As part of my doctoral studies, I was a  researcher encoding aspects of mysteries.  My contribution was to identify and define the absurd aspects of a story arc.  I found this to be far more important than the simple red-herring function that is usually ascribed to the aspect. If anyone is interested, I would be happy to go over this little appreciated sub-theme.

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I still think that "plot absurdities and implausibilities" refers to plotting the solution of the puzzle and is certainly a weakness in a book. If an author has to bend believability in order to add a clever twist, for example, or work several coincidences (one should be permitted), or resort to deus ex machina, you don't really get a very good book. Dorothy Sayers was, for the Golden Age British stuff, a rather good writer. No wonder she balked.
The example from Eco seems to fall more into the category of local color. Cripples were probably fairly common in the church in the Middle Ages. It was a refuge for the unwanted. More absurd is the villain, an albino monk, in the modern Dan Brown novel, DVC.
The basic idea contains these elements. It is, they are, short scenes. Most often extraneous to the main plot. They are often diversions. They can be humorous, sexual, or grotesque. They serve to give the reader a break from thinking about the main plot. They can disguise a clue or they can be a red herring, or can be simple parenthetical breaks for the reader. And they are most often found in mysteries.
I think your cautions are very well taken. They can get out of control or can be weak writing. Used correctly, they can add to color.
I've enjoyed your comments. I hope to start 'The Convict's Sword' this weekend.
Thanks, Mark. I trust THE CONVICT'S SWORD doesn't contain too many "absurdities." :)
I reserve the right to remember the adage about wrestling with pigs before I reply to any comments.


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