while it drops into the tub.
Sarah Harrison 4:01
That’s why I buy used books.
Carolyn Daughters 4:04
So let me ask you a little bit about our sponsor. We also have a listener award.
Sarah Harrison 4:11
Yeah, we have a super sweet sponsor, Linden Botanicals. Colorado-based Linden Botanicals sells the world’s healthiest teas and extracts. Their team has traveled the globe to find the herbs that offer the best science-based support for immune health, stress relief, energy, memory, mood, kidney health, joint health, inflammation, and digestion. U.S. orders over $75 ship free. To learn more and get 15% off your first order, visit www.lindenbotanicals.com. Thanks for being our sponsor, Linden Botanicals.
Carolyn Daughters 4:49
Sarah and I both enjoy the Linden Botanicals line of herbal teas and extracts.
Sarah Harrison 4:56
We do. And they’re serious about the global supply chain. Where is it that you get like your flagship tea?
Carolyn Daughters 5:05
Linden Botanicals gets their flagship teas from Peru, Crete, several places in northern India, Mongolia … all around the world.
Sarah Harrison 5:20
Awesome. I love it.
Carolyn Daughters 5:25
So let me tell you a little bit about The Big Bow Mystery in case you’re behind on you’re reading schedule but you’re caught up on your podcast listening. The Big Bow Mystery is locked room mystery published in 1891 by Israel Zangwill. The story begins at the end of the 19th century in Bow, a working-class district in London’s East End. Mrs. Drabdump is a widow who runs out rooms. One cold foggy December morning she tries to wake one of her lodgers, Arthur Constant. Constant is a philanthropist who has devoted his life to helping the working class and campaigning for workers rights. Mrs. Drabdump bangs on his door, but he doesn’t respond. The door is locked and bolted from the inside, and the key is in the keyhole. Fearing something’s wrong, she summons her neighbor, retired Scotland Yard detective George Grodman. Grodman knocks down the door,and they find Constant dead in his bed with his throat cut ear to ear. The circumstances surrounding the case are puzzling the door to the room and the windows were locked and bolted from the inside, making it impossible for the murderer to escape. The murder weapon is also missing. In addition, Constant had no enemies, so the motive is unknown. The coroner says it seems clear that the deceased did not commit suicide. It seems equally clear that the deceased was not murdered. George Grodman and his arch-nemesis and Inspector Edward Wimp of Scotland Yard both try to solve The Big Bow Mystery. They each have their own ideas about who killed Arthur Constant and how this perfect crime was committed. Grodman seems to suspect Denzil Cantercot, a freeloading poet and ghostwriter. Inspector Wimp, in turn, focuses on Arthur Constant’s fellow lodger and friend, union organizer Tom Mortlake. At the end, Tom Mortlake goes on trial for the murder of his friend. But did he really do it? And if he did, how is it to be proved? The unfolding drama even includes a cameo appearance by British statesman and liberal politician William Gladstone. In an introduction to one edition of The Big Bow Mystery, Dr. John Curran writes, “Here indeed was the perfect crime, the work of a mastermind. Can you solve the problem which baffled Scotland Yard?” So we ask you, dear listener, can you solve the mystery? Who committed the crime? How did they do it? And why? Don’t worry, we will reveal all … but not just yet.
Sarah Harrison 7:55
First, to acknowledge our listener of the episode. It is Jennifer Zee. We do not know where you’re from. You are mysterious, just like our show. We know our social though. She has been liking things on social media. So reach out to us. We’ll also reach out to you, and we will send you a beautiful Tea, Tonic and Toxin sticker that you can stick wherever you would like.
They’re very pretty stickers.
Yeah, they go well on water bottles, books laptops, coolers. That’s where mine is.
Carolyn Daughters 8:45
All over your old vehicle that you just love to plaster.
Sarah Harrison 8:50
Yeah, people put stickers on cars and stuff. If you have a child they’ll stick it exactly where you don’t want them to, like your brand new cabinetry.
Carolyn Daughters 9:02
I’m assuming that this is hypothetical.
Sarah Harrison 9:05
Totally hypothetical. Nothing about children and stickers.
Carolyn Daughters 9:11
It seems like you would have no knowledge in this.
Sarah Harrison 9:14
Carolyn Daughters 9:15
Jennifer Zee, stay mysterious, but not so mysterious that we can’t send you this sticker.
Sarah Harrison 9:23
Carolyn Daughters 9:27
If you, listener, would like your own Tea, Tonic & Tonic sticker … I’m thrown by the “toxin on.”
Sarah Harrison 9:36
I can get worse,and they’re going to get worse until you suggest show wrapping lines.
Carolyn Daughters 9:46
Comment on our books, comment on the podcast, weigh in, say hello. Come up with a closing line that’s maybe different than “toxin on,” and you too can win sticker you just have to visit us at www.teatonicandtoxin.com or @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook.
Sarah Harrison 10:09
Carolyn Daughters 10:18
Yeah, we’re doing what we can but obviously we’re tapped out here. We need some outside help.
Sarah Harrison 10:27
Carolyn Daughters 10:29
Sarah, we recently read The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.
Sarah Harrison 10:32
It was Grodman. Grodman did it!
Carolyn Daughters 10:41
Sarah has been holding it together for an entire podcast episode. In our last episode, she refrained from saying the name of the murderer.
Sarah Harrison 10:55
It’s almost like it’s Goodman, but then he mutated it. I was like, maybe that’s because he’s the detective, but he’s not good. He’s the murderer.
Carolyn Daughters 11:06
We’re … I don’t know how many minutes in here …
Sarah Harrison 11:10
As soon as I can fit it in,folks. Exploding out of the corner here.
Carolyn Daughters 11:17
Sarah Harrison 11:18
It really threw me for a loop. But then afterwards, I was like, “Well, who else could have done it?” It did have to be him after all.
Carolyn Daughters 11:29
It did. So I was going to talk about The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. But let’s come back to that. And let’s talk a little bit about Grodman. Here’s the deal. We have these two rival detectives. What’s going on here?
Sarah Harrison 11:44
The whole book to me, even beyond the detectives, was characterized by jealousy. You have your two rival detectives, but then you have like your two rival union workers. Not union workers. Whatever you would call them. Labor organizers. They were rivals. And then they’re rivals over the same girl. But really, it was the rivalry over the detecting that caused the driving force of The Big Bow Mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 12:11
There was even some rivalry in the “useful versus the beautiful” Peter Crowl versus Denzil Cantercot.
Sarah Harrison 12:26
Cantercot had his own internal rivalry there. He ended up being a bigamist. And I think he was trying to add a third with Jesse Diamond. He seemed clearly in love with her. You would have never known he had two other wives that he didn’t care for that much.
Carolyn Daughters 12:47
Those are some of my favorite scenes in The Big Bow Mystery. I’m gonna go on a tangent, because we’re really covering immense amounts of ground at the same time we’re covering almost nothing. So this is part of the joy of Tea, Tonic and Toxin. Denzil Cantercot goes to Inspector Wimp’s house and ends up getting a sovereign and giving the sovereign to the maid. And then he goes to the other inspectors house, Grodman’s house, He earns another sovereign and then gives the sovereign to that maid, a different woman. At the time. I was wondering what was happening.
Sarah Harrison 13:27
Grodman notices but Inspector Wimp didn’t notice. And I was trying to figure out from the narrator’s perspective: who’s the better detective? Because when Wimp’s talking, he’s quite clever. And Cantercot was freaked out by how much he seemed to know intuitively. But his name was Wimp. Why is his name Wimp?
Carolyn Daughters 13:53
I know. It didn’t seem fitting to me. It confusing.
Sarah Harrison 13:58
But he is the loser at the end.
Carolyn Daughters 14:01
He is the loser if in a murder case there is a winner.
Sarah Harrison 14:09
There’s a quote in in The Big Bow Mystery about a whipped cur. This whole scene when Wimp goes to arrest Tom Mortlake and his whole deal is “how can I make this about me?” Some poor soul, Arthur Constant, that everyone agrees was a saint. Crowl even wished there was a heaven for him to go to. And they’re unveiling the portrait that his poor fiancé painted of him. And then Gladstone is gonna speak. And then that’s the moment that melodrama occurs. Like Tom Mortlake, you’re under arrest for the murder of Arthur Constant. It’s really weird timing. “Wimp had won. Grodman felt like a whipped cur.” How did you win? I don’t get that point because then later I mean Grodman knew Wimp was wrong,
Carolyn Daughters 15:25
Right, but Grodman was the only one who knew that Wimp was wrong.
Sarah Harrison 15:29
But did he win because he got the attention? GroDman wanted to use it to arrest Cantercot for bigamy. I thought he wanted to arrest him for murder, but then later he said bigamy.
Carolyn Daughters 15:44
That’s one of our red herrings. There’s not a huge cast of characters. We have to be led down a couple different paths. Say, we’re thinking maybe this person did it, maybe that other person did it. And so, Cantercot is a candidate because we know Grodman has his eye on him. And then Tom Mortlake is a candidate because Wimp has his eye on him.
Sarah Harrison 16:08
Well Cantercot is a candidate because he tries to throw Mortlake under the bus with Wimp and is clearly in love with Mortlake’s fiance, who also might have had a crush on or Arthur Constant.
Carolyn Daughters 16:22
He’s also trying to throw Grodman under the bus because he goes to Wimp instead of Grodman with this information. He’s seeing that there’s a rivalry here and trying to take advantage of it. He’s leveraging the rivalry.
Sarah Harrison 16:39
The rivalries were so over the top. They were they were the driving forces in every kind of level of The Big Bow Mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 16:48
At the start of the book, I thought Tom Mortlake was a good candidate. It’s hard to pin him down. Where was he at this exact moment? Is he on the train? Is he not on the train? Is he on the second train? It seemed suspicious that he was outside the house.
Sarah Harrison 17:07
You never quite find out exactly what he said to Arthur Constant. Or what he was mad about. Or if they were really fighting.
Carolyn Daughters 17:18
And then his fiancee is missing, Jessie Diamond. The wonderfully named Jessie Diamond. She’s the diamond in the rough, because she’s this amazing person, but he’s getting too well known. He’s moving up in the world. And she doesn’t seem to fit the new Tom Mortlake.
Sarah Harrison 17:39
She’s a working-class girl, and he’s getting invited to parlor parties now.
Carolyn Daughters 17:45
At first, I thought maybe Tom more did it.
Sarah Harrison 17:50
He certainly has some pride issues. Like when he’s walking by crowds, and Crowl invites him in. He’s like, “no, I’m in a hurry.” Then Crowl gives him a jab. Like, “he’s too big for us now.” Tom doesn’t like to be thought of as the sort of person who snubs people in the working class now that he’s risen up. So that twists his arm into coming into Crowl’s house.
Carolyn Daughters 18:14
We go down these different paths with the red herrings. And there’s this concept of fair play in The Big Bow Mystery, which suggests that we should be able to figure it out because we know everything with the characters know. Let’s talk for a second about “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” I’m going to argue that there’s no way just an average reader could figure out who committed that murder.
Sarah Harrison 18:46
Have any of the mysteries we’ve read so far been figure-out-able? I don’t really think so. We’re always missing information.
Carolyn Daughters 18:57
We’re missing key information that would tip us off.
Sarah Harrison 19:01
I mean, maybe Bleak House?
Carolyn Daughters 19:05
I don’t think so. No. Spoiler alert — in Bleak House, Tulkinghorn is murdered by Hortense, the maid. It’s made to look as if Lady Dedlock committed the murder.
Sarah Harrison 19:29
It is, but I think you could guess it was Hortense because Dickens talks about how she looks like she would have been in the French Revolution, chopping off heads.
Carolyn Daughters 19:40
I think she’s a candidate for sure. You might think she possibly committed the murder.
Sarah Harrison 19:48
Other than that, I can’t think of one where we had enough information to have made a good decision.
Carolyn Daughters 19:55
Right. So this is going to be a shift that we’re going to increasingly see as we move through the Edwardian age and then into the 21st century, in particular into the Golden Age of Detective Stories. We are going to see more opportunities for fair play where the reader can potentially figure it out.
Sarah Harrison 20:22
Yeah. I don’t think we’ve read the definition yet. I liked it. Israel Zangwill actually introduced this idea. “The indispensable condition of a good mystery is that it should be able and unable to be solved by the reader and that the writer’s solution should satisfy.” Did you feel satisfied?
Carolyn Daughters 20:44
Yeah, I did. I like the concept. I did overall feel satisfied. There came a point in The Big Bow Mystery where I instinctively knew what had to have happened.
Sarah Harrison 20:58
Carolyn Daughters 20:58
Yes, but I just wasn’t sure how.
Sarah Harrison 21:01
Carolyn Daughters 21:04
I wasn’t sure how it had happened. Part of the reason I wasn’t sure how is that I think the narrator played games with the reader. I think that the narrator misdirects readers, meaning that the playing fields changed. Ostensibly, we have the same clues as the characters. We learn Mrs. Drabdump entered Arthur Constant’s room with her hands before her as if to ward off the dreadful vision. She’s already covering her own eyes. We know from the start, after Grodman bursts open the door, that he spread a handkerchief over Constant’s face. You can see it as a sort of conjuring trick. Pay no attention over here. Pay attention over there. But the narrator is all knowing and deliberately doesn’t tell the reader a number of things. And when the narrator accesses various characters’ thoughts, the narrator is really suspect in what is revealed and what isn’t. When Mrs. Drabdump runs across the street to Grodmans house because she thinks something must have happened to Arthur Constant, Grodman pops out of his window and has this conversation with her. He’s in his dressing gown. The narrator says “he did not take this Cassandra of the kitchen too seriously.” At no point in tim, does the narrator start clueing us in, and in fact, I’m going to argue the narrator pushes us the other direction. When Grodman arrives on the scene, “he stood still, his face set and rigid for he liked an esteemed the man.” The narrator doesn’t want to let us in, because the surprise element is so worthwhile. But the narrator shouldn’t be misleading us either. The narrator shouldn’t be leading us the other direction where it seems to make it seem that Grodman is not guilty.
Sarah Harrison 23:26
At the end of in The Big Bow Mystery., I didn’t think it was Grodman. It didn’t seem like it could be anybody. I didn’t think it was any of these characters. Looking back, I remembered that he did talk about how much he liked and esteem Constant. You kind of got the idea at the end that Grodman was insane. The way that he was describing the connection between him and Constant. He was going to kill him because he likes him so much. And they had such a great connection. He was gonna murder him. He decided to plot it out.
Carolyn Daughters 24:04
Inspector Wimp had an entire theory that Tom Mortlake did it. The key was on the ground, the bolt was broken. And because the door was first opened by Grodman, they didn’t know that these things were the case. So that enabled the room to be entered and exited by Tom Mortlake, the murderer and entered by Grodman.
Sarah Harrison 24:32
In The Big Bow Mystery, Wimp was hilarious. He even took up a room in the house and disguised himself as a boarder so he could search Mortlake’s room. And that was the thing that really threw Grodman was that there ended up being a probable cause against Mortlake. I think the judge pointed out, hey, this is the only guy that there’s even a motive for.
Carolyn Daughters 24:58
I didn’t have any idea how he did it, but who else is there?
Sarah Harrison 25:02
All of what he’s saying is plausible. And there’s certainly no better theory out there. Which is hilarious because that’s the whole reason Grodman turned himself in at the end. It was not because an innocent man was about to be hung. It was that he didn’t want it to seem like Wimp solved the murder.
Carolyn Daughters 25:19
The rivalry reared its ugly head.
Sarah Harrison 25:22
I think that was one of my questions from The Big Bow Mystery. This is such a rivalry/jealousy book. Do you have any rivals? Who are you rivals?
Carolyn Daughters 25:34
Sarah Harrison 25:36
I’ll let you answer the question. But in this particular instance, the rival is the person that’s similar to you.
Carolyn Daughters 25:47
Who ostensibly performs a similar function.
Sarah Harrison 25:51
Yeah. You’ve got your union your labor organizer rivals, you’ve got your maid/wife rivals, you’ve got your detective rivals. You’ve got levels here.
Carolyn Daughters 26:04
I don’t know that I have a specific rival. In my business, I do marketing work for companies. I often come in and see what my competition has done for the client, and I’m horrified by it. And then I hear how much money the client has paid that other marketing resource to do this terrible work. In some senses, there’s a rivalry there where I just want to wave the tallest, biggest flag in the world and say, “quit throwing money at terrible.” But I don’t think I’m a rival with anyone. How about you? Are you somebody’s rival?
Sarah Harrison 27:10
I have these houses right now. I call them my enemy houses. I’ve discussed in this podcast the trouble we’ve had getting our house built over the last five years. So any kind of house in the vicinity that has been built from scratch and has a yard now and has been sold and in some cases, resold. Second time. While ours was still struggling and floundering. They’re my enemy houses
Carolyn Daughters 27:41
Screw you, enemy homeowner.
Sarah Harrison 27:44
It sure is a source of grumpiness.
Carolyn Daughters 27:50
We can have jealousies. Somebody has something that we want, whether it’s lifestyle, or progression, or a house, or whatever the thing is, but a rivalry seems like an active thing. The two detectives are actively trying to win the case. And we see this even in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab where the detectives are each trying to make their case and be “the detective” that solves the crime. To me, in both of these books, it’s more important than actually doing the right thing or wanting to find the criminal.
Sarah Harrison 28:44
It’s really important. They’re a couple of showboats.
Carolyn Daughters 28:47
It’s not about solving the crime and getting this murderer off the street. It’s about wanting to solve the crime. And then it’ll all be about me.
Sarah Harrison 28:56
I want to solve it dramatically. It’s weird that Grodman even wanted to arrest Cantercot. He’s retired, dude. Like why do you need to be running around arresting people. You’re not a police officer anymore.
Carolyn Daughters 29:13
So this gets into retirement. You are this renowned inspector with Scotland Yard. You retire. You live this quiet life, and suddenly the spotlight’s not on you anymore. Retirement can be tough, right? If you don’t have something mapped out as to how you’re going to spend your day. It seems Grodman had a little too much time on his hands and did not like being so far outside the spotlight.
Sarah Harrison 29:45
This is a serious, folks. You need to get a hobby. Because you may become a murderer.
Carolyn Daughters 29:50
You could start murdering someone just for the heck of it in order o have an activity.
Sarah Harrison 29:56
In a way, he sounds a little Sherlock Holmes-y. Like, none of these criminals are any good. Sherlock Holmes is like, there’s no real crime anymore for me to solve,
Carolyn Daughters 30:09
Grodman wrote this book, Criminals I Have Caught. I’m sorry. He hasn’t written it. Denzil Cantercot, the ghostwriter, wrote it. It has gone through multiple editions and since Arthur Constant’s murder, it went through another edition. His name gets back into the press every time this book comes back out, but the word “I,” the ego in that title of the book, “I have caught.” You could see how living a retired life, a quiet unassuming life in Bow would maybe not suit this guy.
Sarah Harrison 30:56
It’s so funny, too. He says, “I realized I forgot to get married. It’s too late now. So I took up murder.”
Carolyn Daughters 31:10
Like the other aspects of many people’s lives have bypassed him or he has bypassed. Now he’s left in this position where he’s the world’s foremost criminologist — and ultimately criminal. We think at the end that Tom Mortlake is going to be hung.
Sarah Harrison 31:36
They really get down to the wire. It’s an interesting aspect, trying to get him off the hook and trying to find Jessie Diamond.
Carolyn Daughters 31:43
His fiance’s missing. And she’s the one who can clear him if she says, “he was with me.”
Sarah Harrison 31:53
Actually, I don’t think she was with him. I was confused. I was like, how do you know she can even clear him? She left. He still could have killed Constant.
Carolyn Daughters 32:00
I need to go back and read that part. I thought it was because she could account for his time. She gave him an alibi.
Sarah Harrison 32:07
I thought it was just that she could explain what was going on with Constant or vouch that Tom Mortlake didn’t kill her. He got the letter. It was dated two weeks after she left. She was already long gone. I don’t think she was an alibi because he never came to see her. But something. Maybe this is a weak spot in The Big Bow Mystery. They expected that if they could find her, she could shed some light at least on what passed between her and Constant. If it was kill-worthy or not, I guess.
Carolyn Daughters 32:42
Would he have killed for this relationship? And in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Sal Rollins shows up just in time to save Brian Fitzgerald. He’s about to be guilty. These ladies come in and save the day. This is one piece of information the reader doesn’t know at the end until the Home Secretary tells us so. Sarah, can you can you walk us through what happens at the end of The Big Bow Mystery? You’ve been aching to talk about?
Sarah Harrison 33:20
Grodman comes in, and they’re cheering him. “Grodman, Grodman!” It’s the ninth hour. They’re getting ready to hang Tom Mortlake. Grodman walks in and there’s just a passing mention of a telegram. And Grodman walks in and is like, “get ready to take shorthand. I’m gonna tell you what happened.” He then explains that he’s the one who wrote this letter that’s described earlier in the book, saying that the guilty party had to be Mrs. Drabdump or himself. And they’re like, Drabdump! And they’re like, no stupid! How could you even suspect her? Oh, my goodness.
Carolyn Daughters 33:56
That would have been amazing, by the way. I would have started the entire book again from page one if it had been Mrs. Drabdump.
Sarah Harrison 34:04
He’s just so frustrated. And then he starts saying that it was him. I was like, really? It took me a minute to get in. Then I was like, okay, you did do this. How weird. And then at the end, the home secretary’s like, alright, we were gonna commute the sentence anyway because the telegram said Jesse Diamond has been located.
Carolyn Daughters 34:29
He doesn’t want Wimp to get the credit for figuring out it was Tom, arresting Tom, and then Tom being hung.
Sarah Harrison 34:41
Yeah. He didn’t mind Tom being hung so long as Wimp wasn’t the solver of crime.
Carolyn Daughters 34:46
To prevent Wimp from being named the best detective in all of England, Grodman decides he’sgoing to tell the truth. And the truth is is probably the only thing that legitimately could possibly have happened. That Grodman did it.
Sarah Harrison 35:09
Tom Mortlake could have done it. The way The Big Bow Mystery is written, you’re like, I don’t think it was him or you wouldn’t write it this way.
Carolyn Daughters 35:17
If Tom had done it, then we get back into the key being in the keyhole and all the other stuff. How did he get out of that room? We hear at the very beginning of the story that the key is in the keyhole, for example. Drabdump or Grodman look through the keyhole, and they see the key in it. The question is, how would Tom have gotten out? In a locked room mystery, we’ll see variations on this going forward — it’s got to be somebody in the room. The somebody in the room was Grodman and Mrs. Drabdump. The mystery writer, who ends up being Grodman, wrote to Pell Mell Press, “It has to have been Grodman or Mrs. Drabdump. Ding, ding ding. Yes, it does. And so how is it done?
Sarah Harrison 36:21
He wasn’t dead. He was alive. And Grodman killed him when he busted down the door.
Carolyn Daughters 36:28
Grobman the night before had given Arthur Constant a sleeping potion. Arthur Constant’s sleeping soundly. Drabdump and Grodman come into the room. And then the scene is set for this murder to be able to take place very quickly. Under Mrs. Drabdump’s eyes.
Sarah Harrison 36:52
Yeah, that was an interesting part here. “The eye sees what it expects to see.”
Carolyn Daughters 36:59
Tell me about that.
Sarah Harrison 37:01
His name’s Arthur Constant. He was very regular in his habit. Mrs. Drabdump suspected that the only reason he wouldn’t be up is because he was dead. And she’s portrayed as this woman who’s given to a dramatic turn or a worrywart or something. It says a lot about it. But she expected he was dead, so she hid her face, even though he was just alive, sleeping soundly.
Carolyn Daughters 37:38
She had already built it up in her mind that something serious was going on. She was calling for him, she was knocking on the door. He was always up at a certain time. He had a meeting, the tram workers meeting he was supposed to go to. Her anxiety is through the roof. She gets Grodman. He comes over and knocks down the door. Her expectation is that on the other side of the door is something foul. It has to have been death or murder. And Grodman tells the Home Secretary, “People go through life without eyes and their observation and judgment are impaired by irrelevant prejudices.” He says, “Mrs. Drabdump, like most women, would cry murder. She habitually takes her prepossessions for facts, her inferences for observations. The key to The Big Bow Mystery is feminine psychology.
Sarah Harrison 38:40
You gotta get a knock on women in The Big Bow Mystery somewhere.
Carolyn Daughters 38:42
In most of the books we’ve read, the authors have found a good way to get some a knock on women in there.
Sarah Harrison 38:51
Feminine psychology. Well, I would say he knew how Mrs. Drabdump would behave. I think there’s a lot in here that’s probably quite true. You quoted some of the parts at the beginning here: “The suspiciously precise recollection of dates and events possessed by ordinary witnesses and important trials taking place years after the classes involved is one of the most amazing things in the curiosities of modern jurisprudence. I defy you to tell me what you had for dinner last Monday. Or what exactly you were saying and doing at five o’clock last Tuesday afternoon.” I thought about that and I couldn’t at all. It’s completely true.
Carolyn Daughters 39:34
It’s so true. There’s this podcast called that a lot of people are in on now.
Sarah Harrison 39:41
Is it Tea, Tonic and Toxic?
Carolyn Daughters 39:43
That’s definitely one of them. Tea, Tonic, and Toxin — amazing. But it’s called Serial. Their first season was on this guy Adnan Syed, who was accused of murder. It’s a true life story, an investigation that the podcaster/journalist leads. She starts in episode one by saying she has to go back in time and interview various people about where they were on a random Friday afternoon after high school. Say it’s at 4pm. Where were you ten years ago on Friday, February 3, at 4pm.
Absolutely no telling.
It’s impossible to know. If you watch an episode of Law and Order, the detectives go to the door and ask, “Where were you last Wednesday at two?” And the person is pouring tea and sitting in a lovely, perfectly kept, non-cluttered sitting room. The woman or man is pouring tea and thinking, ah, two o’clock. Well, I was just leaving my appointment … They always know. It’s very rare in an episode of Law and Order for somebody to say, “God, I don’t know what I did yesterday, let alone last Tuesday. But the Adnan Syed story starts with the idea that it’s so hard to recollect what we even did last week.
Yeah. Or yesterday. What did you have for dinner last Saturday?
Carolyn Daughters 41:24
Last Saturday? That is an amazing question. I don’t remember even one thing about last Saturday.
Sarah Harrison 41:35
I think we were building closets. What did we have for dinner?
Carolyn Daughters 41:44
I don’t know. I have no idea.
Sarah Harrison 41:48
We were supposed to have a Friendsgiving, but it got canceled. I must have had a leftover. But what leftover, Carolyn? I don’t know. But the next part was super true. I liked the level he went down. “The first time we meet a man, we may possibly see him as he is.” I would argue no. “The second time our vision is colored and modified by the memory of the first. Do our friends appear to us as they appear to strangers?” No. “Do our rooms, our furniture, our pipes strike our eyes as they would strike the eye of an outsider looking on them for the first time?” And then finally, which I think is the question of questions. “Can we see ourselves as others see us? The eye sees what it expects to see.”
Carolyn Daughters 42:38
We certainly don’t see ourselves, our friends, and our rooms the way somebody else would see them.
Sarah Harrison 42:49
No way. My favorite book about that is called Through a Glass Darkly. It’s a book about self perception. It’s just really brilliant.
Carolyn Daughters 43:08
I’ve had this theory, and I’ve written about this in fiction at times, where in families, for example, you are fill in the blank. You are these, say, three adjectives that your family might use to describe you. And no matter what happens to you after you are so labeled, you will always be those things.
Sarah Harrison 43:36
Yes. They will never see you a different way.
Carolyn Daughters 43:39
In the workplace, too. I actually blogged about this recently, about “what is your superpower?” It’s easy to get pigeonholed in doing one thing, and then suddenly that’s who you are. You do these other ten things, but maybe your boss or your clients don’t know that you do those things. Or they have an inkling you might know something about that, but they don’t understand your level of expertise. It’s self-preservation. We label them in particular ways to understand them because when we have that foundational understanding, we can springboard off that and start drawing conclusions and making decisions and all the other things that are necessary once we think we know something about someone. The danger when we think we know something about someone is that understanding may be true at the time — or may not. And it’s a fluid thing. It doesn’t mean that what was true this one day is true. two years, five years, ten years later.
Sarah Harrison 44:59
Yeah, there’s a lot. I don’t think even the first time you meet a person you see them as they are. You just see them without context. It’s not necessarily as they are. You grow your context as you go along. But then sometimes it seems like your context stops growing. It gets stuck at a point and you’re not taking in new context.
Carolyn Daughters 45:23
Yeah. It’s complicated stuff. I find it really interesting. In particular, even when we’re presented with new information we often can’t see beyond what we think we know about someone or something. We’re locked in. We don’t really see.
Sarah Harrison 45:49
Yeah, you’re interpreting almost everything in the light of the framework you’ve built. Sometimes I catch myself doing that. I’m like, that’s maybe not fair.
Carolyn Daughters 45:59
Ascribing behaviors and thoughts to people is always dangerous. It’s hard enough to really, truly understand our own thoughts and motivations, but we’re not in other people’s heads. I think we can sometimes think that we are because we know so much about whoever the person is. And I think it’s really dangerous.
Sarah Harrison 46:25
Yeah, it can be. You think somebody’s a bozo. They do something, and you’re like, what a bozo thing to do. Whether or not it was, it goes the other way, too. I’ve seen this happen a lot. I noticed in grad school, all these PhDs, professor types walking around, and you get this label of “Oh, you’re really smart. Everything you say and think must be really smart.” But that’s not true.
Carolyn Daughters 46:49
Right. Then we could potentially put in question everything we’re thinking or saying because the smart person might think otherwise.
Sarah Harrison 47:03
Sometimes you should do that. But not always.
Carolyn Daughters 47:06
People often don’t know what they don’t know. Having a healthy understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, understanding your own limitations, I think is great. I know generally speaking, what my wheelhouse is, and I know the areas where I falter. And that helps me speak confidently about the things that I know and be really honest about the things that I have ideas about but maybe don’t know as well. In The Big Bow Mystery, Grodman, the criminal mastermind, takes advantage of his understanding of psychology. He knows that this murder is gonna work.
Sarah Harrison 47:57
He takes advantage, too, of the fact that he’s the detective. He’s already in the slot of good guy. Mystery solver. Criminal finder. That’s what people go to him for. They’re not expecting him to be the murderer.
Carolyn Daughters 48:13
In fact, the Home Secretary immediately jumps to the idea that Mrs. Drabdump must have done it if it was someone in the room. Again, if it had been her, I would have started The Big Bow Mystery right over from page one and been like, this book is amazing. It’s a very good book. But if Mrs. Drabdump had done it? Amazing.
Sarah Harrison 48:38
Yeah, it is very interesting in The Big Bow Mystery. At this time period, too, I’ve noticed that detectives seem to have just unlimited license. You don’t need a warrant. You can just disguise yourself and search people’s rooms every night. You can trick people into giving stuff away. You can post stuff in newspapers. You can break into their house. If you’re in good guy category, you can basically do whatever you want to solve the mystery. You can see why a lot more laws developed along those lines.
Carolyn Daughters 49:17
The Big Bow Mystery was published in serial form. It allowed Israel Zangwill, the author, to engage in conversations with readers who were writing letters to the editor. One writer that I was reading was saying that this might have been the equivalent of a Twitter exchange or a radio call-in show where people are calling in what they think happened, and who they think did it , and this must be the solution. I think that’s an interesting way to go about it to build up that interest because everybody wants to solve it. Did you watch the six seasons of Lost? I watched that show, and everybody had their own ideas about how the series was going to end, what was really going on in the series, and so forth. People are emotionally connected to the story because they want to know and because they think they might know. The same thing is happening here in The Big Bow Mystery. What happened, who did it, how did they do it? Israel Zangwill does it in a very different way than Edgar Allan Poe. There’s no orangutan working this mysterious series of actions. Let’s close this out by talking briefly about the crazy man. Even though I knew it had to be him, at some point midway I kept thinking we were gonna get some window of insight into what was going on. It didn’t occur to me that the motive was just so crazy. “Because I can. Well, he was as good a candidate as any. And what a nice guy.”
Sarah Harrison 51:24
Bored in retirement. I had no wife. I had no hobbies.
Carolyn Daughters 51:30
Were you thrown by that?
Sarah Harrison 51:32
I was. At the beginning of The Big Bow Mystery, I was like, this is totally made up. And then my mind went to like, oh, well, he went crazy. If you think about Wimp being a younger version of him to a certain extent. They were both just so motivated by credit, getting the credit and getting the praise. Wimp is that way. He caused a huge melodrama at this commemoration of a good man. He was just stealing the show. And what’s Grodman like, man? He’s had a whole career of doing that. Probably they’re both a couple of psychopaths. It’s not about doing right. Sad to say, you do see some people in these types of careers who just want a legal way to use force. Or they get to do this and be called the good guy.
Carolyn Daughters 52:47
I mean, say I want to carry a gun. What’s the easiest way to legit do that? I’m going to go into law enforcement.
Sarah Harrison 52:59
Go into the military. Go into law enforcement.
Carolyn Daughters 53:01
We’re not saying that’s the norm. Not by far.
Sarah Harrison 53:03
These are clearly a couple of very unusual characters. Very smart, but also very motivated by credit and praise and accolades.
Carolyn Daughters 53:18
I think part of the challenge, as I already mentioned, is not having an identified protagonist in The Big Bow Mystery. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be identifying with. I wasn’t sure whose journey I was following. Am I supposed to be freaked out that Tom Mortlake might be hung? Am I supposed to be freaked out that Grodman hasn’t solved the case yet?
Sarah Harrison 53:49
Yeah. Now I can see that that’s by design. But it’s funny that Grodman wasn’t actually trying to solve the case. He was just trying to make it unsolvable again. Well, it wasn’t Tom Mortlake. We’ve got him off the hook, but we still don’t have a candidate.
Carolyn Daughters 54:05
And if Israel Zangwill had gone one step further and told us the story from Grodman’s point of view, we would have had an author preceding Agatha Christie by a lot of years.
Sarah Harrison 54:22
Yeah. It did remind me of that a little bit.
Carolyn Daughters 54:24
We’ll get into that in year two.
Sarah Harrison 54:28
Year two, coming up!
Carolyn Daughters 54:29
It was last November, a year ago, that we were mapping out this podcast and this book club that we have launched. I don’t even know that we had a name for it back in November.
Sarah Harrison 54:44
We were just brainstorming. We had a lot of good ideas, like we also have about closing lines. Throwing words together over here.
Carolyn Daughters 54:56
Sarah Harrison 55:03
Stay mysterious. Continue making tea. Yes? Getting better
Carolyn Daughters 55:09
And gin and tonic, but not a toxin. We’re clearly not there yet with the closing line. Stay mysterious is my favorite.
Sarah Harrison 55:25
Stay mysterious. Weigh in if you’re listening to this podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 55:30
Weigh in, people, because we need some help here. We are really struggling. I mean is “stay mysterious” where we want to land? Do we want something different? You got to help us out here because we’re at a bit of a loss.
Sarah Harrison 55:46
Go onto the social media and write some stuff.
Carolyn Daughters 55:49
Share some thoughts @teatonicand toxin, teatonicandtoxin.com. All the while, stay mysterious.
Sarah Harrison 55:58
We’ll come up with an even better mystery gift to be revealed than a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 56:07
When we give a prize, you always get a sticker, but we might go bigger with this one because we really need some help with this. We want to close strong.
Sarah Harrison 56:21
Go forth and tonic
Carolyn Daughters 56:25
Go forth and toxin. What in the world? We’re gonna work on this with your help, listeners.
Sarah Harrison 56:35
I’m gonna make it worse and worse to motivate you.
Carolyn Daughters 56:40
I didn’t think there was anything worse than “toxin on,” but here we are.
Sarah Harrison 56:47
I’ve got a limitless depth.
Carolyn Daughters 56:51
What is our next book?
Sarah Harrison 57:00
It’s another Sherlock Holmes, isn’t it?
Carolyn Daughters 57:01
Oh my goodness, it is.
Sarah Harrison 57:03
The Hound of the Baskervilles. This one was chosen because of Sherlock Holmes, who we met for the first time in A Study in Scarlet. Now we’ll discuss The Hound of the Baskervilles. This gothic-inspired spine-tingler includes a spectral hound and a hands-off Sherlock Holmes. Published in 1902, it’s commonly considered Arthur Conan Doyle’s best. I didn’t realize that. It’s estimated to take about four hours to read the book. I think I always take longer.
Carolyn Daughters 57:41
You and I are taking notes. We’re students of the book.
Sarah Harrison 57:50
I’m always underlining. I will take my pen to the bath. I kid you not. If I’m taking a bath without a pen, I’m so frustrated with myself. Buy a copy on Amazon, on eBay, at used bookstore, or read it for free from Project Gutenberg, gutenberg.org.
Carolyn Daughters 58:09
We think it’s one of the most gripping and suspenseful murder mysteries ever written.
Sarah Harrison 58:14
Let us know what you think. Go forth and toxin.
September 11, 2023
Sarah, Carolyn, and Mike Nugent keep the Maltese Falcon conversation flowing with LOADS more thoughts about Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Casper Gutman, Joel Cairo, and, of course, the ever-elusive Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Folks, we have a lot of ground to cover. Join us, won’t you?Listen →
August 4, 2023
Author Mike Nugent joins Sarah and Carolyn to talk about noir, crime fiction, and all things Sam Spade (who’s described as resembling a blond satan). The Maltese Falcon changed the way crime fiction was written. You’ll want to read it in one sitting and then give our podcast a listen.Listen →
July 30, 2023
Hey, Continental Op, what’s your deal? Are you a hero? Anti-hero? Something else altogether? Hear our thoughts about the Op, Dinah Brand, Whisper, and all the gang – and let us know your tally of how many people wind up dead in the book. It’s hard to keep track.Listen →