Monday, February 6, 2012
After-Dinner Story - William Irish
From this week on, I’ll aim to group my stories for the whole week to fit into a single theme. For the next 7 days, all the stories to be featured will be from a collection which has been considered as a cornerstone title by Ellery Queen in their critical study Queen’s Quorum - a history of the detective-crime short story as revealed by the 125 most important books published in this field from 1845 to 1967.
Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles
Name of the story: After-Dinner Story
Author: William Irish
Source: After-Dinner Story
Story Number: 37
Cornell Woolrich or William Irish or George Hopley, an American novelist and short story writer was one of the greatest noir writers. Most of his stories are psychological thrillers, powerful in their atmosphere of terror and suspense with a subtle integration of plot and technique.
I’ve picked the title story from the collection After-Dinner Story, the collection which the Queens preferred over I Wouldn’t be in Your Shoes for the cornerstone title to be included as Queen’s Quorum title #97.
7 individuals get into an elevator along with the lift operator on various floors and it becomes an express elevator on its way down from the 10th to the 1st floor. After crossing the 10th floor, the elevator malfunctions and hurls all the way down with a tremendous impact, extinguishing all the lights inside the car. They realize that the operator is dead from this impact and they spend quite some anxious moments before help arrives. Acetylene torches are used to cut a hole through the car roof to free the trapped men. They then realize that another man among them is dead – whose voice was heard just before the acetylene torches came into action. He has died from a gunshot wound with the gun buried under his body. The nitrate test reveals that the gun was fired by the dead man and hence the police close the case as a suicide.
A year later, all the 5 men who survived the elevator accident are invited to a dinner event by the Father of the dead man, promising to share his wealth among these men who were present during the final moments of his son’s life. The guests notice a peculiar form of serving – each guest is served a portion separately. At the end of the dinner, a giant pot with a yellow liquid is placed at the center of the table and the host tells them that it’s an antidote for a poison. He also goes on to declare that he knew all along that his son was murdered and that one out of the 5 men present there killed him. And to exact revenge, that one person’s food was poisoned. He asks the murderer to confess and drink the antidote as he had only half an hour before the poison starts acting. At the end of 25 minutes, all five of them look equally sick and everyone has only one question in their mind: did the host poison the right guy? If yes, how did he know who the murderer was? The story has a fitting finale for the suspense it builds up.