Back to putting up a puzzle this week. I received an email from a couple of solvers who made a suggestion regarding a puzzle idea, and I realised I’d done something like that already. So here it is – it’s an Enigmatic Variations puzzle from late 2007. If you enjoy it you should go off and try the new one coming up on June 29. Gluttons for punishment will also want to have a go at the Saturday Independent Inquisitor on 21 June.
Another spotting in the ‘Crosswords in Literature’ hunt, this one quite unexpected. The English writer Kyril Bonfiglioli (yes, English, very English, in fact) wrote a sequence of novels about Charlie Mortdecai, an overweight art dealer, who finds himself swept up into crime, espionage and the like (Bonfiglioli makes it clear that: “This is not an autobiographical novel: it is about some other portly, dissolute, immoral and middle-aged art dealer.”) The suggestion that the books combine Wodehouse and Ian Fleming is a good one, though the style is happily nearer the former than the latter. (The alternative suggestion of Wodehouse-meets-Chandler is surely coloured by someone knowing that Wodehouse and Chandler went to the same school. Yes, they did, look it up.)
There are three completed books (they are very funny, though I wouldn’t recommend reading them all straight through in a row; rather like too much pudding):
- Don’t Point That Thing At Me (1972)
- Something Nasty In The Woodshed (1976)
- After You With The Pistol (1979)
There is a fourth book with its missing chapter completed by Craig Brown, and a sort of ancestral prequel involving a pirate who makes Jack Sparrow look tame. Oddly enough, Johnny Depp is to appear in the film of the 1972 book next year, I gather, though to my mind you could squeeze two Johnny Depps within the frame of a single Charlie Mortdecai. All five books have recently – and that means June 2014 – been reissued, although only the three core ones are available in e-format.
Mortdecai is very English (one cannot imagine where Bonfiglioli got the idea that people with blatantly foreign surnames can be English…), and naturally does the Times crossword. In the middle of After You With The Pistol, Mortdecai is solving a Times crossword, and pauses to wonder whether it is by Adrian Bell. Yes, an actual name check, even though The Times has staunchly maintained anonymity for its setters. Well, not quite – in 1970, to mark the 40th anniversary of the puzzle, The Times interviewed the setter of No. 1, one Adrian Bell, who was still setting them four decades on. And how would I know about that interview, given that I didn’t dip much into The Times at the age of 11? Well, there’s Roger Millington’s book The Strange World of the Crossword (Crossword Puzzles, Their History and Their Cult in the US, I think), which came out in 1974, plumb in the middle of Bonfiglioli’s publishing dates.