Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The Yellow Slugs - H.C. Bailey
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!