Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Period Novel for Gun Nuts

Hey, I downloaded an H. Beam Piper short novel from Gutenberg yesterday, to tide me through the first part of the weekend snow. It's called Murder in the Gunroom, and is quite an unusual piece for him. I'm not a big fan of whodunnits in general, and particularly not of the Detective-With-A-Peculiarity variety, but I do enjoy H. Beam Piper quite a lot. This is by no means his best work, since whodunnits were not his forté. And unlike most of his SF work this piece is hilariously dated. But Piper didn't write bad stories, or at least he didn't suffer them to be published, and this one has a twist that as far as I know is unique.

Piper, I'm told, was a pistol collector. He apparently decided to see what would happen if you wrote a murder mystery with a background all about pistol collecting. And so the victim, the detective, the other victim, and a quorum of the suspects are all collectors. If it sounds as though I'm trying to throw you into a deep pit in which all the most insufferable parts of Unintended Consequences have come to life in the form of venomous snakes, well, there were times I feared that myself. But Piper is not John Ross. Ross, God knows, will never live long enough to be H. Beam Piper, and Piper mostly makes this work. So along with the usual clues and red herrings, you get informational tidbits like: Why, since so many more matchlocks were made than wheellocks, have so many wheellocks survived and so few matchlocks? Why might there be a perfectly logical reason for a musket to be named Hester Prynne, and how could a single-barreled pistol be designed to fire twice before reloading? None of this really has anything to do with the story, but of course mixed in with all the argle-bargle and unnecessary details are the ones that actually solve the crime.

It's a pretty good yarn for a winter's day, and it's free. If you're into that sort of thing, I recommend it.


Oleg Volk said...

It's one of the least typical Piper stories and definitely amusing...esp. the part about bayonet fighting ability being a common skill.

Joel said...

Right after WWII, it was probably considered such.