I really did want to like this book a lot. First published in 1931, the premise of the novel is ingenious. Each chapter was written by a different member of the Detection Club, an association of British crime fiction writers. As Dorothy L Sayers explains in the introduction, the idea was that each writer tackled the mystery presented in the preceding chapters without knowing what solution the previous authors had in mind. The authors followed two rules: they had to construct their installment with a definite solution in view and they had to deal with all of the difficulties left for consideration in the preceding chapters. Each of the writers had to write their solution and deliver it to the pubisher when they handed in their manuscript. GK Chesterton's prologue was then written last, in order to tie the beginning of the novel to its ending.
It's an ingenious idea and it's easy to imagine what fun (and what problems) the various writers must have had devising their own installment. However, as a work of fiction it is not, in my view, entirely successful. There are several reasons for this. One is that the writers are not all equally skilled. Only three of them, GK Chesterton, Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie, would be familiar to modern readers. It is probably fair to say that the other contributors are not so well known because their writing is not particularly accomplished. Secondly, there is a wealth of detail in the novel, but little in the way of characterisation. Thirdly, the plot is simply not that engaging. To me, the most interesting parts of the book are Sayers' introduction and the different solutions envisaged by the authors, which are included in the volume after the final chapter. This does not make an enthralling mystery.
I've read this book while on holidays, generally at the end of a day filled with lots of activity. This means that my concentration span has not been what it is usually is. This may explain in part my lack of enthusiasm for the novel and my feeling that finishing it was a chore and not something to be wholeheartedly enjoyed. However, I don't think the circumstances under which I read the book wholly account for what I perceive to be its shortcomings.
Overall, I'm glad I read the novel because of its place in the history of British Golden Age crime fiction. But I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who is not interested in the genre from a historical perspective.