Sunday, January 1, 2012
The New Invisble Man - John Dickson Carr
Name: The New Invisible Man
Author: John Dickson Carr
Source: 1. The Department of Queer Complaints 2. Merrivale, March & Murder
Story Number: 1
To officially start my crusade of exploring the detective short story, it is only apt to start with my favorite author John Dickson Carr. He is the ‘Miracle’ problem specialist, an exponent of one of the most fascinating gambit in crime literature- the Locked Room! A vivid imagination, scrupulous fairness to the reader, a lingering supernatural atmosphere with a locked room or impossible crime as its central theme form the ingredients of most of his books(and stories) to serve the reader with a wonderful recipe for murder and plays the ‘Grandest Game in The World’ like a true world champion.
Carr was one of the most versatile authors of detective fiction: with 4 series characters, numerous novels, short stories, radio plays, classic crime stories & historical mysteries, it’s very difficult to pick one favorite short story. With one of my aims being to cover stories from the Queen’s Quorum titles, I decided to settle on a story from his first collection of short stories ‘The Department of Queer Complaints’, Queen Quorum title # 94. There are 11 tales in this book out of which 7 feature Colonel March, the head of the Scotland Yard Department to handle “complaints which do not seem to bear the light of the day or reason”. Picking 1 out of the 11 proved not too easy a task because of the high caliber of each story. I wanted to feature ‘The Other Hangman’ which Carr himself considered as having one of his best plots (Thanks Douglas G Greene for the info) wherein he goes on to reveal how a man was paid to commit a ‘legal’ murder and get away with it. But then, I can’t really discuss the story without giving away the plot. Hence my choice for today, the first story to feature Colonel March – The New Invisible Man.
Horace Rodham approaches Scotland Yard to report a murder that he witnessed in the Hartley’s residence through his second floor room window which happens to be exactly opposite to the 2nd floor room of the Hartley’s. He is directed to March’s room because of the strange circumstances of the crime: A man wearing white cotton gloves and a pistol is seen entering the Hartley’s room. He places the gloves and the gun on the top of the round table which has been placed in the centre of the room. He approaches the window, opens one of the panels, pokes his head out and gives a shrill hoot as a signal. 2 gunshots are fired from the gun on the table but no person is seen holding the gun and neither is there any other human presence in the room. The first shot takes down the man near the window; the second shot drills a hole in the window of the Hartley residence and gets lodged in a lamp in Rodham’s room almost killing him in the process. A few minutes later, when Rodham & a policeman enter the Hartley’s house, they don’t see any sign of a body and there’s no bullet hole in the window even though Rodham has the bullet in his hand to prove that a bullet was fired from this room.
Colonel March, in addition to the details provided by Rodham about the events and the description of the room, needs clarification to only 2 points to solve the problem: did the round table have three legs? How many doors did that room have? The solution, which is made to look like a piece of cake, is like unraveling a magic trick and should delight anyone who loves them.