The Big Bow Mystery and Locked Room Mysteries
Set in London’s working-class East End, The Big Bow Mystery 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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All About The Big Bow Mystery and Locked Room Mysteries
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 Harrison 0:59
Carolyn what are we reading today?
Carolyn Daughters 1:01
Well, Sarah, today we’re going to talk about The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill. Had you ever heard of Israel Zangwill before we read this book?
Sarah Harrison 1:16
Not at all. But I did enjoy the book. I thought it was good.
Carolyn Daughters 1:22
I thought it was really interesting. But before we get too far, we have a sponsor.
Sarah Harrison 1:34
Our sponsor is the fantastic, fabulous Carolyn Daughters, who runs a brand building and communications consultancy. She leads brand therapy sessions, teaches marketing courses for startups and small businesses, and leads dayongpersuasive writing workshops. Carolyn and her small team and power startups, small businesses, enterprises, and government agencies to win hearts, minds, deals, and dollars. You can learn more at carolyndaughters.com.
Carolyn Daughters 2:09
It sounds amazing, I’m going to be honest with you.
Sarah Harrison 2:13
I think we should stop the episode and go there right now.
Carolyn Daughters 2:17
Well, I hesitate to say such a thing, because this is a really good episode about locked room mysteries and The Big Bow Mystery. But carolyndaughters.com does seem like a site worth visiting.
Sarah Harrison 2:25
Readers, you can just pause us. We will never know. Go check it out.
Carolyn Daughters 2:30
Well, maybe write it down. Write it down, but don’t go there quite yet. We also have a listener award.
Sarah Harrison 2:43
We do! To the coolest listener.
Carolyn Daughters 2:46
It’s a very cool listener. Her name is Deb Donner from Denver, Colorado. Deb is a listener that I met through mutual friends. She has been listening to the podcast. She enjoys the podcast. What do we have for Deb?
Sarah Harrison 3:04
We have a super sweet sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 3:08
They’re beautiful stickers.
Sarah Harrison 3:09
They’re really nice. They’re round, they’re shiny, they look like our logo. They stick well on all kinds of non-sticky surfaces. You don’t have to stick them onto something sticky. Because they just stick. They’re awesome. And we’re gonna make some more.
Carolyn Daughters 3:32
We’ve gone through our entire first batch.
Sarah Harrison 3:39
We’ve got exciting stuff coming up next year. We’ve a lot of great artwork from the last year that I think is sticker worthy. So if you have things you’d like to see or win in a sticker, then let us know. And you might win that sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 3:56
You can contact us on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. We also have a Facebook page and an Instagram page @teatonicandtoxin. We want to thank Deb Donner for being a member of the Tea, Tonic and Toxin book club. We really appreciate you we’re gonna send you a sticker. Thanks, Deb, for letting us know you’re listening. And if you’d like an on-air shout out of your own, go to the website, go to Instagram, go to Facebook. Weigh in on one of the books, weigh in on the podcast, let us know you’re listening, and there’s a good chance you’re gonna get your own sticker.
Sarah Harrison 4:37
Just say a bunch of stuff until we notice and you will get a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 4:51
So The Big Bow Mystery, one of the first locked room mysteries. It’s by Israel Zangwill, 1891. What’s going on in this book?
Sarah Harrison 4:58
A lot of stuff is going on.
Carolyn Daughters 5:05
Sarah, give us a rundown so we’re all on the same page. We hope you’ve all read the book, but if you haven’t read it yet, we’re gonna get you caught up. But we’re going to try something a little new this episode that we have not done before. We’re not going to give it all away just yet.
Sarah Harrison 5:25
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 rents out rooms, and one cold foggy December morning she tries to wake up 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 on the door, and they find constantly dead in his bed with his throat cut from 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 murdered. George Grodman and his arch-nemesis, Inspector Edward Wimp of Scotland Yard, both try to solve the mystery. They each have their own ideas about who killed Arthur Constant how this perfect crime was committed. Grodman seems to suspect Denzil Cantorcot, a freeloading poet and ghostwriter. Inspector Wimp, in turn, focuses on Arthur Constant’s fellow lodger and friend, the 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 was it to be proved? The unfolding drama even includes a cameo appearance by British statesman and liberal politician William Gladstone. Is that a real person?
Carolyn Daughters 7:44
It is. Yeah, he was Prime Minister of England, I think, four separate times.
Sarah Harrison 7:50
I apologize, England. 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?” Locked room mysteries are complex indeed. 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’ll reveal all. But not just yet.
Carolyn Daughters 8:15
And everyone from Great Britain who has an issue with Sarah Harrison, you can reach her at teatonicandtoxin.com. We have a contact page right on the website.
Sarah Harrison 8:25
You can reach out and tell me how mad you are. And I’ll send you a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 8:29
Yeah. Tell us how awesome Gladstone was. Or how not awesome he was. I really don’t know, actually.
Sarah Harrison 8:38
I don’t know. They really built him up in the book.
Carolyn Daughters 8:42
He’s pretty well built up in the book. It’s a pretty good cameo, I have to say. Let’s start at the very beginning. Readers, we’re not gonna give it away just yet. We’re going to do our best. We may falter here. I’m gonna be honest with you. I mean, I cannot make promises that we cannot keep, but we’re going to try to hold off talking about the ending for a little bit. Sarah is not on board with this.
Sarah Harrison 9:22
I’m gonna do my best.
Carolyn Daughters 9:25
We’re gonna do a couple podcast episodes on The Big Bow Mystery. And it’s possible, though, again, no promises that we may not even get to the solution of this crime until the second episode.
Sarah Harrison 9:41
I’ll do my best, listeners.
Carolyn Daughters 9:42
Sarah looks extremely unhappy.
Sarah Harrison 9:48
This is episode one.
Carolyn Daughters 9:51
Let’s start at the beginning. Let’s talk about the locked room.
Sarah Harrison 9:56
Yeah. That was cool. You have written that it’s generally regarded as the first of the locked room mysteries that have since become popular. And I thought that “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first.
Carolyn Daughters 10:11
I’s considered the first full-length novel. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Edgar Allan Poe is where we launched this podcast. That was a great example of locked room mysteries as well.
Sarah Harrison 10:29
And Israel Zangwill even referenced it right at the beginning of this book in my copy. Which is a cool little copy. But it has “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” at the end. I wish I had bought this copy earlier.
Carolyn Daughters 10:45
Your copy is called The Perfect Crime.
Sarah Harrison 10:52
It is. Which confused me. I almost didn’t buy it because I would type in The Big Bow Mystery to find a used copy. And this other thing came up saying The Perfect Crime. I was like, well, no, I want The Big Bow Mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 11:09
When I was first pulling images for this book for the website and social media, I saw the book cover that you have with the flapper and I kept expecting some sort of period piece. But then I was wondering how it was possible with the book having been written in 1891. I wondered when the flapper comes in. I was thinking that this guy’s way ahead of his time.
Sarah Harrison 11:35
That’s funny. So are locked room mysteries a thing that’s gonna to keep showing up? Is that a whole genre?
Carolyn Daughters 11:46
It’s a whole genre. It’s a genre within a genre, I guess. It’s going to keep coming up. And several of the books we’re going to read in year two of our podcast are going to also touch on locked room mysteries, because we’re going to get into the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, and locked room mysteries were super popular. Like how was this murder committed, who committed it, and how was it committed? How did they get in? How did they get out? For me, that was so interesting with this book, because I was trying to figure out how did this happen? And before this, we had “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” So Sarah, remind us what we need to know about “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” That was another of these locked room mysteries.
Sarah Harrison 12:41
An orangutan did it.
Carolyn Daughters 12:43
Sarah Harrison 12:54
He leaped through the window. You know, how monkeys do.
Carolyn Daughters 13:01
It was a pretty outrageous solution as far as locked room mysteries go.
Sarah Harrison 13:09
And secretly there was like some problem with the latch that the reader wasn’t in on, but the detective picked up on.
Carolyn Daughters 13:20
And so after Pope, various writers try their hand at locked room mysteries. But what Israel Zangwill does here, in The Big Bow Nystery is different because he really puts on the page a lot of information that the reader is grasping at the same time the characters are grasping it. It’s super interesting how he takes this locked room device to a new level. It’s going to be important, I think, to the foundation of the genre as it evolves into the 21st century through the Golden Age and beyond.
Sarah Harrison 14:08
And I just want to make sure that readers picked up on year two. It has been almost a year of Tea, Tonic, and Toxin.
Carolyn Daughters 14:18
I almost can’t believe it. This has been a wild ride for us, figuring everything out this year. And we’re going to continue on in year two, we’re going to be sharing our list of books we’ll be reading next year because we know you’re gonna want to get started on them right away.
Sarah Harrison 14:37
You’ve got Christmas lists to make, folks.
Carolyn Daughters 14:39
You’ve got a little time off at Thanksgiving and the holiday. You’re gonna want to do some reading, we feel it. You’re gonna see a couple of locked room mysteries on that lWhat later authors are going to need do is figure out how to get even more ingenious and even more creative then Edgar Allan Poe and Israel Zangwill.
Sarah Harrison 15:08
That was a funny part of the book One of the first theories offered was, was it a monkey?
Carolyn Daughters 15:17
In The Big Bow Mystery, there’s a chimney. Maybe a monkey came down the chimney with a razor, killed Arthur Constant in his bed, and then disappeared, I guess back up the chimney.
Sarah Harrison 15:31
Yeah, like Santa Claus.
Carolyn Daughters 15:33
But this theory is dismissed. Do you remember why?
Sarah Harrison 15:37
Wasn’t the chimney too small?
Carolyn Daughters 15:39
It was determined that a monkey large enough to wield a razor and kill a person couldn’t fit in the chimney. It would need to be an orangutan-sized creature.
Sarah Harrison 15:57
I don’t think anyone has really tested what size monkey can adequately kill a person with a razor, if they had one.
Carolyn Daughters 16:04
Which is weird, because after “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” I would have thought that would have been standard in architectural design and build for chimneys,
Sarah Harrison 16:11
Or at least in some sort of detective text or detecting classes. Would you have listed here 10 different theories we went through in the book.
Carolyn Daughters 16:24
I left some out, but I tried to hit the high points. For example, somebody said the windowpane was cut with a diamond, which I thought was so interesting and specific. So, the diamond cuts the window pane, the murderer gets in, commits the murder, and then sets the windowpane exactly back in place after it has been cut by this diamond. It’s done so perfectly. You can’t even see the cuts.
Sarah Harrison 17:01
And it doesn’t fall out.
Carolyn Daughters 17:02
So super glue way before it’s time. If we have flappers, we can have superglue. What else?
Sarah Harrison 17:10
Door panel sliced and replaced. I liked the powerful magnets used to turn the key and push the bolt.
Carolyn Daughters 17:20
That was an interesting one. So I started sketching this out to see what the door lock looked like. Because I’m very visual. And I had a little trouble.
Sarah Harrison 17:36
I imagined it looks quite a bit different from current door locks.
Carolyn Daughters 17:40
Quite possibly. I think there was a key in the keyhole from the inside. You would turn the key in the keyhole to lock it. And then the door was bolted with a bolt that would be perpendicular. Or it would stand on end, and then it would be perpendicular to the door when set in place. Does that sound correct to you?
Sarah Harrison 18:05
There was the front door and the bedroom door. They were doing this weird thing on the front door like they’d slip the lock on the way out to lock it behind them right. That confused me.
Carolyn Daughters 18:18
That brings up the whole range of theories regarding locked room mysteries. Either someone entered directly into the room through the window from the outside or they entered into the building through the front door, then had to enter the door from the hallway into the room. The window would have been the direct access, and the door in the hallway would have been their second line. They would have had to make it into the house first.
Sarah Harrison 18:46
A common theory in locked room mysteries is secret passages and trap doors.
Carolyn Daughters 18:50
Oh, so the powerful magnets. Okay, so the key sits inside the lock from the inside. In theory, the powerful magnet turned the key so it can unlock, and it also pushes the bolt open so you can get into that door. Because it’s locked in two different ways. Another theory: The guy who’s murdered, Arthur Constant, cut his own throat and then right before he died swallowed the razor.
Sarah Harrison 19:29
Because why wouldn’t you? That would be my last thought. Better swallow this.
Carolyn Daughters 19:37
The idea that — well, how could anything go wrong? Of course I’ll have time to swallow it after I cut my own throat.
Sarah Harrison 19:47
Carolyn Daughters 19:49
What could possibly prevent me from following through on this really amazing mystery. And my motive? This is going to be the talk of the town, and how fun would that be. So very odd.
Sarah Harrison 20:03
I love to confuse people.
Carolyn Daughters 20:05
Did you ever think, Sarah, that somebody was like hiding in the wardrobe? And then they snuck out when no one was looking?
Sarah Harrison 20:13
I always think that. I thought the same thing in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” also. I didn’t think the murderer snuck in when Grodman and Mrs. Drabdump entered.
Carolyn Daughters 20:28
When they weren’t looking, as they plowed through the door, some other person sneaks by them, commits a murder, sneaks back out, and is somehow not seen. That was one of the theories, but that one felt flawed. The Pell Mell Press at the beginning of The Big Bow Mystery — and what an amazing name for publication. I mean, I want to start a new newspaper called The Pell Mell Press.
Sarah Harrison 20:56
Maybe we should. That’s what we should call our blog. We should make a newsprint edition every once in a while.
Carolyn Daughters 21:25
The mystery writer fromThe Pell Mell Press suggests either Grodman or Mrs. Drabdump did it. With locked room mysteries, everyone has a theory. Then in the second half of the book, Inspector Wimp — love his name — he suggests that the bolt was already broken, and the key was on the floor. When they burst through the door, the key is on the floor, because it falls onto the floor. So he’s suggesting it was on the floor the whole time — you just thought that it was in lock. But I think they also look through the keyhole don’t they say, and they can see the key in the lock.
Sarah Harrison 22:05
I have an issue with The Big Bow Mystery because I started reading it three months too early. I read the beginning of the murder, and then I was like, whoops! And I had to go back and read the other books, and it pushed the beginning out of my mind. And I came back to it. So I forget the beginning. But I’m glad you brought up Wimp’s name because the names really were popping out at me. I think that’s similar to what Dickens does. He uses his names [with meaning]. But then I start looking for something in every name.
Carolyn Daughters 22:43
And then some of the names sound perfectly fine. Like Grodman.
Sarah Harrison 22:49
But then I thought maybe Grodman almost sounds like Goodman. But it’s a little mutated.
Carolyn Daughters 22:56
But if you’re gonna go full on Drabdump. Arthur Constant. Inspector Wimp … why not call him Goodman or something like that?
Sarah Harrison 23:09
We’re not supposed to talk about it.
Carolyn Daughters 23:13
And yet, let’s talk about the Dickensian influence. I saw a lot of Dickens in this book. From the characters’ names. With the the different classes of people represented in the book. Tom Mortlake and Arthur Constant are both fighting for the rights of the working man. They’re fighting for workers rights.
Sarah Harrison 23:39
Mortlake is an interesting one. I was wondering, like, “dead lake”? Is that what we’re saying here? Or is he a real character?
Carolyn Daughters 23:50
No, he’s a fictional character. Unlike the prime minister. William Gladstone was not prime minister at the time. I think he was a politician at the time, but he will become prime minister again. I think four separate times. He will become prime minister again in 1892, a year after this book is published?
Sarah Harrison 24:19
Gladstone even sounds like it could be a fake name, though. It’s one of those names that sounds like it’s gonna mean something.
Carolyn Daughters 24:36
In Bleak House, I thought it was interesting that this book begins with dense morning fog. There’s all these coal fires. There’s smoke coming from the coal fires. The Big Bow Mystery felt Dickensian, even in the setting.
Sarah Harrison 24:53
That’s true. I guess I just thought that’s probably just London for so many people at that time. It’s such a smog pile.
Carolyn Daughters 25:03
But we don’t hear that sort of take as much, for example, in Arthur Conan Doyle. In Bleak House, we get this industrial cesspool kind of idea, which is maybe a little closer to The Big Bow Mystery where it’s cold, it’s damp, it’s foggy, there’s smoke from the coal fires. It seems like an ominous place to me. I guess locked room mysteries take place in ominous spaces.
Sarah Harrison 25:38
Yeah. Do you think that has to do with the fact that it’s really focused on working-class politics?
Carolyn Daughters 25:44
That’s a good question. Israel Zangwill himself was a social activist. It’s a sign of a very talented author — and I think he was a talented author — that you don’t always pinpoint his personal belief system. He’s able to poke fun at a lot of things. First of all, if you’ve not read this book, it’s super slim. My copy is tiny.
Sarah Harrison 26:27
Mine isn’t quite tiny, but it has two books in it. It has “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” in the back end of it. It’s about 137 pages.
Carolyn Daughters 26:43
Mine’s about 100. It’s a fast read is essentially, and I laughed out loud over and over again, unexpectedly. It was so funny. This writer is so funny. It felt to me like a little bit of Dickens and a little bit of Oscar Wilde. It really felt sophisticated and interesting. I’m sure a lot flew over my head. Anything political. I underlined tons of stuff and came back to it and tried to do a smidge of research just to understand what he was saying. Did you find it funny?
Sarah Harrison 27:29
I did. I especially found Crowl funny. He was so over the top. The part I thought was the funniest, which was maybe a weird part, was when he was so sad that Arthur Constant died. And he was thinking about him. And he’s like, I wish there was a heaven for him to go. Because he’s always hammering what he calls his fads, and religion is a fad and so many ordinary things. He was super funny. And he wishes there was a heaven so Arthur Constant could go to it. What was what would you think was the funniest part?
Carolyn Daughters 28:16
The way scenes were described. And the the turns of phrase throughout the book. I laughed aloud multiple times. And I thought it was really charming. And it was confusing to me how unknown this book is.
Sarah Harrison 28:37
Yeah. Why is that?
Carolyn Daughters 28:39
Maybe because of it’s size? It might be classified as a novella instead of a novel because of its length, which is a total bonus for all of you avid readers, because you could sneak this one into your monthly reading without too much of a blip. It’s a quick read, probably four hours. I think three different film adaptations about locked room mysteries were made from it.
Sarah Harrison 29:09
Well, then, I guess it was well known. It just fell out of modern familiarity. They’re still making Sherlock Holmes TV shows.
Carolyn Daughters 29:22
In the introduction to one of the versions, writer Israel Zangwill says that he thinks his own book’s humor is too abundant. And some critics said humor didn’t belong in a book where a guy has his throat slashed and that the humor was disconcerting and confusing.
Sarah Harrison 29:46
People like that frustrate me so much. I am definitely a “we need humor to survive” kind of person. I’ve also gotten in trouble for humor a lot. I will say. I was telling my husband some of the stories about when my grandmother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and me and my brother would be rolling, laughing at the thing she would do. And other people would just be like, Why are you laughing at her? I mean, if you can’t see the humor, if things can’t be funny, how are you going to survive on Earth? I don’t know. You would just cry all the time.
Carolyn Daughters 30:28
I remember this friend of mine came back from I think it a grandparent’s funeral. My friend came back and they had taken these cookies from the reception afterward. They’d been given the cookies. It’s not like they swiped them and snuck out the back door. And so he distributes these cookies to all of us who are hanging out, and I said, “Mmmm, funeral cookies.”
Half the people there, burst out laughing, and the other half looked at me like I was the worst person. Ever since then, I’ve thought “funeral cookies.” It’s just so funny. And yet at the same time, every time I think about it, I feel a little bad.
Sarah Harrison 31:25
I feel like we need some Tea, Tonic, and Toxin funeral cookies. Honestly. I feel like my funeral will need cookies. Certainly yours will.
Carolyn Daughters 31:41
In his introduction to the 1895 version of the book, Israel Zangwill says something like, “Mystery should be sedate and sober. There should be a pervasive atmosphere of horror and awe, such as Poe manages to create.” So, he’s differentiating The Big Bow Mystery from “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” They’re two very different locked room mysteries with two very different endings. Do we think that the book needs to be sedate and sober and humorless in order to be a mystery novel?
Sarah Harrison 32:29
No way. I think that’s weird that he said that about his own book. In one of our favorite ones, one of my favorite ones we’ve read so far, is Bleak House, which is, I think, both more funny and more sad. That book is deeply tragic. I found myself actually crying when I read the book. In this one, I didn’t cry or anything like that. People’s behavior was appalling. But no, I think humor pretty much belongs everywhere. So let me tell you the story about my grandma. And my brother told it to me, I remember. I wasn’t even there. But my brother was. We are the same in terms of humor. He said, oh, yeah, I was with grandma this weekend. She did this funny thing. She drinking her coffee. She picked up a pitcher of salad dressing, poured it in the coffee, and my brother was like, “Grandma, that’s not creamer, that’s salad dressing.” And she’s such a faker. She sipped it and said, “I know. That’s what I wanted.” Faker to the end. She would always fake try and know you even though she didn’t know who you were. She’d pretend she would know somebody. You’ve got to see the humor in it, especially when you’re like living it. I’m a humor all the time kind of person. I think it’s weird that Zangwill hopped on the critique of his own book like that.
Carolyn Daughters 34:10
Yes. I think it’s weird, but I also think it might be intentional. So he does this thing —
Sarah Harrison 34:27
It feels like a backhanded critique of Dickens. I think, like, you can’t do that.
Carolyn Daughters 34:33
Or a backhanded critique of Poe.
Sarah Harrison 34:37
Well, I mean, Poe wasn’t funny. Dickens was.
Carolyn Daughters 34:42
True. Israel Zangwill says in a note preceding chapter one. Before chapter one, he says, “The mystery which the author will always associate with this story is how he got through the task of writing. It was written in a fortnight, day by day, to meet a sudden demand from The Star, which made a new departure with it. That said, fortnight was further disturbed by an extraordinary combined attack of other troubles and tasks. This is no excuse for the shortcomings of the book as it was always open to the writer to revise or suppress it.” He goes on and on. To me, this is a humble brag.
Sarah Harrison 35:29
I know, I just had a lot going on. And I wrote really fast.
Carolyn Daughters 35:33
In writing this amazing, popular, highly successful smart book in a fortnight, it is ridiculous what I had to go through. Writing locked room mysteries is hard!
Sarah Harrison 35:41
I can see that. He’s like, I really shouldn’t be so funny, but I only had two weeks.
Carolyn Daughters 35:46
The humor must be excused due to the rapidity with which I wrote the book.
Sarah Harrison 35:52
That’s a funny perspective. I can feel that, though.
Carolyn Daughters 35:55
So I think you throw things out there for people to do exactly what we’re doing. “No! The humor’s warranted. You did such a great job, Israel Zangwill. Your book is amazing.
Sarah Harrison 36:10
Okay, all right. I think I can get on board with this perspective.
Carolyn Daughters 36:13
That’s my theory. This guy’s super smart. And he’s really witty. And I feel like he played the reader a little bit.
Sarah Harrison 36:23
That’s true. You can rag on stuff in a way that makes people more intrigued. And I think saying, well, it’s just too funny is certainly a way to get more book sales. As far as locked room mysteries go, it’s just too funny.
Carolyn Daughters 36:37
And so you you mentioned Mr. Crowl. And so Mr. Crowl, and this other character whose name is delightful, Denzil Cantercot, they get into this big argument about the beautiful versus the useful. And I did not write any notes here because I didn’t know how to frame questions around it. And I knew also, instinctively, that you would.
Sarah Harrison 37:07
Yeah. Zangwill talks about the beautiful, the useful, and the true. Those three muses kept coming up. But the true really got short shrift. They kept going back and forth where Cantercot was on the side of the beautiful and Crowl was on the side of the useful.
Carolyn Daughters 37:28
It was this eternal debate, and they seem to really like debating each other.
Sarah Harrison 37:32
So much so that they let Cantercot live there for free. Which is insane.
Carolyn Daughters 37:38
Cantercot was not my favorite character. I mean, he was fun to read on the page. But every single time he didn’t pay his rent, the kids couldn’t go to school.
Sarah Harrison 37:49
Which was every time. He never paid his rent.
Carolyn Daughters 37:53
And that was usually described in humorous terms as well. But at some point, one might argue, this poet, Denzil Cantercot, lives for free in this house. He’s preventing the eight children from getting their schooling because he doesn’t pay his rent. Maybe that’s a problem.
Sarah Harrison 38:13
Yeah, he has a lot of problems. I guess one of my questions was: do any of those three resonate with you, you? Oh, and you brought out this quote by William Morris, which is cool.
Carolyn Daughters 38:37
I had never thought of adding “the true” in there. My philosophy about what I have in my home is that everything around me should be either beautiful or useful — in a perfect world, both.
Sarah Harrison 38:53
Yeah, let’s read the quote here. I like it. “Believe me, if we want art to begin at home, as it must, we must clear our houses of troublesome superfluities that are forever in our way, conventional comforts that are no real comforts and do but make work for servants and doctors. If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” I love this quote. This quote is from William Morris, 1880. So that’s 11 years before this book was written.
Kind of the period, though.
Carolyn Daughters 40:01
I love it. Over the last decade of my life, I have attempted to put everything I own on trial for its life. Why is it here? Is it just taking up space? Is it being stored in a box? What’s it doing in my house? What function does it have? What pleasure does it give me when I see it? That’s my belief system regarding ownership. From a larger standpoint, the book is talking about the beautiful and the useful, and you’re adding in the true.
Sarah Harrison 40:42
Well, they added in the true. I just never talked about it very much. It gets brought up, but they really don’t argue about it. And I think Cantercot says at some point that the true is the beautiful. He wraps it in there, but I’m not sure everyone would agree that true is beautiful.
Carolyn Daughters 41:02
Where do you stand?
Sarah Harrison 41:03
Well, I think it is. But also, it’s ugly. It also can be very ugly. You have to have a perspective of beauty around that.
Carolyn Daughters 41:19
Because you’re of a mind where you want to get to the truth of various matters.
Sarah Harrison 41:24
Right. I’m of a mind that the truth will set you free. And that there is a kind of beauty in that. But if you use the word “aesthetically pleasing” to mean beautiful, then, no, I don’t think you could say that. But I don’t know. When you’re going through your house, how are you defining beautiful?
Carolyn Daughters 41:49
Some things are beautiful to me. It could be a child’s drawing or it could be a memento that is not necessarily aesthetically pleasing on the surface of it. But when I see it, it brings me back to an experience I had or to a person who gifted it to me. An example is this owl that is on this cork board [which listeners can’t see].
Sarah Harrison 42:15
Oh yeah, that’s cute.
Carolyn Daughters 42:15
I don’t think it’s cute.
Sarah Harrison 42:18
I think it’s a charming little owl. But why do you have it?
Carolyn Daughters 42:21
I have it because when I moved into my loft, a decade ago, I went all mid mod. I bought this dining room set from the 50s and picked it up from this woman’s house. It was a Craigslist thing back when you know people used Craigslist and it wasn’t completely crazytown and creepy.
Sarah Harrison 42:43
I got some so much stuff on Craigslist.
Carolyn Daughters 42:44
Sarah Harrison 42:45
No, I got. In the past.
Carolyn Daughters 42:46
Yeah, in the past. Anyhow, I picked up the dining room set from this woman. She started telling me this whole story of her life. She said she had cancer. She said she was dying. She looked very sickly. And so I asked her had she been to a doctor, and she said she had not. She said she had been to a doctor a year ago, and that’s when she was diagnosed. I was like, oh my goodness, you have to go back to a doctor. She got very teary. We had this long sustained conversation, and then she went in her house and came out with this ceramic owl. She said I love this owl, this is my owl, and I want you to have it. And I said, oh my goodness, I can’t take your owl. I’m just picking up furniture from a stranger’s house. But she said she really wanted me to have the owl. And so I’ve always kept the owl. You called it a cute owl. I don’t think it is. It’s this yellow and orange owl. It’s not unattractive. If it didn’t have a meaning underlying it for me, I wouldn’t have it in my home.
Sarah Harrison 44:14
I probably wouldn’t go out and purchase the owl, but it’s clearly a memento type of owl.
Carolyn Daughters 44:24
Before I left, I made her swear to go to a doctor. Did she ever go? I don’t know. But I said, you need to follow up. There’s something about my face which lends itself to people sharing things with me.
Sarah Harrison 44:46
I feel that.
Carolyn Daughters 44:47
Sarah Harrison 44:48
Oh, yeah. I’ve always had people tell me their life stories within the first five minutes of meeting me.
Carolyn Daughters 44:54
There’s something where you’re inviting that almost. Or you seem open to it. Or you seem like you’re willing to listen.
Sarah Harrison 45:02
I’m very curious. I’ll draw them out if they let me. I guess I can see the true wrapped up in the beautiful in that way instead of finding beauty very broadly.
Carolyn Daughters 45:17
But you think truth is potentially beautiful though it can also be ugly.
Sarah Harrison 45:25
I mean, the truth hurts you. The truth is your grandmother twisted by Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. It’s a sad thing to look upon sometimes, but there’s also beauty intertwined in it. I suppose it fits into the useful as well. I don’t think there’s anything un-useful about the true.
Carolyn Daughters 45:52
Using William Morris’ quote about the useful and the beautiful, I think a lot of people have in their lives things, relationships, mental weight that they’re carrying that are not beautiful or useful. The more that that lack of utility or beauty can be offloaded, the freer we feel, and the more clear we can see. And I think maybe it’s easier to approach the truth.
Sarah Harrison 46:34
Tell me more about that. There’s a lot of there’s a lot wrapped up in there. And I was initially thinking things offloaded that aren’t serving you.
Carolyn Daughters 46:51
They feeding you literally or metaphorically. They’re weighing on you. The more you free yourself up, perhaps the more clarity you have, because you aren’t spent thinking about, seeing, or hearing things that are in your way and serving very little purpose or inspiration.
Sarah Harrison 47:18
It’s sounding to me like those are perspectives. What is a thing that’s not serving you that you would need to let go?
Carolyn Daughters 47:30
Stacks of paper.
Sarah Harrison 47:34
In your house?
Carolyn Daughters 47:35
Stuff you have in your house, but also stuff you have in your head.
Sarah Harrison 47:42
I think about that, too, like a lot of ways that you think about things because of the things that happen to you in your life. And those things are true. But the way you think about them might not be true. It might be. Or it might be helpful, or it might not be helpful. The thing happene, but then there’s all these ways to hold it and process it and what perspective you keep on it. Iit’s almost like finding the useful perspective, maybe about the true thing that happened. To me, that’s almost the only way to let it go. I really don’t resonate with therapists that just want me to speak stuff into existence.
Carolyn Daughters 48:28
So they think by articulating it, maybe there’s there’s clarity or freedom that comes as a result.
Sarah Harrison 48:34
I saw this one person, and they were always wanting me to say affirmations. Like, “I am kind.” Well, what’s the point of me even saying that? Why am I saying “I am kind.” Maybe I’m not kind. What’s the proof that I’m kind, and why would I say it to myself? What am I trying to do with that? You know, repeating stuff over and over again rather than working through, processing through what is the useful perspective on which to relate the things that happen. That’s really more the approach that works for me.
Carolyn Daughters 49:15
I guess, ostensibly, if one didn’t think one was kind, then you would repeat an affirmation to try to train your brain to believe otherwise.
Sarah Harrison 49:24
Well, my argument was like, what does it matter what I think about that? How’s it serving me whether I think I’m kind or not kind. I don’t have to think about it at all. That’s not the issue here. That’s my take. I don’t feel like everything comes down to self perceived affirmations as much as it does. What perspective am I gonna take on the things that happened to me? What’s a useful way to evaluate my life? What’s the framework I can see it through? It doesn’t have to be “I’m kind.” Maybe I’m a jerk. But, can I use that as leverage to get to where I need to be, not jerkiness, but that perspective to be an impetus for growth rather than trying to convince myself that deep down I’m really kind. And maybe I won’t grow.
Carolyn Daughters 50:20
Or maybe it’s just really perspective. In The Big Bow Mystery, Crowl says, “I wish there was a heaven, because then Arthur Constant would go to it. Well, it’s a beautiful thing to think that there is a heaven. Isn’t it such a beautiful thing.” Maybe he aligns with the truth. Denzil Cantercot would probably align beauty with the truth. But Crowl would say we can’t believe such beautiful things as if the beauty is nice to believe, but it’s not real.
Sarah Harrison 51:03
The solution to locked room mysteries is hard to pin down, and Tom Mortlake is being blamed. Crowl was funny, though. He let go of the useful a couple of times, not just with Arthur Constant, but when he went through all of his antics to try to rescue Tom. And nobody knew it was him. And his wife afterwards was like, “Where was the useful in that? “He was just kind of like … um.
Carolyn Daughters 51:33
Here’s one of my challenges with this book. It’s my own personal challenge. There’s no real protagonist that we’re following, where this is the guy or the woman that we’re following through the book. The book was a page turner for me, so overall I wasn’t bothered by it. But at the end of the day, I wondered whose journey I was supposed to be following here.
Sarah Harrison 52:02
That’s true. That’s a good point. I hadn’t really thought about it. I mean, I was stuck there at the end, because I was like, I don’t think that’s the murderer, but I can’t figure out who it is. There’s not that many characters.
Carolyn Daughters 52:16
Right. And the murderer, who we’re not naming quite yet, reveals all to the home secretary, who was a new character at the end of the book. So … whose journey was I following here the whole time?
Sarah Harrison 52:35
Yeah, you just pop into different people’s heads. It’s very interesting. But it also made it hard to figure out who’s the murderer because I’ve been in everybody’s head a certain amount. But not enough to really glean any information.
Carolyn Daughters 52:49
Yes. I want to hit on one other point before we wrap up this episode and move to another episode. And you are welcome, listeners and readers, we’re gonna have two The Big Bow Mystery episodes.
Sarah Harrison 53:06
So much talk about locked room mysteries! So just keep your podcast playing all day.
Carolyn Daughters 53:08
Just keep pressing play, or however that technology works. I wanted to talk about this wife/mother thing. It bugged the heck out of me.
Sarah Harrison 53:21
Really? Why is that?
Carolyn Daughters 53:22
The narrator tells us in “lower circles, it is customary to call your wife your mother. In somewhat superior circles, it is the fashion to speak of her as the wife, as you speak of the stock exchange or the Thames.” And then the narrator says instinctively men are ashamed of being moral and domesticated. I know generationally a lot of people who call their wives “mother.” To this day. This was again 1891. We’re now in 2022. I think that’s incredible. To call your wife “mother.”
Sarah Harrison 54:08
I would have until you have kids and then you’re constantly referring to your spouse to your kids. Go get daddy. Ask daddy this. What does daddy say?
Carolyn Daughters 54:24
But the extension beyond that is now you talk to that person directly.
Sarah Harrison 54:29
Yeah. I haven’t done it yet. And I don’t plan to. That is even a thing, too, for like ladies to call their significant others daddy or something.
Carolyn Daughters 54:39
When I first got out of college, I worked at the Pentagon with a bunch of military guys and government employees and some contractors like myself. There was a crew of us who always went to lunch together, and we played poker together on weekends, and we hung out. And one of them was married. And he always called her “the wife.” “Well, I would like to be able to go to poker on Saturday, but the wife won’t let me.” I don’t know that I ever met her. I heard a lot about her. But it always felt disrespectful. And I kept thinking, if I were married and found out that they talked about me to everybody they knew as “the wife,” I don’t know that I would like that much.
Sarah Harrison 55:51
That’s funny. I always think of my grandpa. He called my grandma “wife.” I always remember this little thing he would do. He would do silly stuff. He would get at the kitchen table. And he’d take a comb and tap it on the table towards me, Little Sarah.” Tap-tap-taptaptap. And he would say, Sarah, do you know what that means? It means “wife, wife, comb my hair.” And grandma would come over and comb his hair for him. She was a former hairdresser. She’d always comb his hair, the little sparse strands that were left. She would comb them into place and hairspray them.
Carolyn Daughters 56:35
Did he say please?
Sarah Harrison 56:37
He’d just tap his little tap. It means “wife, wife, comb my hair.” Not in a mean way, but just in a grandpa way. He was always doing silly stuff like that. Making up funny little rhymes. He would do it all the time. Literally every time he visited he would do that little tap.
Carolyn Daughters 57:04
Did you have other tabs?
Sarah Harrison 57:10
He had other rhymes. He’d have a Sarah rhyme. He’d always play a “which hand is the Snickers bar in” game? He had his little routine. That’s what I remember. Wife, wife, comb my hair.
Carolyn Daughters 57:24
I think possibly I just hearkened back to my old Pentagon days. “I’m going on vacation next week with the wife.”
Sarah Harrison 57:45
When people constantly down talk their spouse, it’s like, what are you doing?
Carolyn Daughters 57:54
Yeah, in public settings and public places. It’s always so weird. Well, Sarah, we’ve wrapped up an entire podcast episode without revealing the name of the murderer.
Sarah Harrison 58:34
It was hard. I’m going to blurt it out in the next podcast episode.
Carolyn Daughters 58:39
We won’t get three words into the next podcast episode before we blurt it out because it’s on the tip of our tongues, and we have a lot to say about it. So please stay tuned for our second podcast episode on The Big Bow Mystery, where we’ll be talking more about locked room mysteries. If you’ve not read it yet, please get a copy on Amazon, eBay, your local bookstore. Gutenberg has a nice free copy online.
Sarah Harrison 59:04
Yeah. Until then, stay mysterious.
Carolyn Daughters 59:12
This is our attempt at a sign-off.
Sarah Harrison 59:15
Keep on mystery-ing.
Carolyn Daughters 59:22
If you’re thinking to yourself, I have a way better sign off than whatever those two things were, write us and let us know. teatonicandtoxin.com, @teatonicandtoxin on Instagram and Facebook. And if we choose your sign off, at the very least you will get a sticker. You might get something more.
Sarah Harrison 59:46
Toxin on, readers. Toxin on. The Big Bow Mystery part two is coming up next.
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →