Cain’s Jawbone: Puzzle or Absolute Gibberish?

“They ca’d me Ecky when I was a boy. Eh, Ecky! ye’re a awfu’ old man. Emotional stuff.” -pg 43

About Cain’s Jawbone

Cain’s Jawbone was written by Edward Powys Mathers under the pseudonym Torquemada. The name Torquemada came from the Spanish Grand Inquisitor Tómas de Torquemada because he wanted to imply that he was as cruel to readers as Torquemada was (Natanson 2022). Mathers was an English translator and poet who was born in London. He also was a composer of cryptic crosswords (a crossword puzzle in which each clue is a word puzzle, the clues themselves contain the answers) for The Observer.

In 1934, Cain’s Jawbone was first published as part of The Torquemada Puzzle Book with a prize offered of 15 pounds to the first person able to correctly reorder the pages (they were all printed out of order) and provide an account of who was murdered by who. This prize was won in 1935 by both S Sydney-Turner and W S Kennedy.

The puzzle died from conversations and people’s thoughts until November of 2016 when Patrick Wildgust showed the puzzle to John Mitchinson. Funnily enough, Mitchinson attempted to solve the puzzle but gave up after the first 40 pages. Wildgust was able to locate an elderly man in a nursing home who still owned his solution for the book along with a signed note from Torquemada congratulating him for his correct solution (Natanson 2022).

In 2019, Mitchinson’s publishing company Unbound published Cain’s Jawbone as its own book with a new prize of 1000 pounds for the first reader who could solve the puzzle which ran for one year from the date of publication. In November of 2020, John Finnemore solved the puzzle in 4 months during quarantine after the pandemic began (Natanson 2022). There was another contest in 202, during which a girl named Sarah Scannell found the book in a local bookstore and initially didn’t buy it but couldn’t stop thinking about it. She eventually went back to buy the book and posted a video on TikTok about the murder mystery puzzle. This video collected more than half a million views within 12 hours, and within 24 hours, Cain’s Jawbone was sold out on Amazon. In the following years of 2022 and 2023, there were competitions also held.

Diving In

Before beginning this book, I knew I needed to have an idea for how I wanted to approach solving it. Did I want to skim it first? Did I want to annotate it? How would reading it in the printed order help me if all the pages were out of order? I decided to look online to see how other people approached the book initially. I quickly found the Cain’s Jawbone subreddit (r/CainsJawbone) with a lot of helpful hints. In the end, I decided to read the book in the order that the pages were printed and annotate as I read. The strategy I came up with was: orange highlighter for any names, pink highlighter for people only referred to by pronouns, green highlighter for any places or dates, yellow highlighter for anything miscellaneous, and a pen for any notes.

Once I had done my research, I began reading the book. Let me just say: it made absolutely no sense. I knew it was going to sound absolutely ridiculous reading front to back once, but I knew I needed to get an idea of people/places/things happening on the pages. Something else important to note about the book was that almost every single page began and ended in a complete sentence. I reached a few pages that began and ended in poems, and I realized that I would be able to connect these pages to other pages in the book. Due to my excitement, I took a brief intermission from reading the book, found all the pages with poems on them, and connected the corresponding pages by looking up the various poems online. The excitement from these finds quickly dwindled as I had to go back to reading the book, trying to decipher what was happening on every page. Later in the book, I encountered 2 pages that ended mid-sentence, and I was able to find 2 pages that began mid-sentence. I tried my best to pair up the correct pages but quickly realized that both possible combinations made sense and read smoothly. My excitement quickly dissipated again. While reading the book, I also tried utilizing the subreddit in order to see if I could find any other clues that would help me. Overall, reading through Cain’s Jawbone front to back one time was helpful in that I was able to get a better understanding of people within the story and possible events that had occurred..

After I finished reading the book and had annotated it, I wanted to give solving the puzzle my best shot. I decided to make a spreadsheet in order to collect my thoughts and clues from the book. I noted who was mentioned on which pages, if I thought this person was murdered or the murderer or neither, and any comments or thoughts I had about the person in terms of how they contributed to the overall plot of the book and their relation to other people mentioned. I noted any pages I could correctly connect for the ordering of the book (which were really just the pages with the poems on them). I noted any thoughts I had on the narrator for specific pages including if I thought they were a woman, man, or the dog I had read about on the subreddit. I noted any locations mentioned and which pages they were mentioned on. I noted any general thoughts I had about the plot. This was the funniest to look back on after I had looked at someone’s solution to the book because there are 2 different Henry’s mentioned in the book where one of them was fictional and one of them was a dog. In my thoughts on the plot of the book, I had said that I thought maybe May (another character in the book) was having an affair with Henry (this was the fictional Henry, of course) and that Henry was definitely a murderer (this was also fictional Henry from a book that May was reading in which Henry was murdering people).

Solving the Book

Unfortunately, because of my lack of time to spend months and months working on solving the puzzle that is Cain’s Jawbone, I skipped over to the subreddit to see if I could find a solution to the book (or something close to one). I wanted to know the order of the pages, who was narrating which sections, and who murdered who. One of the first pages in the book talks about the competition from 2023 and asks that anyone who has been confirmed as a solver not release the official solution (this worried me a little as I wasn’t sure I would be able to find a solution). Luckily, I was able to find 2 different posts with what people thought could be the correct solution. After comparing the 2, I found that they agreed on which pages belonged to each narrator (I thought there would be 6 narrators for each murder, but found that it couldn’t be true considering one of the narrators was definitely a dog) and almost completely agreed on the ordering of the pages. Funnily enough, after I read the book in the correct order, it was still somewhat hard to determine who murdered who and what the complete name of each murderer was (figuring out their full names was another part of the puzzle).

From what I understand, the book’s plot is as follows. Oscar Mills overhears a conversation between May Doncaster and Paul Trinder where Paul enlists May’s help in forging a will and murdering some unnamed woman so that he can inherit her money. May later recognizes Oscar on a train and pushes him out the window because she thinks he knows too much about her plans with Paul. I’m assuming she thinks or knows that he overheard her conversation with Paul. Paul then meets with Bill Hardy, a forger, and has the will for the mystery woman altered. However, Bill hints to Paul that he might blackmail Paul in the future, which prompts Paul to enlist May to kill Bill. Clement DeAth is asked by May (through a letter) to kill Paul, so Clement poisons Paul and kills him. Bill is then invited to meet May by Paul (but Paul is dead), and May then poisons Bill. Jasmine Gay has a vision that Clement murdered Paul and writes him a letter telling him she knows what he did. This prompts Clement to send John Walker to kill Jasmine. The end of the book is narrated by Henry, Clement’s dog. May and Clement get married, but grow bored. They come to the realization that they like murdering people, so they make a bet to see who can murder first again. Clement poisons May, but he is then later murdered by a bomb that May had in the beginning of the book (Clement accidentally blows himself up).

My Thoughts

Overall, I’d give the book a 3.75 out of 5 stars. I really loved the premise of the book in that it’s a puzzle and murder mystery. It was fun trying to solve who was narrating each page and who the 6 murdered were along with who murdered them. The writing was really interesting in that the clues (once they were pointed out to me by the subreddit or they made sense in hindsight) were well embedded, and there was such a large array of different types of clues. The complexity of the story is quite intriguing, and the ending is funny in that May and Clement made a bet about killing another person and ended up killing each other. In all honesty, I probably would have enjoyed the story more if it had been printed in the correct order and the task was still picking out the murderers and murdered since I mentioned earlier that even when I read the book in the correct order (or at least somewhat correct order), while it was easier to understand, was still a bit hard to decipher. On the other hand, because of the complexity of the book, it prompted people to form their own community to work together to solve the puzzle since there is no official solution released anywhere. I only spent a simple 2 weeks immersed in r/CainsJawbone, but it was fascinating to see all the people who discussed the 100 pages in the book. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would, I enjoyed how it pushed me out of my comfort zone. I also would absolutely love to see a modern day version of Cain’s Jawbone where the references outside the book are more recent and the language matches the way we speak today.

Even though I did enjoy reading and attempting Cain’s Jawbone myself, there were some aspects of the book and puzzle that I didn’t like. Even if I had gotten to a point where I thought I had ordered the pages in the correct order (spoiler: I was not even close), there is no way to check your solution. There is no way to receive feedback on your ordering of the pages or your guesses at who murdered who, so if you’re stuck then you’re stuck. This was somewhat resolved by the r/CainsJawbone subreddit but even then you’d have to contact a “Confirmed Solver”. There has been a competition run each year for the past few years, but it only allows one submission per year, and you have to wait until January of the following year to find out if your submission was correct or not, creating delayed gratification (imagine submitting in February and having to wait almost a whole year to find out you guessed wrong or right). I mentioned earlier that I thought I would have a lot of fun with a modern version of Cain’s Jawbone, and this is because the language was quite outdated in the book which wasn’t surprising because of how long ago it came out, but it did make me enjoy the book less. While I was reading the book, it also became less and less exciting to read as I realized more and more the difficulty behind the puzzle. I applaud anyone who stays with the puzzle until they think they have found a correct solution all on their own!

Now, do I think that it’s possible to tell a compelling and emotionally moving story in a multi-sequential format? Yes. Do I think it’s possible to do this with all books in a multi-sequential format? No. I think that this book is a good example of why not. Without eventually figuring out the correct ordering of the 100 pages in the book, the reader is left with a mess of pages that make no sense together. Without the correct order, the reader has no idea what the plot of the book is beyond that 6 murders occur. How can I, as a reader, be compelled or emotionally moved by a book that is straight gibberish until I discover the solution? Overall, while I found the idea behind the book a cool concept, I know that with more guidance I would have enjoyed it extraordinarily more.


Natanson, Hannah. “A 1934 Murder Mystery’s Pages Were Printed out of Order. Now the World Is Obsessed.” The Washington Post, 26 Dec. 2022,

r/CainsJawbone. (n.d.). May I introduce you all to the readable version of "Cain's Jawbone". Reddit.

r/CainsJawbone. (n.d.). Order Plot Spoiler. Reddit.

r/CainsJawbone. (n.d.). The Murdered and the Murderers. Reddit.