Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Oblong Room - Edward D. Hoch

Theme for the Week: Edgar Winners

Story: The Oblong Room
Author: Edward D. Hoch
Source: The Edgar Winners.
Story Number: 76
Captain Leopold joins his Sergeant to investigate a open and shut case of murder in the college hostel. Ralph Rollings has been found stabbed to death. His roommate Tom McBern was found enclosed with the dead man for 24 hours and he is not willing to make a statement. The only thing they need to convict Tom is a motive and the whole investigation is based on finding that motive.
The first motive they consider is that they must have shared a common girl friend, which turns out to be true. But nothing much materializes from that angle though they get a pretty good understanding of the relationship between Ralph and Tom. Ralph has the strange capability to manipulate anyone - to have them under his thumb, make them obey his orders. Ralph controlled Tom in pretty much the same fashion; the relationship between them being that of a teacher and a pupil or like that of a Master and slave - with Tom being completely devoted to Ralph, to such an extent that he would go to any depth to protect Ralph.
The next motive to cross their path is the widespread use of LSD among the students. Bill Smith, the next door friend to both Ralph and Tom testifies that both of them often used LSD but he also stresses the fact that Tom was more like a protector and he would be the last man to kill Ralph. And yet, it is very clear that Tom did kill Ralph. The questions which Leopold has to answer: Why would he kill him when everyone knows that he would give his own life to protect Ralph? Why was he in the room for 24 hours after his friend's death? What exactly as he doing during all that time?
This story is a dedication to Edgar Allan Poe. The author draws parallel to Poe's The Oblong Box - where the box was on board a ship and it contained a body. Ralph correlates his room to the oblong box, as his coffin or his tomb and hence the title the oblong room.

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