Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Spherical Ghoul - Fredric Brown

Theme: Murder in the Most Unlikely Places

Story: The Spherical Ghoul
Author: Fredric Brown
Source: Homicide Sanitarium, Thrilling Detective(1943), The Arbor House Necropolis (A horror anthology)
Story Number: 46
Fredric Brown contributed more than 150 stories to the pulps – some of the best uncollected stories out of these are now collected in 7 different volumes – the first out of them being Homicide Sanitarium.
Bill Pronzini in his introduction to this book best describes this story as: “This story has a typically wild and wonderful Brown plot – its ingredients include a morgue at night, a horribly disfigured corpse, mayhem aplenty, and a classic locked room mystery – and one of the cleverest(if outrageous) central gimmicks you are likely to come across anywhere”.
The morgue in most of the stories or novels comes into the picture only when there is an autopsy involved or when somebody has to identify the corpse and is not a place where someone would expect a crime to be committed in. This story is an exception to that rule -  not only is the morgue the scene of the crime but the entire action takes place inside the morgue. Jerry Grant is working his way through the last year of an Ethnology course by holding on to a night job in the coroner’s department. The morgue has accommodation for seven customers with a glass showcase to put an unidentified body. His thesis topic ‘The origin and partial justification of superstitions’ couldn’t have had a better setting, opines one of the characters.
The police Lieutenant visits the morgue to have a look at the unidentified corpse in the showcase. He is not buying the theory that the victim met his death due to a hit and run accident. Jerry, the coroner and the Lieutenant inspect the body within the locked showcase before leaving for the day. The door to the morgue is locked and Jerry, working on his thesis, takes guard in front of this door. Two hours later, when someone turns up to identify the body, they find that the glass case is broken and the face of the corpse is horribly disfigured, beyond recognition. There is only one entrance to the morgue and that door was locked and guarded. The only other inlet into the room is a ventilator which no human can enter for his nefarious purpose, which forces everyone to think of a superstitious legend about a ghoul (an imaginary creature that robs graves and feeds on corpses).
The only clue turns out in the form of a man being seen by a witness approaching the morgue holding a large bag. He further adds that the bag indeed had a bowling ball inside it. A clue, which is more than sufficient for Jerry to figure out this very clever locked room problem, which rightfully takes its place in the locked room anthology Death Locked In.

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