Book Club / Culture / Fashion

What to know about ‘Cain’s Jawbone’: The book that has TikTok in a tizzle

There is something about TikTok and mysteries. Don't ask me why, but they love it. Another thing they get around? Books. Put the two together and no wonder this seemingly random book from the 1930s, Cain's Jawbone is garnering Colleen Hoover levels of hype.

The book has only been solved by four people to date, but the publishers appear to want more people to solve the problem offering a prize to whoever can work it out. In 2019, the book was reprinted by Unbound Publishing, who thanks to the keen BookTok community, reprinted 70,000 copies in 2021 when an assistant documentarian brought the book to TikTok's attention.

What is Cain’s Jawbone about?

Cain's Jawbone is a narrative-driven murder mystery. It was written in 1930 by Edward Powys Mathers under the pseudonym “Torquemada.” Fittingly, this was not Torquemada's first foray into the world of mystery. He was also the inventor of the cryptic crossword.

TikTok's approach to solving Cain's Jawbone

The book is 100 pages, however, none of those pages are ordered. One might assume this is the most difficult part of solving the mystery, but the determined competitors are coming up against other challenges too. For one, as the book was written 92 years ago, a lot of the terminology from the period is difficult to decipher.

@saruuuuuuugh Reply to @flyingsushi28 if you want a copy please buy it from an indie bookstore and not jeff #fyp #cainsjawbone #mystery #booktok ♬ original sound - sarah

One user very innocently tells the camera in front of a wall papered with the newly ordered pages of the book that she doesn't know what the 'rules' were in 1930, sincerely wondering if 'gay' was used as a synonym for happy or if one of the characters were in fact gay.

Other users have employed different methods to workshop the book's vocabulary, creating spreadsheets of diction and exam-style notes that they've highlighted, crossed out and circled.

@brandy.velez In my Pink Panther era 🐾🐆💕🕵🏻‍♀️🔍 #cainsjawbone #booktok ♬ Cheeky Business (Funny Sneaky Playful Comedy Adventure Cheerful) 4 minutes - JGJmusic

How do you solve the mystery and win the prize?

With over 30 million potential combinations, Cain's Jawbone is considered one of the hardest mysteries to solve in literary history. The prize comes in the form of  £350 (about $445 AUD) in credit to Unbound Books and the real prize of knowing you're only the fifth in the world to solve it.

For those bold enough to throw their hats in the ring, they must submit the six victims and six killers before the 22nd of December 2022. There is a page at the back of the book to include your reordering of the book as well as your nominations of the victims and killers. This leaves just under a month to submit the case file.

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