Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Name of the story: The Unlocked Room
Author: John F. Suter
Source: Crimes Across the Seas – 19th MWA anthology edited by John Creasey
Story Number: 31
This story has two interesting features – it is a parody of Henry Merrivale and has a neat little impossible crime as its puzzle plot. Jon Dickens Carbon is a famous detective-story writer who specializes in writing locked-room stories. He is found strangled at one corner of the room, a corner completely surrounded by still-wet varnish on the floor unmarred by a single footprint. Patrolman Witmer who was on an errand to deliver a ticket to the Policeman’s Ball is on the scene of the crime within a few minutes of the tragedy. He has three suspects to deal with – Jon’s brother & niece (the 2 who would inherit the fortune equally) and the Old Man – Colonel Goliath Perrivale (his motive being that the author outright used his ides without paying him a cent) who helps the police occasionally to solve locked-room murders!
The brush used to paint the varnish is still wet in the hands of the victim, the dead man was spoken to by 2 of the witnesses just five minutes before his death, the experiment to show that the murderer could’ve painted the floor after the murder turns out to be a dead end as it takes Witmer a complete 8 minutes to achieve the task. Perrivale says that the case could be solved between Witmer and himself and he propounds a few theories to explain the impossible murder in a fashion and tone very similar to that of Merrivale. Witmer, not fooled by any of those theories, calls on his experience as an odd-jobs painter in his free time to provide the actual solution which trumps all those provided by Perrivale!
Monday, January 30, 2012
Name of the story: Future Imperfect
Author: Stuart Palmer
Source: Choice of Murders – 12th MWA anthology edited by Dorothy Salisbury Davis
Story Number: 30
Stuart Palmer wrote close to 20 detective novels usually featuring the spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers, who made her debut with the ‘The Penguin Pool Murder’. His other creation was the hardboiled private eye Howie Rook. Though he has written a number of short stories featuring Miss. Withers, this story doesn’t feature any detective.
Jerry Waite is a novelist who has been asked to take a vacation and come back only after he has some new and fresh ideas to offer the script writers. He is approached by an old man named Baxter in a bar in Mazatlan (on the upper west coast of Mexico) and after confirming that Jerry is indeed a novelist, tells him that he has got a story that Jerry can write and that it involves a perfect murder. The old man goes on to tell a tale about his friend Sam, who planned and murdered his wife after coming across in an old newspaper a new and original method of committing a murder, which required no complicated preparation or equipment, involved no brutality nor spilled any blood, and left absolutely no traces. The doctor does bring in a verdict of natural death due to a heart attack. Baxter says that the story should end with the explanation of the murder method, which he explains and highlights the fact that it has been used only twice: once by its inventor and the second time by Sam with each one successfully getting away with it.
The actual story continues to end in a surprising twist, which could be easily anticipated but the highlight of the story remains the unique method of murder; the author does mention in the afterword that the press clipping of a murder by this gimmick was genuine!
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Story: Murder Lock’d In
Author: Lillian De La Torre
Source: The Return of Dr. Sam: Johnson
Story Number: 29
Lillian de la Torre is known for her historical mysteries which featured the 18th century detective Dr. Sam: Johnson – where the stories are more or less based on the actual crimes of the 18th century (solved or unsolved), with a new solution proposed by the author as befits the crime and the period in which it occurred. Even though this story appears in the third collection, it is supposed to be the first recorded case of Dr. Johnson and his biographer cum narrator, James Boswell. The same story is titled ‘The First Locked Room’ in the locked-room anthology “Death Locked In” but doesn’t feature Dr. Sam and the story has a more historical feel with different characters, a different story line set 30 years earlier but ends with the exact same solution.
Mrs. Taffety has come down to meet Mrs. Duncon as per an appointment but when no one answers the door, she raises an alarm that the door is not being opened even though she knows that there are three women inside. When there is hesitation to break open the door by the Temple Watch (the supreme legal authority during that time), a charwoman says there could be another way in from her master’s chambers. She undertakes the effort to walk on the parapet from the master’s chambers, breaks the glass on the rich woman’s casement (window sash), unlocks the latch, opens the window, drops into the room and opens the door for the waiting crowd to enter. Mrs. Duncon and 2 of her maids are found dead inside the locked and bolted room – with 2 women strangled and one dead due to repeated hammer blows.
A maid is arrested (she is hanged for the murder in the actual historical case) when the hammer used for the killing is traced to her but the doctor suspects a much sinister entity when the locked bolt couldn’t be explained with the rope trick. Dr. Johnson and the narrator toss around the various possibilities and dispel them as quickly as they were thought off which finally leaves them with only one alternative - a solution however improbable, must be the truth!
In the afterword to the story, the author has this to say about the solution: “In analyzing the “locked-room mystery” and its possible solutions, with singular prescience Dr. Johnson seems to have anticipated John Dickson Carr’s “locked-room lecture” in The Three Coffins; though the solution that detector Sam: Johnson arrives at is not among those considered by Carr.” Hmmm!
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Story: The Two Bottles of Relish
Author: Lord Dunsany
Source: 101 Years of Entertainment, The Little Tales of Smethers
Story Number: 28
Smithers is the name of a little man who sells Num-numo, a relish for meats & savories. He is also the narrator of this story. He shares his room with an Oxford educated man named Linley. Smithers observes that his roommate has a very shrewd and intelligent mind and hence asks him to have a go at solving the strange murder which has baffled the police and the Scotland Yard. He remembers the case only because the suspect had bought 2 bottles of his relish.
A small girl was seen alive for the last time with a man named Steeger when they spent 5 days together in a cottage. Steeger continues to stay in the cottage for 15 more days after the girl was seen for the last time. The local police have kept a constant vigil on this man and the cottage – he seems to be a vegetarian, he is seen cutting down every one of the 10 trees present in the cottage garden, piling them up neatly into heaps of logs, he has not left the house for those 15 days and yet there is no sign of the girl when the police enter the cottage at the end of 20 days. The girl has not been cut into pieces, she has not been burnt in a fire, she has not been buried anywhere and yet there is no trace of her. In addition to all these, the biggest stumper for the Yard is the strange behavior of Steeger in going to all that trouble of doing such hard labor to cut down all the tress.
Linley asks Smithers to have a look at the house and talk to the grocer from where Steeger bought all his food, he also asks him to find out whether he bought the 2 bottles of nun-numo together or whether it was purchased on different occasions. Based on the answer to this one question, Linley comes up with an ingenious deduction to the problem of the missing dead body!
Friday, January 27, 2012
Story: Solved By Inspection
Author: Ronald Knox
Source: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories
Story Number: 27
Ronald Knox is probably more talked about for his Detective Decalogue than his novels of detection. Five out of his six detective novels featured the insurance investigator Miles Bredon and he is also featured in one short story which also turns out to be a locked room murder – a puzzle plot, which I found much superior to any of his novels.
Dr. Simmonds has been sent by the insurance agency to ascertain the cause of death of the eccentric millionaire Jervison. The doctor has asked Bredon to join him in his inspection. Jervison has taken an insurance policy against his death – leaving all the money to a spiritualistic group called the Brotherhood which consists of only 4 people. The cause of death is pretty straight forward – he died of starvation, not having eaten food for 10 days. But the question is why he didn’t eat the food when the room had a lot of eatables which could’ve sustained any man for those many days?
Bredon has to figure out whether it was suicide or whether it was a very clever murder as the circumstances looks highly suspicious. Jervison had locked himself in a gymnasium to conduct an experiment, he had taken a narcotic on the first day of his experiment, he had plenty of food to sustain him, he had a pad and a pencil at hand on which he could’ve written down his thoughts or observations and yet there is nothing on the writing pad, the food has not been touched, there is no sign of foul play and no other entry into the room other than the door which the police break open.
Bredon observes three strange things – the bed is at the center of the room, the bedspreads are all piled up on the floor and the most important finding – the scratches on the floor from the wheels of the bed to indicate that the bed has been moved by 2 inches. From these, he declares that Jervison was murdered and goes on to show how the man was murdered in that locked room!
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Story: Two Over Par
Author: Kelley Roos
Source: Four and Twenty Bloodhounds – the 3rd MWA Anthology
Story Number: 26
Jeff and Haila Troy are among the few genuinely likable young couples in the detective fiction created by the husband and wife team of Kelley Roos. Even though this detective duo is more famous for their exploits in the longer form (most notably in ‘The Frightened Stiff’, ‘Sailor, Take Warning’ & ‘If The Shroud Fits’), they have a few good short stories to their credit as well. This story ‘Two Over Par’ has won the EQMM award in the best story competition.
Jeff & Haila stumble across two dead bodies when they are looking for their golf balls in a thicket on the 9th hole. Both Mrs. Carleton and her caddie Eddie are dead due to a single bullet wound, both the bullets having been fired from the same gun. First they investigate the murder thinking that the rich man’s wife was the intended victim and the caddie was killed because he saw the murderer but the investigation comes to a dead end when they find no motive. The same is the result when the investigation is carried out with the pretext of the caddie being the chief victim. But nobody seems to dislike the young man.
Jeff keeps harping on the fact that the golf ball (which is inscribed in a particular way) being used by Mrs. Carleton wasn’t found at all in the thicket even though they found around 7 balls belonging to various other members. It is this fact which finally trips the murderer to commit a blunder and walk into the trap set up by Jeff.
The wit and humor one would associate with this author is abundantly evident even in a short story – one example is given below:
A girl of seventeen approaches Jeff asking him to investigate the murder as she believes that everyone will consider her as the chief suspect as she had been planning to kill Mrs. Carleton for the past 4 years. Jeff asks her to sit down to which she turns towards Haila and quips, “I’m practically on my way to the electric chair, and the man asks me to sit down!”
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Story: The Yellow Slugs
Author: H.C. Bailey
Source: Mr. Fortune Objects, All-Time Favorite Detective Stories and many other Anthologies.
Story Number: 25
In their critical study ‘Queen’s Quorum’, Ellery Queen points out that off the 84 stories featuring Reggie Fortune, the collection ‘Mr. Fortune Objects’ is the best containing two of Mr. Bailey’s finest stories: ‘The Long Dinner’ and ‘The Yellow Slugs’. After reading a few stories from the various anthologies and finding Reggie’s mannerisms too irritating, I’d no other option but to go for his best book very quickly. I have jumped the gun and read the last 2 stories in this collection (I’ll be finishing the other 4 shortly) and I felt the ‘The Yellow Slugs’ a little superior to the ‘Long Dinner’ even though the slugs is a very dark story where 2 little kids are psychologically damaged. In addition to some top notch detection in this story, Reggie Fortune is at his most tolerable in his speech and mannerisms.
Fortune is called in to evaluate a 10 year old kid Eddie (most preferably to certify him as insane) who has just tried to kill his 5 year old sister by drowning her. A farmer who sees the whole incident rescues both of them and Reggie wants to find out the reason behind the odd behavior more than certifying the kid, even though he knows that Eddie is not normal. It turns out that Eddie has been coached to believe that he will go to hell if he is found to be bad and he knows that he is bad because he has already been caught twice by the police for pilfering money. When his sister is accused of pilfering a few pennies by the lodger in their house, Eddie decides to kill her so that she doesn’t go to hell. The girl confirms the same story. But Reggie suspects something more sinister and he turns out to be right!
The lodger has been missing for more than 24 hours. While investigating Eddie’s hole (his secret hiding place), they find the lodger’s purse without any cash in it. Further in a patch of sand, they find the woman’s body – poisoned with a very common poison, indicating that this could very well be Eddie’s doing which would explain his strange behavior earlier in the day. However, Reggie notices one strange thing – a slimy residue from a cellar slug on the skirt of the murdered woman and no sign of any slugs anywhere on the surrounding sand. From this one clue, Reggie figures out the complete scheme hatched by what can be termed as one of the most cruel villains in the history of detective fiction!
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Story: By Child Undone
Author: Jack Ritchie
Source: A New Leaf and Other Stories, Little Boxes of Bewilderment, Boucher’s Choicest.
Story Number: 24
For a person who wrote close to a thousand stories, it is very perplexing to know that there are only 3 collections of his short stories! And finding reasonably priced copies of these collections is indeed a challenge in itself!
Haven’t seen too many references being made to Jack Ritchie in relation to a formal puzzle plot story but from the few stories that I’ve read, when he tried them, he could certainly compete with some of the best. In this story, playing fair with the reader and at the same time making it unguessable, he tries the classic gambit of what-is-the-factor-linking-a-chain-of-murders?
The story starts with 2 random killings on successive days. Nobody pays heed to them until the police receive an anonymous letter intimating them that the same gun killed both. A succession of murders follows – each time the victim is a man and each time there is an anonymous letter; the fourth one which the police receive would have been mailed six hours before the actual murder.
Captain Hayes and Sergeant Harrison find no clues, no motives and no connection between the victims though they notice some common traits among the murdered men. But with each murder, they find that the connecting links are reducing and at the end of five murders they have all but given up on the possibility of there being anything common among them, until, the 10 year old kid (Harrison’s son) walks into the police station, glances at the list which Hayes is pondering over and tells them what the connecting factor is! Based on this information, they catch the murderer on his sixth crusade.
Monday, January 23, 2012
Story: The Case of the Irate Witness
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Source: The Case of the Irate Witness and Other Stories
Story Number: 23
One of the most productive authors, his creation Perry Mason outshines all the other three dozen characters that Erle Stanley Gardner created. He has contributed nearly 200 short stories to various pulp magazines but interestingly, wrote only 3 short stories (Crimson Kiss & Crying Swallow being novellas) featuring Perry Mason.
This story has all the typical characteristics of a Perry Mason novel minus the murder – Mason defending a client whom everybody thinks is guilty, district attorney who thinks he is gone lick the defense attorney for a change, antagonizing antics and a court room climax.
Somebody has broken into the Jebson Commercial Company vault to steal the 100,000 twice-a-month payroll, which had been brought up from a bank the previous day. The company has the habit of recording the numbers of all the 20 dollar bills from each payroll as soon they get the money from the bank and one such was made and is safely locked up in a safe for this payroll as well. Frank Bernal, the manager of the company reveals to the police that a man who had a criminal record was fired from his job the previous day. He is found and arrested when two twenty dollar bills from the robbed payroll are found in his possession. He claims that those 2 bills were given to him by the company accountant Ralph in front of the manager.
The irate witness turns out to be George Addey, owner of the garbage collecting business, who stores his money in garbage bins. Mason subpoenas Addey to appear in court with all the 20 dollar bills which he has received in the last one month. He shows that Addey could equally have been guilty as the numbers on some of his 20 dollar bills(30 days old) matches the list of numbers from the bills(tabulated a day before) of the robbed payroll. Mason quickly explains how this was possible by revealing the trick used and in the process identifies the culprit and points out that the clues were all there to figure out the guilty party if one just believed that the defendant was speaking the truth!
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Story: By His Own Hand
Author: Rex Stout
Source: Ellery Queen’s Twentieth Century Detective Stories (revised edition)
Story Number: 22
Rex Stout is most famous for his novels and novellas featuring Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin but he created a few more series characters and has a few short stories to his credit as well which he contributed mainly to the pulps.
40 million fans idolized “Kevin Kay” as the series hero of books, comics, movies and TV. Adam Nicoll has portrayed Kay in all the movies and the fans can’t separate one from the other. Another character “Cricket” in this series has been played by Amy Quong. Barry Maddox, a producer decides to put a Kay play on Broadway and gets the approval from Paul Griffin, the creator and the owner of the rights to the character. They have picked a new actor by the name of Levitan to play the character of Kay. This doesn’t go well with Adam; he flies down to New York with his wife to confront Griffin and Maddox with a lawsuit.
Alphabet Hicks is called in to Griffin’s house to iron out the situation and negotiate a deal which is suitable for everyone, which he fails to achieve. Two nights later when Hicks returns back to his house, he finds Sergeant Purley Stebbins waiting for him. He informs that Adam Nicoll died of cyanide poisoning when he took one of his vitamin tablets and hence asks Hicks to give a detailed account of the 2 hour negotiation which he had with the victim and the five suspects. Hicks receives a call later in the night asking him to come over and handle the situation suitably as each of the five knows that there is a murderer among them.
As soon as Hicks reaches Griffin’s house, he declares that he knows who the murderer is because of what was said by one of them when he was there on the previous occasion. He also informs them that this message was passed on to the police but they might not have seen the significance of it and hence he was gone try and make the murderer crack – which he does most efficiently!
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Story: The Laughing Butcher
Author: Fredric Brown
Source: Carnival of Crime -The Best Mystery Stories of Fredric Brown.
Story Number: 21
Fredric Brown was an American science fiction and mystery author. His debut mystery novel ‘The Fabulous Clipjoint’ won the Edgar for the Best First Novel in the year 1948. He has contributed more than 150 stories to the pulps and yet, except for the connoisseurs of the golden age of detective fiction, he is hardly remembered today!
Bill Pronzini in the introduction to this collection has this to say about Fredric Brown: “He invented several ingenious new ways to tell his stories; he introduced dazzling, sometimes outrageous, sometimes delightfully preposterous plot devices, apparently for the sheer artistic pleasure of developing them into plausible stories.” The best example which meets all these characteristics is his masterpiece of psychological horror “Don’t Look Behind You”, in which the narrator reveals in the first paragraph of the story that it is the reader who is the intended murder victim and goes on to tell a story as to how it all came about.
Fredric Brown also wrote a few genuine locked room or impossible crime stories and I have picked one such for this post. The laughing butcher refers to the evil butcher of the town of Corbyville, a sideshow magician and mentalist belonging to the 1000 odd population of ex-circus people. The townsfolk suspect him of practicing witchcraft but the women just adore him. But he has his eyes for only one woman and that woman is married to his arch nemesis Len. One day, when Len is passing his shop, the butcher points out a doll to him to indicate that Len would die shortly. This results in a showdown in which the butcher comes up triumphant without breaking a sweat. All this drama is being watched by a Chicago cop (who is on his honeymoon) standing in a bar across the road, a bar in which the bartender is a 4 foot dwarf and a champion chess player. The cop rescues Len from the butcher and on their parting, hears the evil laughter of the butcher echoing throughout the road.
After getting the complete story about the rivalry between Len & the butcher, the cop and his wife continue on their honeymoon journey. 2 weeks later, a headline catches the cop’s eye. The butcher has been lynched by the residents of the town as they suspected him of killing Len, who has met a most mysterious death. Two sets of prints are seen going towards the scene of the murder, one belonging to the dead man Len and the other belonging to a big heavyset man like the butcher. But other than that the snow is undisturbed, there’s no sign of the 2nd man’s prints progressing beyond the scene of crime or going back and there’s no other clue to the identity of the murderer. So how did the second man vanish from that place when there are no trees or any other escape routes?The cop decides to make a pit stop on the way back; he observes the scene of the crime, makes some deductions and leaves without revealing his conclusions as he says he doesn’t have any proof to back up his theory. Five years down the line, he reveals what exactly must have happened to his brother-in-law which provides an interesting variation to the impossible crime situation of the missing footprints in the snow.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Story: Murder Behind Schedule
Author: Lawrence G Blochman
Source: Clues for Dr. Coffee.Story Number: 20
Lawrence Blochman wrote a series of stories in the golden age tradition featuring the Forensic Pathologist Dr. Daniel Webster Coffee. Most of his stories feature a murder where the cause of death remains a mystery, the facts of the case gathered from all the suspects at the scene of the crime and the case gets resolved after Dr. Coffee conducts the autopsy as the results from the autopsy not only provides the cause of death but it also clearly points out who the murderer is as only one person could have committed such a crime.
One such case happens to be what Lieutenant Ritter refers to as the “Dr. Fell Case” as the murdered man was found inside a locked study with no sign of foul play. Michael Waverly calls the police and informs in a curtailed message that someone is trying to kill him. When the police arrive at his doorstep, they find Paul Monson (Mrs. Waverly’s lover) ringing the door bell continuously, the sleepy wife opens the front door and when they break open the study door, they find the phone still hooked to the dead man’s arm and his face showing a sign of fright.
Ritter calls in Dr. Coffee to identify the cause of death. After conducting the autopsy, the reason for the death explains the locked room murder as well as the person who committed it.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
Story: Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday
Author: G.D.H & Margaret Cole
Source: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories, Superintendent Wilson’s Holiday (Queen’s Quorum title #77).
Story Number: 19
Superintendent Wilson has been coaxed by his friend and medical adviser Michael Prendergast to go on a holiday and as a result they both find themselves exploring the coast of Norfolk. On the second day of their trip, half a mile from the beach across the cliffs, they come across a ruined cottage and a solitary tent. Wilson notices these unique features about the tent: One side of the tent is torn, the bed inside is wet though the tent isn’t, there are half burned cheque-books, there is a blood stained knife and there is a bucket outside which doesn’t have any water even though it has rained. Wilson is able to deduce a lot of things from these details and he believes that the two men who occupied the tent are still somewhere in the vicinity with at least one of them being dead.
When they reach the cliff edge, they find a suicide note on a rock; down below, a dead body with a slit throat and with a razor beside it. 2 bloodstained weapons for 1 body? All this points to a badly bungled up murder made to look like a suicide. He closely inspects the sets of footprints present and points out a strange anomaly (which is succinctly explained with a detailed map):
a. 2 sets of prints are seen from the road to the tent
b. 1 set of prints from the tent to the cliff with deep impressions of the feet to suggest he was carrying the dead body
c. 1 set of prints back from the cliff to the tent
d. Same set of prints seen going from the tent towards the road (opposite direction to that of the cliff) but it has the same deep impressions!
With a little bit of background information about the two people involved (and a few others), it is revealed that one of them had forged a check for a huge sum and hence could have resulted in a quarrel between the two men and led to the grisly event. But none of this fools Wilson. He quickly exposes the criminal who would have plotted a much more sinister and clever murder than that meets the eye!
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Story: The Mystery of The Sleeping-Car Express
Author: Freeman Wills Crofts
Source: The Oxford Book of English Detective Stories, The Mystery of The Sleeping-Car Express & Other Stories. It can be read online here.
Story Number: 18
The story is divided into 2 parts. The first part provides the details of the double murder and its investigation. The initial setting of the railway compartments is explained brilliantly in a few short lines. Someone pulls the emergency brake to halt the night train in the middle of nowhere. The guard in the last coach looks out of the window to check what’s wrong and notices that a few men in the first-class coach are summoning for help through the windows. The first-class coach embedded between a sleeper-car and third-class coach has six compartments – the first 2 and the last two are occupied with the in-between ones being vacant. When the guard reaches the 5th compartment, he notices that a woman is trying to open the door but the door is jammed and the door on the other side is blocked with 2 dead bodies – both shot in the head. The compartment on the right has 4 gentlemen but they are also in the same predicament of the door being winched. No gun is found in the compartment, the woman inside the compartment testifies that someone shot from outside but the neighbors on the right and the left swear that no one except the guard used the aisle! Also, the vestibule exits at both the ends of the coach were guarded, no one was seen exiting the train through any of the doors and all doors were under constant observation by the people who were craning their necks outside the windows, which leads to an impossible murder situation! And the guard is not the culprit! J
What follows is a detailed investigation from the police – thinking that the murderer must have left the train when the train stopped, they search the area where the train had stopped, no man is found in any nearby village, no stranger was noticed anywhere, there were no other trains – either a freight or a passenger train which the escaped man could have taken. Next, they investigate all the passengers who were in that compartment and the story of every individual matches the facts in the case and hence the police end up clearing everyone. The case remains un-solved.
The second part of the story deals with the murderer confessing on his deathbed to a medical practitioner as to how exactly he committed the murder and escaped.
The solution is too technical and requires a thorough knowledge of the British Railway system to understand the mechanics of the crime – which puts the readers throughout the world at a great disadvantage. A detailed map of the set-up could have improved matters a bit but don’t think it would be sufficient; it would need a series of pictures showing the step by step movement of the criminal to make the reader understand what the author is trying to impart. I being from India and being a rail fan where the railway network was introduced by the British, was a lot more familiar with the terminologies and the set up to an extent, but have to admit the solution was hazy and have only a vague idea as to how it was done.
Unlike some of the others who were frustrated (rightfully so) with this story (saw their reviews online), it didn’t stop me any from enjoying it and hence its inclusion in this post. A few have pointed out that the collection ‘The Mystery of The Sleeping-Car Express and Other Stories’ has some top quality stories (including 5 more railway mysteries) and I am planning to read it if I can get a copy of this book for a fair price.
Probably these two sites with the pictures should help:
The story is set in 1909 – the compartment that fits best our story would the 1900s one and can be viewed here.
This link clearly shows the compartment set up.
But it is incomplete without a picture of the outside of the train and how the compartments were connected to each other – couldn’t get it in the limited time that I spent on it.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Story: The Locked House
Author: Stephen Barr
Source: 21st annual anthology of the ‘Best Detective Stories of the Year’ published in 1966.
Story Number: 17
What are some of the statements which a critic or a person who abhors locked room mysteries could put forth for his defense? They could read something like this:
“A locked room problem isn’t a mystery at all: it’s a self-contradiction”
“What the author asks the reader to believe is that a man is found murdered in a place from which the murderer couldn’t have escaped, and yet the murderer is not there. Writers have various ways of circumventing this. For example, the victim committed suicide in such a way as to resemble murder. Or the victim was dealt the fatal blow before he locked himself in. Or the murderer locked on the door on the inside while he was still on the outside.”
“The shoddiest solution of all is that he DID, in fact, get out, and his escape appears impossible only because of the author’s incomplete and therefore unfair description of the circumstances. None of these faces squarely up to the real dilemma – that the murderer got out when he COULD NOT. That, by definition, is absurd.”Looks like the author set himself the task to break their defenses by providing this tightly knit locked room murder which does not fit any of the categories mentioned above. This is a story where a man has been murdered in a locked house (decapitated body in the living room with the axe used for the deed in the underground cellar), the murderer is not present in the house but at the same time, the murderer did not leave the room! If Dr. Fell gave us 7 categories under which to categorize all the possibilities of a locked room murder, Stephen Barr brilliantly instructs us that this method could very well be the eight. This story was written in 1965 but a variation of this method was used recently in one of the episodes of Jonathan Creek. It would be really interesting to come across a few more.
Monday, January 16, 2012
Story: The Wine Glass
Author: A.A. Milne
Source: 2nd annual anthology of the ‘Best Detective Stories of the Year’ published in 1947.
Story Number: 16
A.A. Milne is best known as the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh but is also remembered by the mystery fans for his novel ‘The Red House Mystery’.
A detective novelist and a Scotland Yard detective are discussing the fine art of murder and the man from the yard opines that the simple way of committing a murder is often the best way. To substantiate his claim, he recites the following story.
The Marquis of Hedingham is celebrating his birthday and a bottle of Tokay arrives at the Lordship’s residence with a card bearing the name of his brother-in-law Sir William Kelso and a personal message. The butler is asked to serve this Tokay for the dinner party in the night but very shortly the butler is found dead after he tastes the wine while decanting. The narrator Mortimer and his boss are called in to investigate and they go about finding a person who had sufficient motive to kill the rich man, a man who had access to Kelso’s visiting card and knowledge of the relationship between the two gentlemen to feign a proper greeting message on the card. They fail to find any such person.
Mortimer then applies his theory that the simple solution is the true solution and thereby concludes that it was indeed the butler who was the intended victim and the murderer was none other than the man whose card was attached to the wine bottle! Without telling his supervisor, he confronts Kelso to get a confession but he points out to Mortimer that the card being in his own name would convince any jury that he was innocent. Mortimer takes his leave telling him that he would pass on his theory to his boss. The next day, the boss is found dead due to poisoning, a wine bottle beside him with Mortimer’s visiting card attached to it! Mortimer is able to prove to everyone that he has a perfect alibi for the entire duration and moreover his visiting card attached to the wine bottle proves his innocence beyond doubt. When the police go to Kelso’s house, they find him to have committed suicide. The narrator ends the story here to which the novelist objects saying this can’t be the solution as it doesn’t prove what Mortimer set out to prove in the first place.
Mortimer then springs the delightful surprise on the novelist as well as the reader and explains how it indeed was a very simple murder and the simplest explanation was indeed the truth!
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Story: The Hand of God
Author: Harry Stephen Keeler
Source: 20 Tales of Murder (MWA Anthology Edited by Brett Halliday & Helen McCloy)
Story Number: 15
If the novels and stories of Harry Stephen Keeler have to be described in one word, the word that comes to mind is ‘Weird’. His stories are highly imaginative, unpredictable, unclassifiable & inexhaustible. And this story, which was written particularly for this anthology, is a fitting example which exhibits all these characteristics.
The first 2 parts of the story deal with the dream that is haunting the protagonist Carrew. He has been fantasizing for quite some time about a Chinese girl both in his dream and in his wakeful life. The dreams are beginning to worry Carrew as the girl in the dream is tending to get more aggressive as he starts preparing for his marriage in real life. One fateful night, he dreams that the girl has a Chinese dagger with her - which she plunges into his heart.
The 3rd part is the police investigation where they find the body of Carrew stabbed to death inside a locked room. All the evidence in the case points to the fact that it was a murder and not suicide.
The penultimate part of the story is most fascinating in describing the testimony of the Physician to the coroner’s jury of how this murder was committed. He explains all the evidence and the clues garnered at the site to build up his case to show that what first appeared as a supernatural death indeed has a rational explanation, which obviously, only Keeler could have thought of! The final part is of course the jury’s verdict.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Story: The Puzzle Lock
Author: Austin Freeman
Source: The Puzzle Lock. All the stories can be downloaded from Gutenberg at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks05/0500391.txt
Story Number: 14
Dr. Thorndyke, creation of Austin Freeman is famous for his forensic/medical/scientific detective methods in his novels and short stories. This story however is not a typical story which will fit into these characteristics. Here, he tackles a chronogram which effectively leads the police to completely apprehend a big gang.
The story begins with Thorndyke and his companion Jervis observing Inspector Badger following a couple of men. A few days later, Superintendent Miller comes to the doctor’s house to narrate a strange case – the police force is on the track of a ‘managing director’ of a big gang which mainly deals in the burglary of jewels. Luttrell, the man they have been following in connection to this case has disappeared. It turns out that Luttrell was also one among the two whom Badger was following; both men have not been seen ever since they gave Badger the slip. Luttrell is a dealer who has built up a fortress like office with a strong room guarded by a Puzzle Lock – a lock without any keys and which can be opened only by providing a 15 digit code. The only clue which Miller can provide is a seal from the ring belonging to Luttrell – which shows a four line Latin poem.
A few days later, Miller requests Thorndyke to accompany him to check out Luttrell’s office as the owner has noticed a leakage on the utility meter but he can’t detect the source for this leakage. By this time, the doctor has already converted that poem into a chronogram and in solving that chronogram has obtained the 15 digit code to the lock. When the strong room is opened, they find the bodies of both the missing men along with a dairy of the list of the gang members. The doctor also identifies the mastermind for the police by explaining the clues which aptly point to the guilty party.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Name of the Story: By an Unknown Hand
Author: John Sladek
Source: The Times of London Anthology of Detective Stories
Story Number: 13
Out of the 1000 plus entries received for the detective story competition hosted by the Times of London in 1972, this story with its stylish whodunit and a top-notch locked room murder was deservedly the winner of this competition. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that this story has not found its way into any of the locked room anthologies. However, this story has been collected in “Maps: The Uncollected John Sladek” edited by David Langford, along with his science fiction stories. John Sladek was first and foremost a science fiction writer but he is known to the mystery world for his two very famous locked room novels ‘Black Aura’ and ‘Invisible Green’.
Thackery Phin posts an ad in the newspaper requesting for a challenge to tackle his mental acumen. In response, the owner of an art gallery Anthony Moon hires him to act as a bodyguard to protect one of the gallery’s chief contributors Aaron Wallis. Somebody has been sending threatening letters to Aaron and the last one is very specific that he would die at 9 PM on that day. The same has been prophesized by Aaron’s brother as well - who is a soothsayer.
Aaron occupies the complete 11th floor of an apartment complex and he is the only one who has a key to the floor. When Moon escorts Phin to this floor to start his vigil, Aaron is yet to come back to the house. He turns up at around 8, enters his house, searches the house by himself and provides a chair to Phin to take guard outside his apartment house. All the windows have been barred and Phin has taken a vantage point such that he has kept the apartment door and the only other emergency exit in view. At 1 o’ clock, Moon comes back to the floor to discuss the situation and they decide to call off the vigil as nothing has happened. When they both go to the ground floor, the security guard is having a hard time restricting the entry of two people who want to meet Aaron. They call Aaron from the security desk but he doesn’t answer. They decide to go back in the same elevator (which no one has had the chance to use till now) and when they reach the 11th floor, everything looks the same as it was a few minutes ago – the door is locked, nobody has tampered with the emergency exit and the orange chair on which Phin was sitting is exactly in the same position as he had left it. But when they price open the door, they find that Aaron has been strangled, having met his death between 8 and 9.
Phin turns to some locked room mysteries of Dr. Fell & Father Brown for inspiration to solve this puzzle. He questions the 4 suspects and then summons them to a traditional rendezvous at Hyde Park where he expostulates and discards 7 very ambitious solutions before revealing the actual solution which is simple but elegant, fairly-clued and very satisfying from a locked room mystery fan’s point of view.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Name of the story: The Tale of Sir Jeremy Fisher
Author: Don Carleton
Source: The Times of London Anthology of Detective Stories
Story Number: 12
In the search for a potential new Conan Doyle, the Times of London, in conjunction with British publishing company arranged a special detective story competition in the spring of 1972. The panel of judges included five luminaries, one of them being Dame Agatha. It seems they received more than a thousand entries and out of these, the best 10 have been included in this anthology including the top 5 winners.
“For resolving the most ingenious crime in ‘The Tale of Sir Jeremy Fisher’, Don Carleton won the second prize in this competition,” the judges quote in the introduction.
Scene of the crime: A three tiered pool. A big reservoir on top, from the reservoir water tumbles from a pipe down a narrow gulley to a shallow pool. From there it cascades down a wider gulley into a deep dark pool.
Jeremy Fisher, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wessex is found drowned in the lower pool with some head injuries caused before the death. A research scientist was on a boat in the reservoir, a group of archaeologists were on the site above the river, a student canoeing alone & a couple who saw Jeremy fishing 15 minutes before his death are the only witnesses and also the suspects, as each one of them has a likely motive. Nobody was seen approaching the dead man; all the others were constantly under observation by at least one other person.
After interviewing all the suspects, the Inspector(nameless throughout) has only 2 clues – a bottle of wine tied to a tree branch was found shattered with the broken string still tied to the branch and the broken paddle which the canoeing student claims was due to the river(which no one believes). Consulting the weather records and considering the motives of the various folks involved in conjunction with the two clues, the inspector shows how a murder could have been committed in that pool without anybody ever going near the victim.
Tomorrow’s post will feature the winning entry. J
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Name of the story: One Drop of Blood
Author: Cornell Woolrich
Source: The Ten Faces of Cornell Woolrich
Story Number: 11
The story ‘One Drop of Blood’ was the winner of the first prize in EQMM’s thirteenth international contest (1961). This story is a fitting example of the inverted detective story as pioneered by Austin Freeman where the reader follows from the beginning the plan and execution of the murder by the culprit. The second part of the story deals with how the police catch the criminal with a clue left behind or with a mistake which the murderer hadn’t anticipated.
The Crime: Corrine is madly in love with the narrator. She wants to marry him but he is not interested in marriage. Over a period of time, he starts getting involved with another girl and gets engaged to her, as a result of which he ends up spending less & less time with Corrine. One night, Corrine invites him to her new house to reveal the fact that she is carrying his baby. In a fit of rage, he gets hold of a sword available in the house and slashes her up which turns the walls into a tapestry of red. He successfully disposes of the body without anyone noticing him; he buys paints & brushes from the nearest hardware store and over several days, paints the walls to completely get rid of the blood spots. He also discards all the other articles (carpet, chair cushions, table, lampshade etc) in the house which could’ve given away the fact that a murder had occurred in that house.
The Detection: The police take him in for questioning when they find the body, many witnesses identify him, they find traces of blood on all his articles, they get the remains of the paint cans & brush handles, they know for a fact that there was a crime and it was committed by him, they have placed him in the vicinity of the house but they can’t place the crime itself in that house as there’s absolutely no sign of blood anywhere – all they need is a drop of blood. All the police techniques fail to get them the answers they need and they release him from custody.
He thinks he has finally escaped and goes ahead with his marriage plans but only a few days later, he is arrested by the police for the murder. They take him to that house and show as evidence that one drop of blood which he and the whole police force had missed over all those days of effort to find it!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Name of the story: The Perfect Murder
Author: Jeffrey ArcherSource: A Twist In The Tale
Story Number: 10
Jeffrey Archer doesn’t need any introduction. Along with his bestselling novels, he is also a wonderful writer of short stories. His first three collections ‘A Quiver Full Of Arrows’, ‘A Twist In The Tale’ & ‘Twelve Red Herrings’ are a treat for any reader, which encompasses stories across all genres, each with a wonderful twist which the reader wouldn’t have anticipated. Somehow for me, his three recent collections didn’t leave up to the same expectations as the earlier three. I’m picking the first story from his second collection ‘A Twist in the Tale’ as it includes all the typical characteristics of an Archer story with an added bonus of the courtroom drama.
The story starts off with the narrator expressing surprise that his mistress Carla had slept with another man. One evening, Carla calls him and asks him not to come to her house as she is going off to her sister’s place, which he doesn’t believe. When he does go to her house to check up on this, he observes Carla engaging another man. After watching the man kiss Carla and leave her house in a BMW after tearing up the parking ticket, the narrator confronts Carla and in the heat of exchanging words, he hits her on the jaw and walks out. What he doesn’t realize till the next day is the fact that this blow proved fatal for Carla. When the police declare that they are looking for a murderer, he puts in an anonymous call and gives the description of the other man who was with Carla. The police track this man through the parking ticket that was issued and charges him for Carla’s murder.
The second part of the story is the trial of the accused with our narrator taking a very keen interest in the proceedings. But in those six months leading to the trial, he has had a terrible time, looking over his shoulder all the time, every telephone ring or the door bell sending shivers down his spine, his work life deteriorating to such an extent that he gets fired. Being unemployed end up as a blessing in disguise as he is able to attend the court proceedings everyday and watch the trail of the man whom he has accused for his own crime. In spite of a gritty performance from the defense lawyer, the case against the accused looks hopeless. Will an innocent man go the chair? Has our hero committed a perfect crime? The end of the tale reveals a cunning twist which the reader can anticipate (but few will) as all the required clues have been fairly presented in the second half of the story.
Monday, January 9, 2012
Name of the story: No Comebacks
Author: Frederick Forsyth
Source: No Comebacks
Story Number: 9
Frederick Forsyth is probably most famous for his novel ‘The Day Of The Jackal’ which won the Edgar for the best novel in 1972. He has a number of other noteworthy novels to his credit but his short story collection is rarely spoken off. It contains 10 skillfully plotted stories with an ultimate twist in the end. I pick the title story in the collection as this suits best my definition of a fine story.
Mark Sanderson is one of the richest bachelors in London who has the habit of eventually getting whatever he wants. He always wanted to have only one woman as his wife but that lady is married to another man and stays in another country. A chance meeting ignites his passion for her, he courts her for a week and ends up proposing to her when she is about to leave for Spain, which the lady politely declines saying that her husband in Spain needs her more than he needs her. She agrees that she would marry him had it not been for her husband.
After brooding over for weeks, he decides that she has to be his wife and this obsession with the lady turns into madness and what follows is a detailed plot to assassinate the husband. He first hires a detective agency to learn every detail about his intended victim, gets a new house for himself under an assumed name, does research to find a mercenary team in England, through the team in England he hires a top notch assassin from another country so that the assassin doesn’t identify the very famous personality that he is in London, all breathtakingly told in the same style as the jackal who plots the assignation of the French president in the famous novel. The assassin then has to think off a way to smuggle a gun into Spain and he finally carries out his execution successfully at the end of 3 weeks. The killer and the client meet for the final payment and there in the last line of the story, the client gets the biggest jolt of his life as does the reader!
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Name: The Mystery Of The Five Hundred Diamonds
Author: Robert Barr
Source: The Triumphs Of Eugene Valmont (Queen’s Quorum title #35). This book (along with other works) is available on Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19369
Story Number: 8
Robert Barr wrote only 8 stories featuring Valmont, all collected in ‘The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont’. Some critics consider Valmont to be the forerunner of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Out of these eight, ‘The Absent-Minded Coterie’ has been rated by critics as one of the great detective stories of the early days. However, I chose the story in which Valmont debuts, though it’s not exactly a triumph for Valmont.
The French government has come into the possession of a very rich necklace, a necklace consisting of around 500 diamonds in various sizes and shapes. Because of its history of having exerted a malign influence over everyone who had the misfortune to be connected with it, the French decide to sell it to the highest bidder. The duty of protecting the necklace from falling into the wrong hands and also to protect the individual who will buy that necklace is bestowed upon Valmont, the chief detective to the French Government. On the day of the sale, the city of Paris is not only playing host to some of the wealthiest gentlemen from Britain & America but also to the cleverest thieves from the two continents.
The elaborate groundwork laid done by Valmont and his team to identify the most likely buyer and the most likely person to attempt the theft turn out be inadequate as we learn from the turn of events. An American easily outbids the others by quoting an exorbitant amount and immediately hands over a cheque and requests to take possession of the necklace. The French police have no idea who this gentleman is, they have no clue as to how exactly the man is trying to swindle as the cheque is cleared and the money is transferred over. The American has an accomplice in the audience who holds up everyone in that room at gunpoint so that the American can get a head start of five minutes, at the end of which, he himself vanishes.
What follows is an elaborate hunt to catch the mastermind of this daring scheme in which the mastermind is always one step ahead of the entire police force. It is not until this man reaches the American shores and sends across a detailed letter addressed to the French police do they understand how exactly this whole plan was carried out.
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Name: The Problem of Cell 13
Author: Jacques Futrelle
Source: The Thinking Machine (Queen’s Quorum Title #38). It’s available in numerous anthologies. Jacques Futrelle’s complete output of stories can be read online from this site: http://www.futrelle.com/
Story Number: 7
Going through some of the most memorable stories that I’ve ever encountered for my blog these past few days, it’s hard to neglect one of the greatest creations in the annals of detective fiction - Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, Ph. D., LL. D., F. R. S., M. D., or simply ‘The Thinking Machine’. Hence this story finds it way in even though it’s one of the most anthologized stories. This story was also included in the list of the 12 best detective stories ever written - as adjudged by a distinguished panel of mystery authors.
To prove that one can achieve anything by simply applying one’s mind to it, the professor accepts a challenge from his friends that he can escape from a prison cell within 7 days. He enters the cell No. 13 with only 3 special requests: that his shoes should be polished, that he be provided with tooth-powder and 25 dollars (2 notes of 10 dollars and 1 note of 5 dollars). The only escape routes would have to be the window which has been barred by iron bars or walk through 7 doors.
On the second day of his stay, he hurls a small piece of cloth with a message on it with a 5 dollar note. The next day, another similar message is hurtled out of the window with another 5 dollar bill. This calls for a detailed search of the prison cell – no trace of a writing device is found and neither can they account for the extra 5 dollar note. Next, one of the prisoners in cell 43(2 floors above cell 13) confesses to the murder he has committed and begs to be moved to another cell as he has been hearing strange voices in the room – the main cause for worry being the word ‘Acid’ as he had killed a woman by throwing acid on her face. The next thing which troubles the warden is the invitation to dinner from the professor which reaches via the mail. On the final night, the arc light in the yard is blown out which calls for bringing in the electricians from outside and serves as the perfect distraction for the professor to escape. Over dinner on that 7th night, the professor explains to his friends, the warden and the jailer as to how he went about planning his escape from the locked-room and succeeded.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Name of the story: A Study In White
Author: Nicholas Blake
Source: The Quintessence of Queen #2
Story Number: 6
The collection ‘The Quintessence of Queen #2’ has 10 of the best prize stories from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine as selected by Anthony Boucher. Nicholas Blake was the pseudonym of Cecil Day Lewis, an English poet who wrote twenty novels of mystery and detection, most of them featuring his series sleuth Nigel Strangeways, his two most famous whodunits being ‘Thou Shell Of Death’ & ‘The Beast Must Die’.
Half of the mystery novels that I read end up in disappointment as the author has not played fair and provided all the vital clues required for the reader to arrive at the solution. There are some novels where the whole solution hinges on ONE solid clue or word. This short story certainly doesn’t belong in that category, for it has not one, not two, but EIGHT significant clues to point to the murderer. The reader might catch one or two or even three of them but it needs a very clever one to figure out the murderer even in spite of being provided with such abundant clues.
Most of the action takes place within a single compartment comprising of 6 passengers on a night train from London which gets stalled in a blizzard. The conversation in this car happens to deal mainly with a train robbery which was committed just a few days back. Among the six passengers, we have one investigator by the name of Stansfield, one person who had travelled on the same train on the day of the robbery (Arthur) and one person who is certainly the mastermind of that robbery. When the passengers of the train are patiently waiting for the relieving engine to be sent so that it can take the train back to the previous station, a mild quarrel erupts in this compartment. Arthur hastily gets down giving an indication that he had rather go to a nearby village to put in a call. The other passengers are seen alighting and coming back to the car at various intervals. When Arthur doesn’t turn up, Stansfield goes in search of him towards the village and finds him dead with his mouth and nose stuffed tight with snow. He comes back to the compartment and gets the testimony of his 4 fellow passengers along with inputs from the train’s driver, the guard and a sleepy passenger in the last compartment who looks like he might have been the last person to see the dead man alive. When the train reaches the station, the investigator and an inspector immediately arrest the guilty party. The story is halted here to pose a challenge to the reader to identify the culprit. The further sections explain the solution to the problem with the help of the 8 clues embedded in the story.
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Name of the story: The Case of The Horizontal Trajectory
Author: Josef Skvorecky
Source: The Mournful Demeanour of Lieutenant Boruvka: Detective Tales
Story Number: 5
Josef Skvorecky, a Czechoslovakian author died in Canada yesterday at the age of 87. So I’m taking a detour from my scheduled list and am featuring this story as a tribute to this author.
4 story collections from this Czechoslovakian author are of paramount importance to the detective fiction genre. He devoted an entire collection of stories to breaking the decalogue rules of detective fiction set up by Ronald Knox in his seminal work ’Sins for Father Knox’. The other three collections are more traditional and he blends the travails of a family man, matters of the heart and glimpses of life in Czechoslovakia during the grim war time into intricately plotted detective stories. The Mournful Demeanour consists of four intricately plotted locked room or impossible crime mysteries along with 8 more stories. I’ve picked the more traditional locked room mystery of the lot for this post.
An 85 year old woman is found dead inside a locked room with a knife having pierced her eye and the death resulting more due to the shock at her age than the knife wound. The woman is found on her back with one hand on the wall as though she was trying to reach for the switch on the wall to turn off the light. The other hand is pointing to the window which is quite far away from her bed as though indicating that the fatal knife was hurled through that window. And there is a strange man (the neighbor) who is peering in through the window as though checking whether the knife thrust was successful. This is the scene which confronts Lt. Boruvka of the Prague police when he enters the room after the locked door is forced open. No one could have escaped from the room as several witnesses were stationed right outside the door when the old lady utters her last gasp.
The only likely source for the knife looks like the open window but Boruvka, even without doing the math knows that the possibility of throwing such a hard object from such a far off distance and hitting the eye looks high unlikely. In order to prove his theory, he provides all the required parameters to his daughter with the mathematical formula required to arrive at the solution (force required to fire a bullet which weights half a KG) as a punishment for one her infractions. He knows very well that her daughter doesn’t have the skills to solve but he is hoping that she would take this problem to her professor and get it solved from him, which she does. The solution coincides with his thought process that it wasn’t practical.
So how exactly was the murder committed? Who is the culprit? Lt. Boruvka solves it by applying the process of logical deduction and the principle of human nature to arrive at a most satisfactory conclusion.