Synopsis of Plot It Yourself
Someone has been getting away with a different spin on plagiarism. It’s the old scam – an unsuccessful author stealing ideas from an established source – but it’s being worked differently. Now, the plagiarists are claiming that the well-known authors are stealing from them (as Wolfe puts it, “plagiarism upside down.”). And they are making their claims stick: three successful claims in four years, one awaiting trial, and one that’s just been made.
These claims have damaged both the publishers and the authors. The Book Publishers of America (BPA) and the National Association of Authors and Dramatists (NAAD) form a joint committee to explore ways to stop the fraud, and the committee comes to Wolfe for help. The first four claims have shared certain characteristics: in the first, for example, the best selling author Ellen Sturdevant is accused by the virtually unknown Alice Porter of stealing a recent book’s plot from a story that Porter sent her, asking her suggestions for improvement. Sturdevant ignores the accusation until Porter’s manuscript is found in Sturdevant’s house. The writing and publishing industry is convinced that the manuscript was planted, but the case was settled out of court.
That scenario, with minor variations, is repeated four times, with other authors and by other plagiarists. The latest complaint has been made only recently, and the target of the complaint wonders when a manuscript will show up somewhere that it wasn’t the day before.
Wolfe’s first step is to acquire and read the manuscripts that form the basis for the complaints. Wolfe’s love of literature turns out to be useful in his investigation: from the internal evidence in the manuscripts, Wolfe concludes that they were all written by the same person. Aspects such as diction, punctuation and syntax – and, most convincingly, paragraphing – point Wolfe directly to the conclusion that one person wrote all the manuscripts.
At first, this seems like progress, but then it becomes clear that it’s the opposite. The task initially seemed to be to show that the first fraud inspired a sequence of copycats, and the universe of suspects was limited to the complainants. But now that Wolfe has determined that one person wrote all the fraudulent manuscripts, that one person could be anyone. Wolfe meets with the joint committee to discuss the situation.
A committee member suggests that one of the plagiarists be offered money, along with a guarantee of immunity, to identify the manuscripts’ actual author. The committee concurs, and asks Wolfe to arrange for the offer to be made to Simon Jacobs. The next day, Archie goes to make the offer to Jacobs, but finds Sergeant Purley Stebbins at the Jacobs apartment: Mr. Jacobs has been murdered, stabbed to death the night before.
In short order, Archie discovers two more dead plagiarists. Wolfe blames himself for not taking steps to protect Jacobs and the others, who had been made targets by the plan to pay for information.
Synopsis taken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plot_It_Yourself