Friday, October 7, 2011

The Union Club Mysteries

The Union Club Mysteries
© 1987 Isaac Asimov
210 pages

Evening falls in New York City, and inside the aristocratic Union Club, four gentlemen sit ensconced in their usual chairs in the club library. Three talk softly among themselves while a fourth -- an older gentleman with a white, puffy mustache -- seems to doze. But their conversation makes a turn that interests his still-awake ears, his somnolent mind springs to life, and he takes a sip of his scotch and soda. Griswold has awoken, and that last bit of conversation reminds him of a story...

So begin thirty evenings inside the Union Club, wherein Griswold -- formerly in the employ of a shadowy government Department which gave him plentiful opportunities to solve domestic mysteries and international espionage plots -- regales or abuses his dining comrades with a mystery from his life, a story which he expects them to solve by the end.  If they do not -- and they never do -- he faithfully explains the solution.  Although the setting seems similar to the Black Widowers -- a stag club who meet once a month for conversation and drinks -- Griswold's tales are much shorter, and the appeal of the stories is different. While Black Widowers stories feature the gentlemen discussing literature, science, history, art, and the like in order to find a solution to a given mystery, here the burden is laid entirely upon the reader, and the solution is often more subjective than in a Widower's story. It's a bit like working a crossword puzzle in that in reading, you must try to think like Asimov, to find some odd angle at which to hang the plot.   The solution's clue is usually obvious, but the trick is  matching Asimov in thinking of why that clue is relevant.

I enjoy little puzzlers like these, and have reading a tale or two at lunch every day since I received the book in the mail. Although the stories aren't nearly as entertaining as the Black Widowers tales, I enjoyed most of the mysteries and even solved a fair few of them. There were a few groaners, but on the whole I'd recommend this to short-mystery or Asimov readers.

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