Saturday, February 11, 2012

Out of His Head - Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Theme for the Week: Queen’s Quorum Titles

Story: Out of His Head
Author: Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Source: Out of His Head (Queen’s Quorum #6), Death Locked In.
Story Number: 42
Thomas Bailey Aldrich was the first American to write a detective story after Poe; 17 years after the appearance of "The Murders in The Rue Morgue". Out of His Head is actually a novelette but chapters 11 through 14 constitute a detective short story. It's just these 4 chapters which are presented as a story in the Locked Room Anthology Death Locked In.
The Danseuse Mary Ware has been found dead in a locked room with the key still inside the lock. All the windows are closed and there is no other entrance into the room and the knife used to split the throat is missing thereby ruling out suicide. The neighbors give evidence that Mary had 2 lovers - a Lieutenant King and her fiancé Julius Kenneth. The story is told as  a first person narrative by the detective Paul Lynde - who confesses to the crime and gets himself arrested without revealing how he committed the crime. He later invites  the murderer to the jail and confesses to him his motive to take the blame even though he didn't commit the crime, a motive which is quite extraordinary! In the process he also reveals the very simple solution to the locked room murder.
As pointed out in Queen’s Quorum, this excerpt from the novelette reveals the author's debt to Poe: the general plot is clearly derived from Rue Morgue but Aldrich adds three significant points of development to the detective story: he created the first American variation of Poe's "locked room", he carried on the tradition of an eccentric sleuth (though to an extreme as the detective is also a madman) and the earliest example of a detective story where the protagonist is not only the detective but also the murderer, in the sense that the detective himself is responsible for the murder having been committed.

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