The Crime Wave At Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse, 1937
The magic trick:
Elegant – and hilarious – plot structure
It’s my birthday, so I’m treating myself to one of my favorites: the wonderful world of Blandings Castle. The Blandings stories are, for my money, the best stuff Wodehouse ever did, and Lord Emsworth is his funniest character. In this particular story, it’s the plot that shines. Now, loyal readers will note that yesterday I said, in reference to “Honeysuckle Cottage,” that the Wodehouse storylines are always secondary. So here I am just one day later highlighting his plotting? Yeah, I’ll admit I’m an idiot, but just follow me.
“Crime Wave” has a plot so perfect it has to be highlighted. The language, the dialogue – it’s all hilarious. But the plot is precision-perfect, a real thing of beauty. Lord Emsworth is presented with three conflicts, each connected to the other. As he struggles to solve them, he only makes them worse. But as they start to get cleaned up, each conflict’s solution connects to the other solution. The whole story is plotted out like some extraordinarily hilarious palindrome. Truly, one of Wodehouse’s very best. And that’s quite a trick on Wodehouse’s part.
‘Ah,’ said Lord Emsworth.
He spoke dully, for his soul was heavy with foreboding. It was all very well for Connie to say that Baxter was touring England, thus giving the idea that in about five minutes the man would leap on his motor-bicycle and dash off to some spot a hundred miles away. He knew his sister. She was plotting. Always ardently pro-Baxter, she was going to try to get Blandings Castle’s leading incubus back into office again. Lord Emsworth would have been prepared to lay the odds on this in the most liberal spirit. So he said `Ah.’
The monosyllable, taken in conjunction with the sagging of her brother’s jaw and the glare of agony behind his pince-nez, caused Lady Constance’s lips to tighten. A disciplinary light came into her fine eyes. She looked like a female lion-tamer about to assert her personality with one of the troupe.
`Clarence!’ she said sharply. She turned to her companion. `Would you excuse me for a moment, Mr Baxter. There is something I want to talk to Lord Emsworth about.’
She drew the pallid peer aside, and spoke with sharp rebuke.
`Just like a stuck pig!’
`Eh?’ said Lord Emsworth. His mind had been wandering, as it so often did. The magic word brought it back. ‘Pigs? What about pigs?’
`I was saying that you were looking like a stuck pig. You might at least have asked Mr Baxter how he was.’
`I could see how he was. What’s he doing here?’
`I told you what he was doing here.’
`But how does he come to be touring England on motor-bicycles? I thought he was working for an American fellow named something or other.’
`He has left Mr Jevons.’
`Yes. Mr Jevons had to return to America, and Mr Baxter did not want to leave England.’
Lord Emsworth reeled. Jevons had been his sheet anchor. He had never met that genial Chicagoan, but he had always thought kindly and gratefully of him, as one does of some great doctor who has succeeded in insulating and confining a disease germ.
`You mean the chap’s out of a job?’ he cried aghast.
`Yes. And it could not have happened at a more fortunate time, because something has got to be done about George.’
`You have a grandson of that name,’ explained Lady Constance with the sweet, frozen patience which she so often used when conversing with her brother. `Your heir, Bosham, if you recollect, has two sons, James and George. George, the younger, is spending his summer holidays here. You may have noticed him about. A boy of twelve with auburn hair and freckles.’
`Oh, George? You mean George? Yes, I know George. He’s my grandson. What about him?’