Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Error in Chemistry - William Faulkner

Theme for the Week: Queen's Quorum Titles

Story: An Error in Chemistry
Author: William Faulkner
Source: Knight's Gambit (Queen's Quorum #105).
Story Number: 70
This collection consists of six detective stories - the second foray into detective stories by the great writer William Faulkner after Intruder in The Dust. The stories feature Uncle Gavin Stevens, a county attorney who assists the Sheriff in solving some complicated cases, the stories being narrated by Steven's nephew Chick Mallison.
Joe Flint calls the sheriff and confesses to having killed his wife in his father-in-law's house. The father-in-law, referred throughout as the old man Pritchel, who must have been a witness to her daughter's death refuses to say anything about the incident and locks himself in a room. The sheriff arrests Flint and locks him up in the county jail but Flint disappears from the jail without a trace. He had not broken out. He had walked out, out of the cell, out of the jail, out of town and apparently out of the county - no trace, no sign, no man who had seen him or seen anyone who might have been him.
Sheriff approaches uncle Gavin and tells him the story - highlighting the fact that there was no need for Flint to first confess to the murder, get himself arrested and then vanish off the face of the earth. In the meantime, various landlords have shown interest in buying off Pritchel's land and have made a handsome offer. The adjustor is ready to pay the insurance money for the policy which was taken on the daughter. Pritchel sends an invite to both the sheriff and Uncle Gavin to witness these two events of selling of his land and collecting the insurance check. During the course of events, the three men watch Pritchel add sugar to whisky and then add water to it - a mistake in the execution of making a traditional toddy. This sets of a chain of events which lead to the unmasking of a very clever but daring villain who was on the verge of getting away with triple murder.

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