Under the pen name Torquemada, Edward Poys Mathers published his mystery novel Cain's Jawbone in 1934. The Golden Age of detective fiction was in full swing in the 1920s and 30s, so there was no shortage of thrilling reads hitting the shelves. But Mathers's book is unlike any other—then and now. More than just a mystery on the page, Cain's Jawbone is a literary puzzle in and of itself. There are six killers in the novels which the reader must connect to their victims. But first, the readers must successfully rearranged the 100 pages purposefully printed out of order into the correct sequence.
In order to solve this all-consuming mystery, readers must implement a murder board. Popular with conspiracy theorists, amateur sleuths, and seasoned detectives alike, these may otherwise be referred to as "evidence boards," the disparaging "crazy walls," and the professional law enforcement term, "Anacapa charts." They involve the compiling of evidence and data—in this case, the pages of the book removed from the binding—to then be place on a board or wall and connected by string as you find the proper links and order.
If you happen to be renting an apartment and can't throw some thumbtacks into the wall, an actual murder board isn't technically necessary. But it's certainly more fun. So maybe invest in some poster board or repurpose some cardboard.
So why are we talking about a book nearly a century old? When one TikTok user—Sarah Scannell (@saruuuuuugh)—opened up about her fascination with Cain's Jawbone on the social video platform on November 14th, her passion for it took off across the site. Before long, the book was sold out on Amazon. Then it was sold out almost everywhere, causing a rush for the publisher to reprint it. The novel has been restocked, but the craze has caused this forgotten gem to go up in value, doubling its retail price.
However, while people are buying this exciting novel in droves, only three people have ever solved the book's puzzle. This feat was accomplished first by two British men in the 1930s, and then once more by British comedy writer John Finnemore in 2020.
The U.K. publisher of Cain's Jawbone—Unbound—is leaning into the craze to host a competition. Any reader who is able to successfully unravel the mystery by December 31st, 2022 will get a store credit at Unbound for £250, the equivalent of $332.51.
As of right now, TikTok's hashtag #cainsjawbone has 9.8 million views—and that number is rapidly growing. This is a labor of love being taken on by people all over the world. But people outside of the U.K. might have an especially hard time. After all, the book is rife with allusions British culture references, as well as literary concerns that were specific to the 1930s.
Of course, it's helpful that anyone willing to sacrifice an ounce of their pride can turn to a search engine for some help on the more culturally niche clues, but at the end of the day, that may be the least of readers' worries. The writing of this genius work is a collection of word play, literary allusions, spoonerisms, and deeply buried clues that would have even the sharpest tacks scratching their heads. To make matters worse, the order the pages fall into are less than obvious—each page begins and concludes on a fresh sentence. How many possible page combinations are there? It's a figure that's 158 numbers long.
But don't let any of that deter you. Join the leagues of at-home sleuths breaking a sweat over this mystery and nab your copy of Cain's Jawbone—while you still can.