#355: Change a Letter, Alter the Plot


If you’ve been paying attention, especially to my comments left both here and elsewhere, you’ll be aware that my typing is rather famously variable.  90% of the time I’m good, but that other 10% — man, some errors there are.  Writing something recently, I made reference to the novel Five Little Pugs by Agatha Christie and then — catching myself in time to correct it — I had a thought…

Because, well, how many books can be altered quite significantly by the innocent replacement of just a single letter in their title?  Turns out, quite a few.  So, drawing exclusively from the well of GAD, here are 20 novels and their suggested plots should a simple substitution be made in the appropriate place…


Traitor’s Parse (1940) by Margery Allingham — A pre-Cold War thriller in which a Communist sleeper agent is captured, and must endure the communications intercepted on the way to his superiors being pored over and mocked for their grammatical failings.

The Incredible Grime (1931) by Lois Austen-Leigh — As the end of univerity approaches, a group of students in a house-share realise that a cleaning agency may need to be brought in if there’s any hope of getting their deposit back.

The Poisoned Chocolates Cafe (1929) by Anthony Berkeley — In which the spate of local murders is cleared up rather quickly.

The Footprints of Satay (1950) by Norman Berrow — A non-fiction work examining the spread of this popular dish from its origins in Southeast Asia out across the world.

Thou Smell of Death (1936) by Nicholas Blake — A young couple learn the perils of buying a house cheap after the elderly previous owner expired of a heart attack in the kitchen and lay undiscovered for two weeks.

Change a Letter 1

Tog of Doubt (1952) by Christianna Brand — A middle-class couple question the quality of the duvet they bought at an upmarket department store.

It Talks by Night (1930) by John Dickson Carr — A man discovers why the parrot he has purchased was so cheap.

The Mystery of the Glue Train (1928) by Agatha Christie — In which a young horse learns the shocking connection between the vanishing of its stablemates and the weekly, adhesive-name locomotive of the title.

The Groote Bark Murder (1923) by Freeman Wills Crofts — The novelisation of Guardians of the Galazy Vol. 3, in which everyone’s favourite talking tree must determine the cause of his severe psoriasis.

The Conjure-Man Diet (1932) by Rudolph Fisher — “Do you want to train your body and brain to maximise its psychic potential?  Follow my three-week plan for guaranteed results.”

Change a Letter 2

Death in the Storks (1935) by Georgette Heyer — The Health Secretary resorts to desperate excuses to explain the repeated vanishings of newborns from maternity wards the country over.

The Devil and the Cud (1938) by E.C.R. Lorac — Gastro-intestinal allegory; Lucifer’s appetite is spoiled by his repeatedly regurgitating old food only to swallow it again; probably some sort of analogy for human suffering or something.

Alias Basil Wilting (1951) by Helen McCloy — A woman lavishes horticultural attention on the eponymous herb, unaware that it draws sustenance from her unhappy domestic situation and so struggles to thrive on account of all the negative attitudes of the people who surround her.  Nominated for the Booker Prize.

The Meze (1932) by Philip Macdonald — A genre-challenging novel in which the contents of a Turkish buffet are to be determined purely through a record of the conversation of the people eating it.

A LAN Lay Dead (1934) by Ngaio Marsh — Futuristic nightmare SF wherein the protagonists’ router says the wifi is functioning but their iPad won’t connect and they must use mobile data to do their weekly grocery shop.

Change a Letter 3

The Red Horse Mystery (1922) by A.A. Milne — Supernatural Western epic; denizens of a small frontier town see the eponymous equine mirage, which comes to represent their collective guilty secrets as their misdeeds begin to seep out into the open…

Ten Days’ Ponder (1948) by Ellery Queen — In which Ellery sits inside for a week-and-a-half and mulls idly over a few things to no particular end.

The Nike Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L. Sayers — Chronicling the ultimately thwarted efforts of the sportswear brand’s attempts to enter high society with their own line of fine clothing.

Tim of the Pit (1944) by Hake Talbot — A retelling of Stig of the Dump for adults.

The Gloating Admiral (1931) by The Detection Club — Fifteen GAD authors take it in turns to create the most obnoxious murder victim ever over the course of a whole novel; he is killed in the final chapter and everyone is too happy for it to warrant investigation.

Change a Letter 4


You are, naturally, encouraged to add your own below…

44 thoughts on “#355: Change a Letter, Alter the Plot

  1. Wordplay and classic crime – what a nice way to start the weekend!

    The ANC Murders – Hercule Poirot’s great-nephew teams up with Nelson Mandela to investigate a series of political murders.

    Curds on the Table – Poirot and his allies have to determine which of the preserves has been poisoned.

    And Then There Were Nine – Ten strangers are lured to an island but due to the killer’s bungling only one murder is committed before they are caught.

    Neath Comes as the End – Poirot retires for the final time, this time to South Wales.

    3:50 from Paddington – Mrs McGillicuddy takes an earlier train and therefore witnesses nothing suspicious. No murder is ever discovered.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. You can get a lot out of Case going to Cafe, but I think The Cafe Of The Constant Suicides, where the owner struggles with some very bad Trip Advisor reviews works best.

    In the John Rhode edition of the game:

    The Bloody Toner where Dr Priestley investigates a mysteriously lethal photocopier
    Dead Men At The Golly, a racially insensitive book regarding corpses left with a cuddly mascot of a jam company left by their side*
    The Corpse In The Jar, the sequel, where a dead body is crammed into an oversized promotional jam jar
    Drip To His Death, a tale of fatal water torture
    Death On The Coat Train, as a fashion model finds it hard to walk down the catwalk due to the dead body on the train of her coat
    Men Due At Cypress Lodge, but never turn up, so quite boring really…
    The Fake House, where a dead body is found inside a paper copy of a dwelling, and it’s sequel, The Paper Hag
    Dr Goodwood’s Locus, where a GCSE Maths question gives the crucial clue to a murder
    An Artist Diet, an odd sidestep for Rhode, as he branches out into the celebrity cookbook
    The Banishing Diary, an account of every day exorcism

    *This was re-written more sensitively in Rhode’s final years as The Fatal Pooh

    And, of course, there’s Sh*t At Dawn, which speaks for itself, and we won’t go into Vegetable D*ck. Or Vegetable *u…, well, let’s really not go there

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The Moose and The Wasp by Philip Macdonald, where Macondald branches into stories for children.
    The Dodger by Lowndes – Spin off novel from Dickens’ classic.
    The Rising of the Toon -by Gladys Mitchell – Ever keen on including regional accents and dialects, this later work by Mitchell centres on gang warfare in Newcastle.
    The Corpse Stops Out by Craig Rice – in which a teenager gets an unexpected punishment for staying out late.
    Find Your Own Murder by Yolandes Foldes – in which Miss Marple gets sick of other amateur sleuths muscling in on St Mary Mead and its numerous murders.
    No Bears for Hilda by Andrew Grave – in which a spoilt child decides to make her parents very sorry for not acceding to her request to have bears at her 9th birthday party.
    Lament for the Baker by Michael Innes – Great British Bake Off contestants chronicle their baking woes.
    The Mellow Dog by Georges Simenon – Simenon’s one off look at dog training.
    The Chinese Mail Murders by Robert Van Gulik – Judge Dee has to root out the murderer at the local post office.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “Ten Days’ Ponder (1948) by Ellery Queen — In which Ellery sits inside for a week-and-a-half and mulls idly over a few things to no particular end.”

    Isn’t that your general opinion of all EQ titles? 🙂

    Murder on the Orient Ex-Dress – Wherein a man is found dead, lying on the remnants of his wife’s favourite robe
    The Hollow Can – Dr Fell is surprised to find that there’s no beer in his fridge
    Halfway Horse – would you believe a centaur has been murdered?
    Hate His Carcase – Lord Peter Wimsey comes across a corpse that’s been mutilated
    Love Dies Bleeding – Beach Boys singer killed by stabbing
    The Moon Shone – Wilkie Collins states the obvious
    I Study in Scarlet – who are you to judge my dressing habits?
    Dr. Ni – James Bond encounter Monty Python knights!
    The Buns of Navarone – the Germans are suspiciously protective of a baker’s shop
    Toy Storey Murder – Berkeley misspells the title of the book where Woody is killed

    And broadening the perspective a little:
    One Blew over the Cuckoo’s Nest – The runt of the litter encounters problems when a storm brews.
    Watcher in the Rhye – You wouldn’t believe the things a scarecrow witnesses!
    The Lime Machine – H. G. tells a science fiction tale of the apparatus that produces green fruit at will
    Treasure Inland – Jim and his companions travel the wrong way to find the gold

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is easily the worst post you’ve ever done! None of it is funny at all . . . and I blame your absence of humor on the horrific children’s fiction you grew up reading:

    Nancy Draw and the Secret of the Odd Click: Nancy, a mediocre artist at best, is distracted from her work by a mysterious sound . . . only to realize 189 pages later – with the help of her friends Bess, George and Ned – that the noise only happens when she opens and closes her pen.

    The Herdy Boys and the Horse on the Cliff: Frank and Joe, tireless assistants to their rancher father, Fetlock Hardy, try to lasso a prize-winning palomino who has escaped the property and wound up at the top of Widow’s Hill. After 189 pages of fruitless roping, the animal leaps to its death out of sheer boredom.

    The Five Fund-Outers and the Mystery of the Strange Massages: The louch quintet, desperate as always for money, travel to Seedy town and open a massage parlor near the docks. Four of them are arrested in a police raid; as usual, only Fatty has a happy ending.

    Grime’s Fairy Tales: Dirty stories for dirty children.

    The London Ewe Mystery: A young savant and his crabby sister are perplexed when their cousin disappears with their pet sheep on a giant roller coaster. They spend the evening trying to figure out the solution to this puzzle next door over dinner at their uncle’s restaurant, Le Lamb Chop.

    The Hanger Games: Suzanne Collins poignantly offers a sympathetic re-telling of Joan Crawford’s playful attempts at parenthood.

    James and the Giant Beach: On the pretext of a day’s outing, Aunts Spiker and Sponge drive James to the Sahara desert and abandon him. Before he can die of thirst, he is eaten by sandworms.

    Hairy Putter and the Half-Bloods Prance: In Book Sixteen of J.K. Bowling’s saga, our hirsute young hero with legendary golfing abilities heads to an island that time forgot in search of the Missing Links. There he encounters a ritual so deadly, one that involves Niblick, the House Caddy, an all-male native golf team without balls, and a pair of haunted cleats that he must wear in order to . . . Well, it clocked in at 1654 pages and everyone dies in the end. Avada Kedavra!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is easily the worst post you’ve ever done! None of it is funny at all…

      I’m tempted to both agree and disagree; and it’s fair to say I’ll never read the Find-Outers books in quite the same way ever again…


  6. The Sign of the Pour: In which Holmes unmasks a secret society that communicates using an obscure code that involves the kind of pot and type of tea used. The nerve-wracking final confrontation takes place in the mastermind’s illicit tea shop. Everyone has a spot of brandy in their tea to calm them down after the villain has been charged with serving American coffee in place of Oolong.


  7. The Piccalilly Murder.
    In this classic psychological thriller, Mr. Ambrose Chitterwick tackles the mystery of who added chili to his favourite sandwich spread. It turns out it was his aunt. He snaps…

    Trent’s Lost Case.
    An ordinary railway journey ends in disaster when Philip Trent mislays his cigarette case. The breathless trail extends from Fort William to Juan-les-Pins before Trent looks inside the lining of his overcoat pocket.

    Mulder on the Orient Express.
    Fox has tracked the Lindbergh baby to the offices of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits . Is Monsieur Bouc hosting the mother alien parasite? Skully is skeptical.

    The Big Cow Mystery.
    One of the first locked room mystery novels. How did a big cow get inside a room of which all the entrance were small?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brilliant idea, JJ.

    Too many excellent ones to mention, but think I’d most like to read Tog of Doubt, Tim of the Pit and Neath comes as the End.

    The Kale Horse – Dinner at a quiet inn is marred by tragedy when one of the guests is poisoned: but why does she spend her last few, agonising, minutes in fashioning the greens into something dubiously equine?

    Hag’s cook – the bestselling recipe book, now updated, including fifty ways to use up those spare newt’s eyes, the fine art of de-woolling a bat and how to fillet your fenny snake in under a minute.

    The gilled fly – A heartbreakingly beautiful tale of an insect perpetually caught between two worlds by a genetic fluke.

    The mystery of the mellow room – Why does everyone who enters this room emerge feeling relaxed and kind of groovy – and with an inexplicable craving for twiglets? A young reporter investigates.

    Fire Red Herrings! – Follow the tribulations of Campbell Herrings – known as ‘Red’ to his friends – as he fails to keep job after job due to his insistence in speaking in unintelligible dialect. But will his love of timetables ultimately save the day?

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Cobble to Death by Peter Lovesey – this Victorian tale features long shifts without adequate breaks for refreshment in a shoemaker’s sweatshop

    Crimson Snot – a strangely specific collection of short stories from the British Library Crime Classics range featuring bloody nasal discharges

    Cape for Sergeant Beef – in which the investigator decides to adopt a striking new look

    And then there’s those Lord Peter classics: Clouds of Witless, Gaudy Sight and The Nine Sailors.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. The Mad Catter Mystery – Dr. Gideon Fell tries to figure out the mystery of an impossible number of feline acquisitions
    The Blond Barber – Dr. Gideon Fell encounters a hair stylist with a strangely specific business model
    To Bake The Dead – How will Dr. Fell solve the mystery when the murderer has eaten the victim?


  11. The Roman Cat Mystery – yes, why are there so many cats there?
    The French Polder Mystery – the mystery being why a Dutch feature is called French
    The Dutch Shot Mystery – Ellery drinks some Advocaat
    The Greek Boffin Mystery – wherein a scientist from Thessaloniki goes missing
    The Egyptian Gross Mystery – lots of blood and gore in Cairo
    The Siamese Twit Mystery – an upperclass boy from Thailand is killed
    The American Hun Mystery – set during WWII, Ellery gets involved in a spy story
    The Chinese Grange Mystery – Ellery ends up on a rice farm
    The Spanish Case Mystery – where the authors made a useless tautology
    Halfway Rouse – Ellery gets blue balls
    The Moor Between – a locked room, but backwards
    She Devil to Pay – a young lady who loves and leaves (but at least picks up the bill)
    The Pour of Hearts – Ellery investigates one of the lesser known plagues of Egypt
    The Aragon’s Teeth – where Ellery has a hard time understanding his client from Zaragoza
    Calamity Sown – what you get from dragon’s teeth
    There Was an Old Roman – Ellery goes back to the beginning of his career
    The Murderer is a Fax – Ellery investigates a mystery in the 80s business world
    Ten Dads’ Wonder – Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar? Do I really have to smoke a cigar?
    Cat of Many Toils – it really is a dog’s life for kitty
    Rouble, Double – Ellery encounters a Russian magician who claims he can increase money by magic
    The Origin of Emil – Ellery meets Astrid Lindgren who tells him about one of her most beloved creations
    The King is Dear – a decidedly monarchist story
    The Scarlet Wetters – a case set in hospital milieu, in a ward with people suffering from kidney stones
    The Class Village – a rare story without Ellery about a small hamlet where everyone knows their place in society
    Inspector Queen’s Own Cake – Ellery’s father takes baking lessons
    The Finishing Strike – finally a murder mystery for Ellery
    The Slayer on the Other Side – an Ellery / Buffy mash-up wherein Ellery catches vampires and Buffy stakes murderers
    And on the Eighth Nay – Ellery finally tires of all the negativity
    The Fourth Sine of the Triangle – geometry has never been as faulty as this
    A Study is Terror – when Ellery has a deadline to meet for his next mystery novel
    Fact to Fact – what Ellery adds to reach the solution
    The House of Grass – the zeroth pig was even less clever than his three older brothers
    Pop Out – another story without Ellery, this is about a man who has been cooped up in his apartment too long and decides to get out of there
    The Last Woman in His Lift – Ellery finally declares that his elevator is “For Men Only”
    A Fine and Private Peace – Ellery signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with himself

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Last Woman in His Lift – Ellery finally declares that his elevator is “For Men Only”

      Man, there’s a 1940s zany screwball comedy in here somewhere…


  12. Bugman’s Honeymoon – the recently-announced sequel to The Shape Of Water inspired by The Fly.

    To Wake the Lead – Trouble ensues as a theatre company realises too late the problem with casting a narcoleptic as Macbeth.

    I’ve heard of a Henry Merrivale story where he once again acts as a defence lawyer and Carr’s fondness for slapstick manifested in the jury overindulging in fizzy drinks – I think it was called The Burping Court. Then there’s Death From a Top Hit, a novel about the danger of too much aesthetic sensitivity, as shown when a music critic commits suicide upon hearing “Look What You Made Me Do”.

    And, of course, there was that really terrible so-called parody of GAD stories, Nine Times None, which just repeated the same gag over and over again: the author teased us with the set-up for a murder and never followed through. I still don’t know how it ever got published.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You people have ignored the sizable contribution to the genre of mysteries by the inimitable Christianna Bland (I didn’t say the books were exciting!):

    Herds You Lose: Her debut closed circle mystery about a group of ranchers who team up to find their stolen buffalo . . . and one by one get trampled to death!

    Green Fur Danger: A deranged serial killer stalks London’s children dressed up as Dr. Seuss’ Grinch.

    The Croaked Wreath: Bland’s classic Christmas mystery as entire households are murdered with poisoned pudding . . . their only warning a blackened wreath placed on their doors. (SPOILER ALERT: This was Bland’s most surprising ending: it turns out that NOBODY was poisoned; it’s just that awful boiled pudding!)

    Heath of Jezebel: Men are lured to horrible sneezing deaths in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire by an exotic, mysterious woman who goes only by the name of Mildred.

    Frog of Doubt: A man is found stabbed to death, his body locked in his wardrobe in a locked bedroom in a house chained at every door with a circle of fire around the mansion on a cliff that nobody can climb. Suspicion falls on his pet frog Junius, who is found sitting on the man’s bed with a smug expression on his face.

    Liked by 1 person

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