Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Riddle of The Whirling Lights - Stuart Palmer

Theme: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Name of the story: The Riddle of The Whirling Lights
Author: Stuart Palmer
Source: Hildegarde Withers: Uncollected Riddles
Story Number: 45
Stuart Palmer's wrote more than 20 detective novels usually featuring the spinster sleuth Hildegarde Withers, who made her debut with ‘The Penguin Pool Murder’. His other creation was the hardboiled private eye Howie Rook.
Tony Lassiter is killing some time by visiting the skyscrapers in the city of Chicago as he has around 3 hours left to catch his train to New York. In the process, he stumbles across a girl who looks as lonely as himself and someone who wouldn’t mind having a male companion escorting her. They get to talk and realize that both of them are heading to New York and they have some free time to explore. They decide to visit the Planetarium. They are seated at the corner of the fourth row from the back and as the lights dim out and the show progresses, Tony notices that the girl is leaning on him. When he puts his hands across her, he realizes that she is cold and there is blood flowing down her neck. When the lights are switched back on, they find that the girl has been stabbed with a sharp instrument, her bag is missing and more importantly, there’s no sign of the murder weapon!
Tony is arrested on suspicion of murder and Hildegarde Withers is summoned all the way from New York to help clear the allegations against Tony. The four other suspects that the police round up are the Planetarium Professor who gave only the introductory speech and departed the auditorium, the presenter of the show who was rooted to his place all the time, the girl who is selling the booklets and the guard. All four are searched but they don’t find any incriminatory evidence. The bag and the murder weapon are found – far away from where the body was found. But it still remains a mystery as to how the impossible murder could have been committed as the people sitting in the row behind the girl would have surely seen the person who stabbed her?
It takes some meticulous sleuthing on behalf of Miss Withers to find the motives and the relationships between the various individuals involved. The final trap for the murderer is laid in the planetarium when the show is running, with Miss Withers taking the seat of the murdered girl and the District Attorney taking the seat next to her. Surely one of the most unique places to commit an impossible murder (with a strange murder weapon as well), a setting which can hardly be replicated again!

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