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Literature / Miss What?

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The 8th story in the Black Widowers case files, Isaac Asimov wrote it for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (September 1973 issue), under the title of "A Warning to Miss Earth".

Gonzalo is host, and his guest is Aloysius Gordon, a plainclothes police officer from the 17th Precinct. His presence makes the members uneasy, and it's made clear when Trumbull quietly rants at Gonzalo. Things only get worse when Mr Gordon admits he's here because he wants to question Henry.

After dinner, Trumbull is given the role of inquisitor again, and he asks why Mr Gordon is present. He has a puzzle that he'd like help with, and Gonzalo had told him Henry was skilled at solving them. A piece of paper was left as a clue, and he's curious if Henry can deduce the meaning from it. The paper is passed around, and the members read the note.

Woe unto you, Jezebels.
Death unto you, Rahab.

The members try their best to deduce the meaning, and Mr Gordon shares more context behind the note. It was a declaration of murder at a Miss Earth contest. Henry, naturally, has no clue which of the sixty contestants is targeted, or if the message applies to all of them. The members have to volley around the details of the message, reading various passages from The Bible, before Henry is able to deduce the correct meaning from the clues assembled. Mr Gordon confirms that Henry's suspicion is correct, because these events took place last year.

This story has been reprinted in Tales of the Black Widowers (1974).

There they are, tropes of Miss Who?

  • Beauty Contest: Mr Gordon tells the members about a religious fanatic targeting a beauty pageant called Miss Earth and planning to murder one of the contestants. The Miss Earth contest had entrants representing geographical regions as well as countries.
  • Dedication: When he printed this story in Tales of the Black Widowers, Dr Asimov wrote about being invited to a cocktail party for the Miss Universe contestants by Anita Summer. Seeing how much he was enjoying the party, Ms Summer asked him if he was going to turn this encounter into a story. So he agreed, and therefore dedicated this story to her.
  • Driving Question: Which Miss Earth contestant is Rahab? This story is actually titled after the driving question, as they're trying to deduce what country (Miss What?) the woman called Rahab is from.
  • Exact Words: (Discussed Trope) The members discuss the use of plural (Jezebels) and singular (Rahab), debating if the change is intentional or the result of poor grammar. They decide to assume the words are intended as written, with the plural speaking about a group, and the singular about a person within that group.
  • Fairplay Whodunnit: The clues are carefully disseminated through the biblical quotations, and when Henry interrupts, the reader can deduce the same answer that he came up with.
  • Framing Device: The meeting provides a setting to abstract away irrelevant factors for the puzzle Mr Gordon uses to test Henry's skills at solving puzzles. The puzzle is the effort made to prevent the murder of a Miss Earth contestant.
  • Fun with Homophones: Rahab referred to the largest monster in the sea, so Henry is able to figure out that the note means Miss Wales (whales).
  • Implied Death Threat: Someone had sent a note to the contestants of Miss Earth, saying "Woe unto you, Jezebels. Death unto you, Rahab." This implied that they would try to kill one of the contestants, but which one?
  • The Jeeves: Henry, normally unflappable and a perfect example of service, spills a glass and looks worried about something.
  • Orwellian Retcon: Originally printed as title "A Warning to Miss Earth", Dr Asimov didn't like the title, so he changed it back to his Working Title, "Miss What?".
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Henry, normally unflappable and a perfect example of service, spills a glass and looks worried about something.
    • Trumbull, normally loud and boisterous, is upset by Henry's apparent stress, and speaks quietly to the host because their guest is the one who is disturbing Henry.
  • Phone-In Detective: Henry is able to deduce the mystery of "Miss What?" and Mr Gordon wishes that Henry would join the police to help with some of the other crimes. Henry insists he can only solve the case because the other Widowers eliminate the remaining possibilities.
  • Shout-Out: To figure out the meaning of "Rahab", the Black Widowers pull out the King James version of The Bible and quote passages aloud for everyone to hear.
    • They quoted from the Book of Numbers, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel."
    • They quoted from the Book of Job, "Hear my words, O ye wise men; and give ear unto me, ye that have knowledge."
    • They quoted from the Book of Joshua, "And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there."
    • They quoted from the Gospel Of Matthew, "And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David the king."
    • They quoted from the 74th poem in the Book of Psalms,"Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces."
    • They quoted from the 87th poem in the Book of Psalms, "I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia."
    • They quoted from the 89th poem in the Book of Psalms, "Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them. Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain."
    • They quoted from the Book of Genesis, "the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
    • They quoted from the Book of Isaiah, "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab and wounded the dragon?"
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: (Subverted Trope) Avalon seems to be suggesting that "Rahab" refers to the most beautiful woman in the Miss Earth Beauty Contest, but he points out that "most beautiful" is too subjective to be used that way, as it might mean "most reminds me of a woman from when I was younger".